Joe Klein posits that the GOP may end up running on immigration in 2008:

It’s long been my belief that the GOP hole card in 2008 is going to be a rancid furriner-bashing anti-illegal-immigrant smear campaign. …  A few months ago, I asked Mitt Romney if he thought illegal immigration was a net economic plus or minus. He said…he wasn’t sure (but, of course, he knows that it’s a net plus).

As is typical for Klein, he only sees part of the problem. The Post made a similar point earlier in the week:

"This issue has real implications for the country. It captures all the American people’s anger and frustration not only with immigration, but with the economy," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus and an architect of the Democratic congressional victories of 2006. "It’s self-evident. This is a big problem."

Republicans, sensing a major vulnerability, have been hammering Democrats, forcing Congress to face the question of illegal immigration on every bill they can find, from agriculture spending and housing assistance to the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).

Rahm is on to something here. If I am right that the economy is going to be the real issue, how are the parties likely to deal with the issue of economic instability? The Dems are already running on irresponsible anti-globalization populism and silly (in substance, but smart in politics) housing proposals. Not to mention tax increases. And, of course, universal health care.

What do the Republicans have? Well, so far optimism, which could end up looking like thin gruel. After all, Republicans aren’t optimistic about the economy. One way of trying to handle this is immigration. But will that work?

What are the swing states? There’s the rust belt (WV, OH, PA, and, maybe, MI). There’s the upper midwest (WI, MN, and IA). There’s Florida. And there’s the inner west (CO, NV, AZ, and NM) Of these, OH, FL, and the western states are all deeply exposed to the housing crisis. (MI is too, but that’s just the state-specific recession) With the exception of OH, these are all states in which latinos are a hugely important swing vote.

So the states that are most vulnerable to housing-related economic populism are also states in which the GOP needs the immigrant vote. That’s a nasty synergy. Maybe we shouldn’t attack on immigration? Maybe that just makes it worse.