IT’S FUNNY WHAT A PRIMARY CAN DO…. When it comes to immigration policy, Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona has consistently been to his party’s left. He was, for example, a co-sponsor of the DREAM Act, which would grant legal status to illegal immigrants’ kids who graduate from high school. McCain also championed a 2007 effort on comprehensive reform, which included a path to citizenship that the far-right labeled “amnesty.”

He moved sharply to the right during the 2008 presidential primaries — McCain famously announced he’d vote against his own immigration bill, if given the chance — and then back again after he was the GOP nominee. Now that McCain is facing a primary challenge for his Senate re-election bid, he’s conservative on immigration once more.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), under fire from the right for not being tough enough on immigration in his Senate primary race, has called on Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano to dispatch National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border.

In a letter sent to Napolitano’s office yesterday, McCain says that rising drug violence across the border in Mexico endangers the lives of American citizens. He says the situation now calls for troops to be sent to the “southern border region.”

Immigration reform advocates — McCain’s former allies — recognize shameless pandering when they see it. “All the language he’s using is red meat for conservatives,” Gabe Gonzalez, a national director at the Center For Community Change, told TPM. “He’s getting attacks on the right, so he’s going right.”

Matt Yglesias noted the ways in which the opportunism contradicts one of McCain’s pervious personas.

It’s relatively rare for a politician to make a point about how principled he is. Not that politicians don’t call themselves principles. It’s just that for most politicians, they try to do what they’re going to do, make the case for their issues as they make them, and hope that the results look like principled leadership to others. Senator John McCain of Arizona is different, he always wears his principledness on his sleeve, talks about it all the time. Presumably because he’s given to a substantially more incoherent approach than most people.

Like remember when McCain was a champion of immigration reform? Well, now he’s got a primary to win.

I’m sure the increasingly far-right Arizonan will be able to explain all of this during one of his many upcoming Sunday show appearances.

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.