Two key pieces from leading observers Ronald Brownstein and Greg Sargent underscore that Trump’s wall obsession and larger anti-immigrant agenda is unpopular and threatens lasting damage to the Republican brand.
Both pieces are excerpted below and required Friday reading.
Trump’s hostility to legal immigration, which he so aggressively sought to hide in his speech, is key to understanding the real implications of his immigration agenda. Once again on Tuesday, Trump signaled that he prioritizes no cause more than building a wall across the southern border, portraying his determination as a sign of his commitment to ensuring Americans’ security and upholding the rule of law. His praise for legal immigration, though distorting his record, provided a critical buttress for that case: It allowed him to suggest that his motivation for the wall isn’t resisting immigration per se, only illegal and dangerous behavior. The truth, though, is that the wall is itself only one brick in a much larger structure aimed at restricting most kinds of immigration.
…Each pillar of this agenda faces opposition from a majority of Americans in polls. Surveys show that Trump has never persuaded more than 45 percent of the country to support the border wall, and that number stood at just 40 percent, with 60 percent opposing, in a Gallup poll released this week. National surveys, such as this week’s CNN poll, consistently find that two-thirds of Americans, an even more preponderant majority, oppose Trump declaring a national emergency to build the wall, as he’s threatened to do. Gallup this week found that four-fifths of Americans support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already in the U.S., an idea that Trump derides as amnesty.
Gallup has also found that support for legal immigration has steadily increased under Trump: In this week’s survey, the share of Americans who supported increasing legal immigration (30 percent) reached the highest level Gallup has recorded since it first asked the question in 1965, while the share of Americans who want to decrease legal immigration (31 percent) essentially matched the lowest level ever recorded, in June. The combined percentage of Americans who want to maintain legal immigration at its current level (37 percent) or increase it also matched the all-time high.
“In spite of Trump’s policies and rhetoric, more and more Americans support immigrants and immigration—from citizenship for the undocumented to better pathways for legal immigration,” notes Ali Noorani, executive director of the pro-immigration group National Immigration Forum.
What’s more, the polling evidence clearly shows that Trump has built very little constituency for his wall beyond the hard-core base of Americans most resistant to immigration in all its forms. Seven in 10 Americans who believe that legal immigration should be reduced also support building the wall, according to detailed figures provided to me by Gallup.
All this underscores how Trump, across a broad range of immigration issues, is steering the GOP toward the preferences of a distinct minority of Americans. And yet the evidence is also clear that Trump is systematically eradicating opposition to his agenda inside the GOP. More than four-fifths of Republicans in the House and nearly three-fourths of Republicans in the Senate voted for the massive cuts to legal immigration that Trump supported last year, though the bills ultimately failed. (Taken together, that was a much higher percentage than the share of Republicans who backed cuts to legal immigration the last time the party seriously proposed them, during the 1990s.) While many Republicans were initially skeptical of the border wall when Trump first endorsed it in the 2016 campaign, those voices have been almost completely silenced: Until the very end, hardly any congressional Republicans complained about his strategy of shutting down the federal government for five weeks to pursue funding for the barrier.
…The damage from that “stain” was evident in last fall’s House races, when Republicans were annihilated in metro-area districts that contain large numbers of immigrants, minorities, and college-educated voters. After the 2018 result, Democrats now control more than 80 percent of the House seats in which minorities exceed their national share of the population, and nearly 90 percent of the seats with more immigrants than average, according to Census Bureau figures. Fewer than one in 10 House Republicans now represents districts with more foreign-born residents than average, compared with about six times as many Democrats. Most of those diverse places moved sharply against Republicans in Senate and governor races, too.
…Despite his bravado during the State of the Union, Trump already has conceded that he will, at best, win funding for a wall in designated areas, not the massive concrete barrier he once proposed across the entire Mexican border. But the biggest takeaway from this week’s speech is that Trump may be systematically walling off the GOP from the places in America that are most powerfully forging the country’s future.
It has often been observed that President Trump’s wall is a very potent symbol for his supporters. What gets discussed far less often is that it’s also a potent symbol for his opponents.
This has created a political reality in the new Washington that Trump simply refuses to engage with. If there is anything that could lead us into another disastrous government shutdown — or even into a Trumpian declaration of a national emergency, which will create more chaos and political bedlam — it’s Trump’s unwillingness or inability to accept that basic reality.
…What has been left behind is the wall as a symbol. It is a monument (in Trump’s fevered imagination, yes, but also to opponents) of his agenda and its deeper aspirations and values — the goal of rolling back the numbers of immigrants in this country, through family-shattering deportations and restrictions on migrants fleeing horrific conditions at home or merely seeking a better life, thus slowing the country’s demographic and ethnic evolution.
Which brings us to the current debate. The GOP just suffered an epic wipeout in an election that Trump tried in every conceivable way to turn into a referendum on that grand conflation. The result is that Democrats now control the House and have the power to deny him his wall money. But, having lost an election about this very topic, Trump is trying to secure that money through extortion (the last government shutdown) and threats (to either shut down the government again or declare a national emergency).
What Trump refuses to understand — or couldn’t care less about — is that House Democrats are also beholden to their voters. The large popular majority that elected an unprecedentedly diverse House Democratic caucus also sees the wall as a potent symbol — of the aspirations, values and vision of our American future they just rejected.
…It remains to be seen whether Trump will ever be able to accept an outcome short of total victory for himself — an outcome rooted in an acceptance that the last election actually happened and that it should perhaps have some bearing on his conduct going forward.