Originally published by The NY Times
Over the past few weeks, on the campaign trail and at home in the White House, President Trump has made it clear that attacking immigrants is the main thrust of his midterm message. In 2016, his anti-immigrant campaign resonated with his core supporters and it may well again in 2018, but this year more people have been turned off by the reality of his anti-immigrant politics. As a result, Mr. Trump’s vile strategy is more likely to backfire this time.
Mr. Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric has been escalating as Election Day nears. At every campaign rally, he unleashes on immigrants, spreading lies and fear, tweeting of the so-called caravan from Central America that “we cannot allow all of these people to invade our Country.” A few days ago in Nevada, he lied again when told a crowd that “illegal immigrants want to take over the control” of a California town. In their closing arguments, many Republican candidates are echoing Mr. Trump’s xenophobia and nativism.
Polling indicates this may not work that well in 2018 precisely because it is no longer merely campaign rhetoric. In the past two years, voters have had the chance to witness Mr. Trump’s rhetoric turn into severe anti-immigrant policies, leaving children as young as 12 months old parentless and alone in a government detention cell. He describes parents who are fleeing violence to seek asylum as “animals” and claims that violent gang members are “pouring into our country.”
Recent election results suggest that attacking immigrants no longer works with the majority that candidates need to win. Instead, a majority of Americans favor a more welcoming approach to immigrants, not divisiveness. Analysis of data from Virginia showed that the false claims of Ed Gillespie, the Republican candidate for governor in 2017, that the Central American prison gang MS-13 was threatening Virginia’s way of life moved voters away from his camp and actually made them more likely to vote for his Democratic opponent. In a special election for the House in a mostly white district in Pennsylvania, another Republican candidate, Rick Saccone, made bashing sanctuary cities central to his campaign, and he lost. Same outcome for Kim Guadagno in New Jersey, who lost the governor’s race badly while attacking immigrants. In the suburbs of Kansas City, Mo., Kevin Corlew ran a slew of anti-immigrant radio ads and lost a special election by 10 points. The list goes on.
According to a recent 2018 midterm survey of more than 2,000 registered voters in the 60 most competitive congressional districts, a majority of Americans reject Mr. Trump’s divisive rhetoric and oppose his xenophobic policies. Mr. Tump’s policy of separating children from their parents has defined him on immigration. Now he has turned his harsh attacks to a new group of Central American migrants seeking asylum. Mr. Trump tells crowds that these asylum seekers are a major security threat to the United States. They are not.
In polling done by a group I co-founded, Latino Decisions, on behalf of a coalition of immigration reform advocates, 73 percent of voters said that the child separation policy made them angry. By a rate of 69-31, white voters in swing districts also said that the policy made them angry. Not surprisingly, anger levels are higher still among minority communities, with 86 percent of Latino voters, 83 percent of black voters and 79 percent of Asian-American voters saying that the child separations had made them angry. Despite this, Mr. Trump admits he’s considering reinstituting that horrific policy in a new format in which families would be detained together for 20 days, and then children could be transferred to a government shelter while their parents remained in custody.
A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll found that the issue on which Democrats had the largest advantage over Republicans nationwide was immigration. This Democratic advantage has grown by 15 points since Mr. Trump began his presidential campaign in the summer of 2015.
On balance, voters support fixing our immigration system, not mass deportations. Seventy-seven percent of battleground districts voterssupport the Dream Act, and by a 2-to-1 ratio these same voters reject spending billions on the border wall. Despite Mr. Trump’s antics, a majority of voters in 2018 want to see compromise and cooperation to solve immigration issues, not attempts to divide Americans against one another.
Here’s where Democrats have a chance to make their position clear and to win over voters who are frustrated with name-calling. Candidates should directly reject the racist rhetoric and blatant lies that demonize immigrants. It should go without saying but it bears repeating: Baseless fear-mongering is not what makes America great. Standing up for an inclusive and welcoming society sends a message to immigrant and minority voters that candidates are on their side — and this can lead to greater voter turnout.
Over all, 61 percent of whites in battleground congressional districts support a welcoming approach to immigration, with the highest marks coming from white college-educated women, a key group for Democrats to make inroads into. Among this segment, there is overwhelming support for the idea that immigrants are just trying to provide a better life for their families. A September poll by NBC News and The Wall Street Journal found that only 28 percent of registered voters thought immigration hurt our country.
In poll after poll, voters agree that Mr. Trump’s strategy is an effort to divide the country while distracting voters from other important issues, like access to affordable health care. In these last two weeks of campaigning, Democratic candidates would be wise to call out Mr. Trump’s xenophobia for what it is, to stand up for the most basic human rights and then to remind voters that the 2017 tax cuts were designed, in the main, to benefit the wealthy. Nor should they be afraid to remind voters that drastic cuts to health care are still on the Trump agenda.
If Democratic candidates do this, they have a chance to not repeat past performance in midterm elections and mobilize a record number of immigrant and minority voters. But anger alone will not guarantee results. Candidates need to connect with people who don’t regularly vote in midterms but who are upset over Mr. Trump’s anti-immigrant crusade. Mr. Trump thinks he has a winning strategy, and he is counting on conservative anti-immigrant voters to make their way to the polls in 2018 just as they did in 2016. But now that his actual policies have been in place for half a term, fewer people turn out to be onboard with putting immigrant toddlers in cages. When given a chance, and when the campaign message is stark, voters will turn out for candidates who prefer inclusion to exclusion. In 2018, Donald Trump and his Republican Party have made it very clear which side they are on.