(CNN)Ten years ago, Sen. John McCain fell fast and hard from his perch as the overwhelming frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination.
It happened for one reason: He supported comprehensive immigration reform.
The Arizona senator not only backed a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in 2007, but also helped write an ill-fated bipartisan Senate bill.
I was covering McCain’s presidential campaign at the time, and remember his political aides warning him that supporting what powerful GOP primary voters regarded as amnesty would likely hurt him. That was an understatement.
McCain dropped so low that in some polls he was an asterisk — the symbol that appears when support is too small to even measure.
He climbed back up to eventually become the 2008 GOP nominee because of his grit and determination, and also because he abandoned any talk of citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
I remember attending more than one McCain town hall, from New Hampshire to South Carolina, where he got an earful from angry Republican voters as he tried to convince them that he learned his lesson: Border security is what they want.
That was a decade ago, but today immigration is still splitting the GOP just as much — which will become more evident in the next several months, as the Republican-controlled Congress grapples with how to deal with an estimated population of 800,000 immigrants whose future in the US is now uncertain.
DACA dividing lines
This week, as we saw protests about President Donald Trump’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which gave legal status to undocumented immigrants brought to America by their parents, Trump called on Congress to act.
And on the right — among core conservatives who helped elect Trump — the outrage is aimed at the President asking Congress to write legislation giving what they consider amnesty to undocumented immigrants.
“I’m hopeful the base will rise up,” Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, told my CNN colleague Kate Bolduan this week.
By Dana Bash for CNN POLITICS
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