In a must-read piece, Alex Shephard of The New Republic captures the fact that the GOP is repeating the errors of the 2018 midterms by leaning on racism and xenophobia. It backfired then, and it is backfiring again.
Shephard’s piece is excerpted below and available in full here.
Ahead of last year’s midterms, President Trump telegraphed his electoral strategy. “Hard to believe that with thousands of people from South of the Border, walking unimpeded toward our country in the form of large Caravans, that the Democrats won’t approve legislation that will allow laws for the protection of our country,” he tweeted in mid-October. “Great Midterm issue for Republicans!” To that end, he held rallies across the country, fomenting fear with racist claims about a migrant caravan that was largely made up of families fleeing violence in Central America. Trump also tweeted a veiled warning to his party: “Republicans must make the horrendous, weak and outdated immigration laws, and the Border, a part of the Midterms!”
They got the message. As the Times reported less than a week after that tweet, “Trump has not been alone in seeking to divide the electorate along racial lines this fall: As the congressional elections have approached, a number of Republican candidates and political committees have delivered messages plainly aimed at stoking cultural anxiety among white voters and even appealing to overt racism.”
The strategy failed spectacularly. The party’s anti-immigrant rhetoric may have motivated the GOP base, but not as much as it motivated Democrats and independents. The Republicans got shellacked, losing 40 seats in the House in the worst midterm defeat in history. The results can be read as nothing short of repudiation of Trump’s immigration policies.
And yet, here we are today: The Republicans have let Trump lead the country into what will soon be its longest-ever government shutdown, all over an immigration policy that voters roundly rejected last November. The party’s leaders, notably Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, could break this impasse by joining with Democrats to pass a veto-proof funding bill. Instead, they continue to stick by the president, as they have done—to their increasing detriment—since he became the party’s nominee in 2016. They paid a price for doing so last year, but refuse to learn their lesson.
…On Tuesday, Trump gave a nationally televised address to make his case for a border wall. It sounded exactly like the case he made before the midterms. “Over the years, thousands of Americans have been brutally killed by those who illegally entered our country and thousands more lives will be lost if we don’t act right now,” he said, describing a police officer who was “savagely murdered in cold blood by an illegal alien” and an air force veteran who was “raped, murdered, and beaten to death with a hammer by an illegal alien with a long criminal history.”
And where are the Republicans? Much like last fall, they have either backed Trump publicly or kept quiet, the latter group surely hoping that this standoff will damage only the president, not the party. But this is exactly the gamble they made two months ago. Despite a wealth of evidence that the president’s immigration rhetoric and policies are broadly unpopular, McConnell, McCarthy, and the rest of Republicans in Congress are too cowardly or loyal to buck the president. It cost them dearly in 2018. It will cost them even more in 2020.
Repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results is, of course, the definition of insanity. It’s also what defines the Republican Party.