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In Arizona, Nevada and Across America, Xenophobia Backfired in 2018

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With the Arizona Senate race now called for Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, observers are highlighting how the focus by Trump and McSally on nativism and xenophobia backfired politically. Arizona joined Nevada and other states across the country in rejecting the GOP’s reliance on the ugly “caravan election” strategy.

See below for key observations and excerpts:

In Arizona, Trump’s nativist closing argument hurt McSally:

A Washington Post story by Dan Balz and Michael Scherer quotes Chuck Coughlin, a Republican strategist and former adviser to Jan Brewer, who noted: “One thing is for certain, that the caravan rhetoric doesn’t resonate in this state as well as it resonates in the Midwest … We have done a lot of research, and we have consistently shown that border security is a big issue, but the immigration reform side of that question is integral to the future of the state.”

The piece then notes, “Republicans in the state, however, have been hemmed in by Trump’s support among Republican primary voters, which forced Rep. Martha McSally, the Republican nominee for Senate, to tack to the right, particularly on immigration. ‘She didn’t ever modulate,’ said Coughlin. ‘She didn’t create any separation.’”

Meanwhile, Democratic political strategist David Axelrod tweeted, “The president’s calculated histrionics about the caravan, about which we have heard very little since Election Day, may have sunk the @GOP in AZ.”

And former John McCain political strategist Mark Salter tweeted, “Trump, who barely won AZ two years ago, is even more disliked there now. Arizonans knew Trump’s caravan of terrorist lepers was bullshit. McSally was ill advised to embrace it. Ducey ran as a McCain like  problem solver. So did Sinema. Lesson for Rs: don’t be Trump. Be McCain … The scariest part for AZ Rs, their advantage is smaller in presidential years. A candidate running statewide in ‘20 who’s closely identified with Trump will lose, and this time it won’t be close.”

Latino voter engagement and mobilization mattered in Arizona in 2018 and moving forward.

As the New York Times characterized in a story on Sinema’s triumph, “Voter drives to register more Latinos, who generally vote Democratic in Arizona, appear to have paid off for Ms. Sinema. About 2.1 million Latinos live in Arizona, about one-third of the state’s population. Though Mr. Trump narrowly carried the state in the 2016 election, many Latinos in Arizona have expressed displeasure with the president.

The Democratic victories and backlash to nativism would have been impossible without the work of civic engagement organizations such as the coalition MiAZ, which noted in a post-election statement reflecting on their work this cycle, “The coalition knocked on an astounding 1.5 million doors,” and noting that “Arizona is on the right path … the state is trending purple – in no small part due to efforts to shift the state’s electorate permanently by engaging young people and people of color in the political process.”

Nevada’s leading political journalist, Jon Ralston, highlights how embracing xenophobia hurt GOP candidates in the state in 2018.

In a “What I learned from the election” analysis for the Nevada Independent, Ralston declares Nevada a blue state and includes as one of his top assessments from this cycle: “The dog-whistlers lose. The GOP triumvirate of Heller, Laxalt and lieutenant governor hopeful Michael Roberson used phony issues, especially sanctuary cities, to try to drive up the white vote in rural Nevada to win their races. It failed spectacularly. Sure, they all won by landslides in the 15 counties between Las Vegas and Reno. But they clearly alienated urban voters and helped rev up the minority vote. Heckuva job, guys. Their toxic brand of politics, so analogous to Trump’s, was repudiated by voters and all three should be consigned to the trash heap of Nevada political history.”

National Journal political editor Josh Kraushaar’s new column argues that xenophobia backfired on Republicans in many places across the country —and will again in 2020:

Taking stock of the 2018 cycle and future implications, Kraushaar notes, “It would be a lot easier for Trump to maintain the GOP’s volatile coalition if he focused more on his economic accomplishments and less on exacerbating the cultural divisions in the country. Obsessing over a caravan of migrants likely juiced turnout in red states like Missouri and Indiana, but it backfired in the parts of the country he needs to win for a second term. The midterm results showed that there’s a pathway for Trump to win a second term, but his 2018 playbook will have to be abandoned.”

In Axios, editors and Beltway insiders Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei take a look towards 2020 and the ominous trends of demographics and electoral politics accelerated by Trump’s nativism:

Writing for the Axios AM political tipsheet, Allen and VandeHei assess: “There’s not a single demographic trend in America that benefits Republicans. We can see this in the tighter-than-expected results in Arizona, Florida, Georgia and Texas — all ominous signs for Trump’s 2020 map. All have rising Latino populations, and are getting more Democrat-friendly.

…The gravest threat to the GOP has been — and remains — demographics. Every election, like clockwork, white dominance in voting shrinks by a few percentage points. Demographics don’t lie: The population of Hispanics and to a lesser extent Asians is rising, slowly but undeniably changing the politics of Texas, Georgia, Arizona, Colorado and other states. Ask yourself this: Did Trump and the 2018 elections help or hurt Republicans with minorities?”

An op-ed in The Hill from Jordan Bruneau of the center-right Becoming American Initiative, makes the case that “Republicans must learn from the election mistake on immigration”:

Bruneau looks at the lessons from the 2018 cycle and notes, “Throughout the country, suburban districts filled with college educated and pro-immigration voters were the bulkhead upon which the blue wave crashed.

…If 2016 was the election of the disaffected Democrats in the midwest, then 2018 was the revolt of the moderate Republicans across the suburbs.

Despite what the comments section at the Daily Caller may suggest, there are not enough anti-immigrant voters to win close elections.

…Recent elections, including special elections this year, have not yielded campaign dividends and may have generated blowback for Republican candidates attacking immigrants.

…To have a chance to win back the suburbs, which will increasingly determine state and national races, Republicans should reach out and make common cause with immigrants over shared values of hard work, family, and faith rather than write them off as a lost cause. To demonstrate they have learned this lesson, the reported purge of White House officials after this midterm election should continue with advisers like Stephen Miller who feed the worst anti-immigrant impulses of the president.”