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USA Today Op-Ed: Republicans embraced Trump’s immigration scare tactics and paid a high political price

 

“While Trump’s xenophobic rhetoric might have energized Republicans in red states, polling shows it alienated everyone else”

Let’s not forget. In the 2018 midterms Trump and his party closed with an ugly and unprecedented deluge of racism and xenophobia: hysteria about a caravan of bedraggled refugees a thousand miles from the border; the deployment of troops to the border; an ad so despicable that even Fox News refused to run it; a promise to change the Constitution’s definition of who is an American by executive order; and tens of millions of dollars in political ads that would have made Lee Atwater — of Willie Horton infamy — blush.

In a new must-read op-ed in USA Today by Tyler Moran, managing director of The Immigration Hub and Nick Gourevitch, a Democratic pollster who is a partner and managing director of Global Strategy Group, the authors make a compelling case for how the Republican embrace of xenophobia backfired far more than it worked to turn out base voters.  

We excerpt the new op-ed below, followed by supplemental polling and analysis from the American Election Eve poll.

According to our TV ad monitoring service, GOP candidates, party organizations and outside groups ran more than 280,000 immigration spots that threw the kitchen sink at Democratic candidates — ads on MS-13 gangs, open borders, “sanctuary” cities and, of course, the caravan. That is nearly five times as many ads on immigration as they ran in 2014.

…The wreckage of the Republican embrace of Trumpism is everywhere. Anti-immigrant Trump acolytes like Lou Barletta in Pennsylvania and Corey Stewart in Virginia got walloped in Senate races, while Kris Kobach lost his Kansas gubernatorial bid in a state that Trump carried by 20 points in 2016. In the Barletta race, every single Pennsylvania county moved toward Democrats, including Obama-Trump counties.

…While Trump’s xenophobic rhetoric might have energized Republicans in red states, polling shows it alienated everyone else. It failed with suburban voters; it failed with young voters; it failed with independents; it failed with people of color. There is even evidence that the strategy failed with the same swing voters in industrial states that delivered the election to Trump in 2016.

Polling commissioned by the Immigration Hub with Global Strategy Group in Pennsylvania and Colorado, two 2020 battleground states, found that the Trump strategy backfired with some of the exact people he tried to motivate — women and independents. On Trump’s caravan gambit, 60 percent of independent voters in Colorado said Trump was “playing politics” with the caravan versus acting out of genuine concern for protecting the country. In a separate digital ad testing survey in Pennsylvania, 62 percent of moderate suburban women opposed Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner’s ad on the “dangerous caravan of illegals.”

…The polling also revealed that aligning with Trump on immigration pushed more people away from voting Republican than attracted them — by 9 points in Pennsylvania and 16 points in Colorado. Among a key bloc of voters who supported Democrat Bob Casey in 2018 and voted for Trump in 2016, just 26 percent said Barletta’s alignment with Trump on immigration was a reason to vote for him, and a plurality believed it was a reason to vote against him. In Colorado, 65 percent of independents said Trump and Republicans are moving away from them on immigration.

For the first time, we are seeing that long-used GOP campaign tactics to stoke fear about immigrants are deeply interwoven with a political ideology — Trumpism. A Republican can’t be “tough on immigration” without carrying all the baggage that Trumpism brings. They are now one and the same. That’s a big shift from the past 20 years of campaigns — there is now a cost to playing this card for Republicans.

What does this all mean for 2020?

These results suggest that voters want solutions and are tired of strategies that divide and distract the electorate. In 2018, fear and hate as a political strategy failed, and candidates who employed values and a unifying message resonated with voters. Republicans running in 2020 now face a choice: Drop this strategy, or continue to play base-first politics that alienate key voting blocs and large swaths of the American public.

This analysis reinforces key findings from the American Election Eve battleground congressional poll of 70 districts, commissioned by a coalition of groups including America’s Voice.

  • The Election Eve battleground poll found strong support for the Democratic response to Trump’s framing on immigration. An overwhelming 86-11% of all voters agreed with the statement: “In 2018, many Republicans made attacks on immigrants’ part of their campaigns. It’s obvious we need to reform our immigration policies but calling immigrants rapists and gang members accomplishes nothing. Congress should work together on bipartisan immigration reform and put the issue to rest, and address important issues like improving wages, lowering the cost of healthcare so we have more money in our pockets.”  
  • The poll found overwhelming support for pro-immigrant policies such as the Dream Act, which was supported by a 68-21% margin in competitive districts, including by 64-26% among whites; 85-9% among Latinos; 81-7% among black voters; and 72-16% among AAPI voters.
  • The poll highlighted how people of color showed up and were central to the coalition that voted against Trump and voted out Republicans — in no small part because of the salience of anti-immigrant politics from the GOP. As lead researcher Matt Barreto of Latino Decisions concluded:
    • “Latino, Black, Native American, and AAPI voters all agree that Trump has created an environment of hostility and racism that is directed towards immigrants and minorities, and this is mobilizing people to take action. Voters of color in particular are taking things into their own hands, reporting high rates of “self-mobilization” and encouraging their friends and family to vote.  Rather than waiting on campaigns to knock on their doors, many immigrant and minority voters are seizing the moment and mobilizing themselves, their families, and their communities.”