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Donald Trump launched his presidential campaign with an attack on Mexican immigrants and his anti-immigrant positions have become the centerpiece of his presidency. In 2017, Republican candidates for Governor in New Jersey and Virginia echoed Trump’s messages with a slew of ugly ads. Both lost. But, undaunted, many Republicans are pursuing that same strategy in 2018. Republicans are hoping that their ugly anti-immigrant rhetoric riles their base — while simultaneously hoping that younger voters don’t show up in midterms.
Ron Brownstein at the Atlantic looked at the recent actions by Rep. Martha McSally in Arizona:
Representative Martha McSally, the establishment favorite for the Republican Senate nomination in Arizona, took the unusual step this week of removing her name as a co-sponsor of legislation to provide a path to citizenship for the so-called “Dreamers,” young people brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents.
Locked in a tough primary with two anti-immigration hardliners—former state Senator Kelli Ward and former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio—McSally’s staff said in a statement that she now prefers a competing bill: one that would offer more limited protection to the Dreamers, while funding President Trump’s request for a border wall, toughening immigration enforcement, and slashing legal immigration.
McSally’s rush to embrace that conservative wish list demonstrates how Trump is steadily tugging more of the GOP toward his nativist positions on immigration. But her move, in a state where non-whites will soon represent a majority of the population under age 40, also signaled how much of the GOP strategy for surviving the midterm elections is based on a generational wager. The Republican bet is that the party can mobilize elevated turnout among their older and blue-collar white base without provoking the young and racially diverse voters who personify the emerging next America to show up on Election Day to defend it. Few things are likely to shape November’s outcome more than whether that bet pays off. (emphasis added)
In 2016, Trump won Arizona by just 4.1% — 49.5 to 45.4%, considerably closer than “swing states” like Iowa and Ohio. Exit polls in 2016 found that 25% of the electorate was “non-white” and, in that state, the Latino population is growing — and young. As Brownstein noted last year, in Arizona, the Latino vote was up in 2016, and “the most positive sign for Democrats was state-level Census data showing Hispanic turnout surging in Arizona.” McSally is doubling down on the GOP’s gamble that those voters won’t show up.
Greg Sargent at the Washington Post analyzed the current effort by some Republicans to force a vote on the Dream Act and the GOP leadership’s effort to block that effort through the political lens:
Vulnerable Republicans in the House are pushing a discharge petition that would compel a vote on measures that would grant the dreamers legal status, one of them packaged with fortifications to border security. More than 20 Republicans have signed the petition, meaning that if organizers can get a handful more, it would pass, since Democrats will support it — forcing a full House vote on whether the dreamers will be protected or remain in limbo. Make no mistake: Such a full vote — on a measure legalizing the dreamers in exchange for border security — probably would be successful.
Why don’t GOP leaders want this vote? Apparently because allowing these young immigrants who were brought here as children through no fault of their own to get right with the law, and work and study in America, would depress the conservative base. The Post reports that GOP leaders are delivering this stark message to the rank and file:
Signing the discharge petition and paving the way for passage of a moderate immigration bill could hurt Republicans in November’s elections by depressing conservative turnout and upending leadership’s plans to focus on tax cuts and other GOP successes.
The thinking appears to be that it will turn off the base if Republicans protect the dreamers with the help of Democrats without securing other draconian immigration measures, such as the wall Trump wants.
What Brownstein and Sargent both make clear is that 2018 elections will be determined by who shows up. It’s a turnout election and the challenge for pro-immigrant advocates is to get their supporters to the polls.