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Failing and Flailing: Firing Nielsen Reveals Incompetence and Cruelty as Trump Doubles Down on His  Signature 2020 Issue

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The forced resignation of Kirstjen Nielsen is the latest reminder that as the Trump team gears up for a 2020 re-election based on their signature hardline immigration issue, their deterrence-only policies have failed, and now they are flailing and furious and out of ideas — except for even more cruelty.

Douglas Rivlin, Communication Director, America’s Voice said:  “President Trump is furious and Stephen Miller is pulling out his spray-on hair over the facts that their hardline policies have failed and made the current humanitarian crisis along the border even worse. They cannot bend to their will the complicated asylum laws or the realities facing Central American families and migration patterns. Their attempts to double down on cruelty and chaos are, again, doomed to fail.  Every policy Trump and Stephen Miller want is either impossible, illegal or immoral. Their simplistic deterrence-only strategy misreads the complexity of the challenge and will only make the situation worse. The real 2020 story on immigration should be that Trump’s policies are both spectacularly cruel and spectacularly failing.”

According to NBC News, President Trump is even looking to reinstitute family separation policies in light of the continued humanitarian crisis at the border – a reminder both of the depths of their immigration depravity and their current mindset. And influential nativist staffer Stephen Miller has played a lead role in evicting fellow hardliners such as Nielsen and failed ICE nominee Ronald Vitiello for fears they were insufficiently committed to the nativist agenda. As POLITICO writes, “Frustrated by the lack of headway on a signature Trump campaign issue, the senior White House adviser has been arguing for personnel changes to bring in more like-minded hardliners.”

Trump’s Policies: Both Cruel and Failing

As we’ve been highlighting, the administration’s strategy helped fuel the increase of refugees coming to our border seeking safety. Trump and his team dismantled in-country refugee processing in Central America, refuses to work with the UNHCR on a regional protection and resettlement strategy, and at the border focuses on stunts rather than solutions. At a time when we need to be bringing orderly processes to this growing refugee population, Trump and his team are creating and exploiting chaos and are set to make things all the worse through such decisions as slashing aid to Central America. Experts and observers have been highlighting why and how the situation in Central America and the U.S. policy response necessitate a different approach than more of the same failed deterrence approaches:

  • The indispensable Sonia Nazario writes in the New York Times, “Someone is Always Trying to Kill You,” reporting on the struggles to survive for many Honduran women. Why are Central American moms bringing their kids to the U.S. border? as Nazario writes, “Well, some of them are coming because they don’t want to die. This is particularly true of women, who make up a greater proportion of border crossers every year … The United States cannot erect a wall and expect women to resign themselves to stay put in Honduras and be slaughtered” and explaining why “President Trump’s plan to cut off foreign aid is exactly the wrong thing to do.”
  • As Alan Bersin, Nate Bruggeman and Ben Rohrbaugh – three former Customs and Border Protection officials – argue for POLITICO: Yes, There’s a Crisis on the Border. And It’s Trump’s Fault. The trio explains, “Despite the administration’s attempts to shift blame for the chaos, make no mistake: It is Donald Trump himself who is responsible. Through misguided policies, political stunts and a failure of leadership, the president has created the conditions that allowed the asylum problem at the border to explode into a crisis…Trump made stopping illegal immigration his signature issue. It is time to acknowledge that he has failed miserably—so we can start thinking about how to clean up the mess he has made.”
  • Former DHS Official John Sandweg to Washington Post, “Trump wants a shortcut, but there’s no shortcut … We have to deal with the problem as a complex issue that requires complex solutions. It will take time and money and political will.”
  • As Greg Sargent points out today in the Washington Post, Sec. Nielsen’s was fired because she was failing to make headway on the Miller/Trump agenda of cutting off immigration. “That ‘lack of headway’ is that migrants keep coming to the border — the number could reach 1 million this year. Most of them are asylum-seeking families, and Trump is in a rage about them, leading him to lurch erratically from one posture to another.’”

All About 2020 Base Politics and Trump’s Brand

Of course, at this point, all of Trump’s actions are best assessed through the lens of 2020 politics and Trump’s view of immigration as his signature issue:

  • As Frank Sharry noted last week, “Trump isn’t interested in policy solutions, he’s interested in reinforcing his brand. He isn’t interested in a multipronged strategy that will work, he’s interested in a rally chant that will connect … Trump has been clear: border security vs. open borders — as he defines it — will be a central theme of his 2020 campaign.”  
  • Tal Kopan writes in the San Francisco Chronicle how Trump is set to again make 2020 a fight over immigration and how Democrats need to engage. Lest there be any allusions about the Trump re-elect, Kopan writes, “A senior aide for Trump’s re-election campaign confirmed that Trump would again be running on a border security message. ‘He’s made that a cornerstone of his campaign since Day One — that’s not going to change,’ said the aide, who requested anonymity to speak more freely. ‘Democrats are denying the crisis at the border. They want to see who can go the furthest left as they try and not address the issue at hand. They want to abolish ICE, they want to tear down existing barriers, they want to decriminalize border crossings. At what point are we addressing what is a true crisis at the southern border?’”
  • But as Joe Scarborough assessed on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” this morning, “[The GOP] tried this nonsense, this hatred, this demagoguery in ’18 and the results were absolutely disastrous in a midterm election. Just how bad will this go for Trump in ’20 if he is both harsh and extraordinarily impotent when it comes to handling his own borders?”
  • And, as Greg Sargent assessed in the Washington Post, “His base isn’t enough to win in 2020; his party got slaughtered over immigration in 2018, once the electorate got a look at his actual policies; and, if anything, when it comes to the border, Trump increasingly represents not law and order, but cruelty and incompetence.”