They Think They’re Winning

Good analysis. With the announcement of a Trump Executive Order no longer separating out children, appears all the pressure had an impact but we will need to see how the EO is implemented to know for sure (count me as sceptical):

In the last 48 hours, the portrait of a White House in crisis has been unmistakably clear.

Whether or not the Trump administration has a policy of separating the children of illegal border crossers from their parents to deter prospective migrants in the future depends on whom you ask. Over the last 18 months, administration officials have flitted back and forth from contemplating a policy of separation to openly pursuing it, to denying they’ve pursued it, to blaming Democrats for pursuing it, to claiming that the Bible demands they pursue it, to saying Congress can make them stoppursuing it, and finally to opposing Congressional efforts to make them stop pursuing it. Today, the White House’s immigration hardliners proudly tout their uncompromising new policy while its more conventional Republicans feign great effrontery over the mere suggestion that it exists.

The embarrassment in the West Wing is palpable, but the insecurity displayed by people like Homeland Security Sec. Kristjen Nielsen is prudent. They’re right to be concerned that their position is crumbling. The dam broke on Monday as Congressional Republicans parted en masse from the White House and condemned the new means of deterrence while offering short-term fixes for the problem. As of this writing, the White House’s new and surely untenable position is to oppose a narrow solution to the issue of family separation authored by Senator Ted Cruz—no immigration squish. Another reversal is forthcoming.

The West Wing’s simultaneously tone-deaf and flat-footed attempt to mitigate the damage from the crisis it created is not without basis in some kind of political logic: Trump’s immigration hardliners think they’re winning.

The Trump whisperers in the president’s orbit seem to have fully internalized the origin myth of this administration: that it is the manifestation of the populist backlash against a permissive, liberal immigration regime, and there is no policy they can adopt that will be too aggressive for their voters. “[I]f we’re having an argument on immigration,” an unnamed administration official boasted to the Washington Post, “we always win because that’s our ground, no matter what the nuances of the argument are.” Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, was only slightly more explicitly cynical. “If you want to get people motivated, you’ve got to give them a reason to vote,” he told the New York Times. “Saying ‘build the wall and stop illegals from coming in and killing American citizens’ gives them an important issue.” Another Trump aide added that mobilizing Republicans by agitating on immigration issues “upsets some people in the donor class, but it’s the reality of where the party is.” This is a flawed assumption and, if it is the course on which the Trump administration is determined to embark, the journey will be perilously fraught.

That this “is where the party is” is debatable. Three polls on the administration’s efforts to deter migrants with a policy of family separation were released yesterday, and all showed that the vast majority of voters disapprove. But since the White House only seems to care about voters who identify as Republicans, let’s focus on them. Quinnipiac found that 55 percent of Republicans favor separation for “families seeking asylum” while a CNN survey found 58 percent approve of the Trump administration’s policy. But a CBS News poll showed that a slight plurality of Republicans, 39 percent, said a policy of “separating parents from children at the border” was “unacceptable.”

The number of Republicans who support this policy varies, but whether it is 36 or 58 percent doesn’t really matter. The headline from these polls is that the Republican president is losing anywhere between 4 and 6 in 10 of his own party’s voters. Those are disastrous numbers no matter how you slice it, and that explains the cascade of Republicans racing to distance themselves from the president on this issue in the last few hours.

The more revealing thread that deserves tugging here is the animosity toward the GOP that the Trump administration’s hardliners are stoking. The fact that the president has not secured his signature campaign-trail promise despite having multiple opportunities to take “yes” for an answer suggests the immigration fanatics in Trump’s orbit still believe they win by running against their own party. But it’s not the 2016 primaries anymore; it’s the president’s first midterm. With the GOP’s majorities on the ballot and Democrats more energized to vote than Republicans, Trump needs to unify his party, not tear it apart. Stoking a sense of betrayal over immigration rather than a desire to preserve achievements like the GOP’s tax code reform law is a recipe for disaster in November.

That is the conventional view, at least. After all, staving off a GOP wipeout in November would preserve the ideologically and geographically diverse coalition of Republicans in Congress. A sweeping defeat would purge the House of its immigration dovesfirst, leaving an ideologically purer minority in its wake. And with the House gone, so, too, would the legislative phase of the Trump presidency end and take with it the responsibilities associated with governance. Thus, the party’s border hawks get the best of both worlds. They can stoke a galvanizing grievance and a persecution complex among their base supporters, and they can occupy the White House at the same time. The martyring of the wall, the outcry over family separation, and a blue wave in November can seem like a rare species of victory.

That’s a cynical way to look at things, but the alternative—the idea that the GOP base is united rather than torn asunder by the administration’s policies—is simply deluded. So which is it?

Source: They Think They’re Winning

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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