Story Highlights• Conservative bloggers passionately oppose Senate immigration bill
• Many are breaking with President Bush for supporting the measure
• Conservative bloggers see president's backing of bill as "betrayal"
By Peter Hamby
CNN Washington Bureau
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Different conservative blogs have different pet issues -- government transparency, federal judges, Fred Thompson, to name a few.
But no issue in recent memory has united conservative bloggers like the debate over immigration. Their frustration has culminated in a full-scale revolt against the Bush administration and a Senate bill that activists say does little to solve the country's border security problems.
President Bush's pledge to support $4.4 billion in additional border security funds has breathed new life into the bill, but the drumbeat against the legislation shows no signs of quieting. (Watch how senators revived the immigration bill )
It's increasingly clear from Web postings and interviews with top conservative bloggers that the immigration bill has done serious damage to the president's credibility among the conservative netroots, the grassroots bloggers on the Web.
Erick Erickson, managing editor of the popular conservative blog RedState.com, says he receives between 800 and 900 e-mails a day from readers, most of whom are "enraged" by the White House's immigration efforts.
"Of all the issues the president has picked to make his hill to die on, he has picked the one that has divided his base," said Erickson, who lives in Macon, Georgia. "I am shocked by the anger and outrage out there ... You've got war against the president within the Republican party."
When details of an immigration compromise were announced this spring, conservative bloggers were immediately incensed. Michelle Malkin labeled it "a White House betrayal."
Another popular blogger, Hugh Hewitt, called the bill a "fiasco" and wrote: "this push for this bill is a disaster, Mr. President."
Bloggers: Secure the border first
Conservative bloggers make various arguments against the bill. Some say the bill grants amnesty to illegal immigrants who have already broken the law. Others say normalizing millions of new workers would depress wages and harm American workers.
Most conservative bloggers see border enforcement as the priority, an issue they say the president can enforce on his own without having to push a bill through Congress.
According to several top conservative bloggers, Bush simply has a credibility problem when it comes to border security.
"The administration has not done anything to fix the border or the visa program," said Ed Morrissey, the Minnesota-based founder of the blog Captain's Quarters. "It's a huge gap in national security. It's been six years past 9/11 and the administration has done nothing to fix either one."
Many bloggers said they are disappointed the president has pushed so hard for the immigration bill while letting the war and other issues conservatives care about fall by the wayside.
"The White House will go out and zealously promote Harriet Miers [the former White House counsel who Bush unsuccessfully nominated for the Supreme Court], defend [Attorney General] Alberto Gonzales, promote this bill, but will not take a firm stand on the war," said Erickson. "I know people who are boiling with rage that the president has been beating up his own side over this bill but won't take the bully pulpit to beat up Democrats over the war."
Bush did little to help his relationship with bloggers on May 29, when he told a crowd in Glynco, Georgia, that critics of the immigration bill "don't want to do what's right for America."
Kathryn Jean Lopez at the National Review asked, "Is the White House just not paying attention?"
The blog Ace of Spades HQ called Bush "incompetent" and "embarrassingly dimwitted" and urged him to retire.
Blogs and anti-immigration organizations used the Web to tap into the growing discontent over the immigration bill, using the Internet to organize phone and fax campaigns to urge senators to vote against the bill. It was a plugged-in show of force that would have been beyond comprehension a decade ago.
"The support for this issue has always been there, but the Internet is the platform the issue has needed to become a force in American politics," said David All, a Republican online strategist based in Washington.
Blogosphere ready for round two
When the bill was stymied by a procedural vote on June 7, the blogs claimed victory. A straw poll of conservative bloggers conducted by the Web site Right Wing News showed that 96 percent of bloggers surveyed were "pleased that the Senate immigration bill did not pass."
Now that the bill is back for a second round in the Senate, Bush could have a difficult time making new friends online beyond a relative handful of the bill's supporters.
"It will be very difficult for him to recover with conservative bloggers," said Robert Bluey, director of the Center for Media & Public Policy at the Heritage Foundation. "When Bush is on to his next issue, I'm not sure if bloggers are going to be there to back him up."
Which begs the question -- is Bush a lame duck among bloggers?
Said Morrissey: "I think that they are going to continue to support him on the war on terror. As for the rest of it, they are looking for ways to reshape the party agenda going into the next election. That's a nice way of saying they are going to consider him irrelevant."
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