Mexican immigrants and a wall launched his drive for the Republican nomination and it immediately gave him 15 percent of the vote – a strong spot in the early running. It was his call to ban Muslims that catapulted him to the front of the field in December just as the primaries started. Immigration has also produced the administration’s greatest controversies, from the travel ban the second weekend in office, to the family separation policy after 520 days in office. But, he has never wavered in harsh language and tough politics.
Trump: “I think I got elected on that border.” Democrats are
for “weak, weak borders.” (Speech on November 6, 2018)
Steve Bannon, jettisoned from the White House but always happy to gather some attention for his ethno nationalist theories, points to the growing impact of immigration on western democracies (today, it’s leading to a crisis in Germany) and its contribution to the rise of populism and nationalism in Poland, Hungary and Italy.
Steve Miller, Trump’s domestic policy enforcer on immigration, argues there is much upside on the hardline position and little downside. The zero-tolerance stance is red meat for the base and supported by super majorities of Republicans, and it cuts off the potential critics like Laura Ingraham, Rush Limbaugh and Breitbart.
Specifically, Trump’s adoption of hard-right policies has the midterm advantage of exploiting the two facts that have most empowered Trump in the age of polarization: hostility to the “other” and attacks on the “messenger.” Trump expertly keeps what aggravates his base front and center: Democrats, immigrants, Hillary Clinton and Maxine Waters. In today’s political climate, people are not attracted to vote for positive reasons, such as tax cuts or deregulation, but negative reasons – to fight the other side, the other people and the unknown. The media is at the bottom of the pyramid of respect for institutions. Its focus on the sympathetic aspects of the border crisis makes it a useful foil for the President and his allies.
Will his strategy hold the House and win some seats in the Senate? Trump calls it the “Red Wave.” It’s going to be a long and ugly campaign.