As Trump Leans in to the Same ‘Divide and Distract’ Strategy as 2018, Evidence Mounts That it is Backfiring Against Him and GOP for 2020
President Trump’s campaign rally last night in Pennsylvania reminds us that his 2020 reelection campaign will feature an ugly mix of tough guy talk and fearmongering on immigrants and immigration. Trump clearly believes this is a winning issue for him. Some in the political class seem to believe the same. Most experts believe it backfired on the GOP in 2018
How is the immigration issue likely to play in 2020? A Priorities USA poll of voters in the critical states of Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin explored this topic — and the news is not good for Team Trump.
The key finding: by a margin of 50% to 41% the issue hurts Trump more than it helps. Among undecided voters, only 34% cite immigration as a reason to re-elect Trump; 46% say it is a reason to support somebody else.
The memo accompanying the poll states that “Immigration may be important to keeping Trump’s base together, but it hurts him with the broader electorate and will not solve his electoral challenges.” As a result, immigration is “far worse for Trump” as a political issue than “conventional wisdom would suggest.”
Per the memo:
Trump’s border messaging is not helping. In a split sample exercise, a plurality of voters agree that Trump is either manufacturing a crisis at the southern border to distract from other issues and help himself politically or is contributing to the problems on the southern border and making things worse rather than trying to address and solve a real crisis that exists on the southern border. Immigration may be important to keeping Trump’s base together, but it hurts him with the broader electorate and will not solve his electoral challenges.
Where does immigration fit in the overall picture? Priorities USA asserts,
2020 will be an election where pocketbook issues and the difficulties people face in keeping up with the cost of living will be front and center – and no pocketbook issue is as important as the cost of health care.
It is worth noting that this polling strongly suggests that the 2020 election will follow the same contours as the 2018 midterms. Trump and many Republicans relied on a “divide and distract” strategy that attempted to keep the focus on immigration at the expense of the kitchen table issues. Trump talked about caravans and crime and Democrats talked about healthcare and wages.
The result? Xenophobia backfired. Democrats won the popular vote by the largest midterm margin in history, flipping 40 House seats, limiting Senate losses, and making huge inroads in state capitals and state legislatures. Analysts, including Republican pollster David Winston, Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg, and journalist Ron Brownstein concluded that Trump’s reliance on xenophobia and the fact that most GOP candidates followed the same strategy directly contributed to the GOP’s electoral wipeout.
Trump seems to have ignored the consequences of his hard-edged, race baiting closing argument. Since the election, he instigated a showdown over his border wall, shut down the government for 35 days in a failed bid to force Congress (and not Mexico) to pay for it, and declared an unconstitutional national emergency in an attempt to redirect appropriated funds to his vanity project. These days, he talks tough and makes threats while failing miserably to deal effectively with the Central American refugee and humanitarian crisis. Trump and his evil sidekick Stephen Miller rely on a vicious cycle of circular logic and lies as their chaotic and cruel moves make a difficult situation worse. Meanwhile, multiple media reports have documented that while Trump demonizes undocumented immigrants as the President, he hires and exploits them as a businessman.
According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, “Trump and pundits mesmerized by Trump’s supposed political genius may believe that xenophobia will deliver him victory in 2020. But based on the 2018 midterm results and this polling, the voters do not.”