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Immigration Conflagration: The Politics Behind the Policies

Yesterday, I wanted to focus on the policies that have led to perhaps the most brutal scandal to consume the White House since President Donald Trump first took office. Today, we can talk more about the politics of immigration in advance of Trump’s return to Nevada this weekend to campaign for U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R).

Just how popular is Trump’s “populism”, and how is his agenda changing the conversation in this critical election year? Let’s cut through the spin and crunch the real numbers to get the true story.

Here’s what Americans really think of Trump’s immigration agenda
Photo by Andrew Davey

Since yesterday, we’ve seen some new polling on Trump’s approval, and of Americans’ view of Trump’s immigration agenda. For starters, a brand new Quinnipiac national poll shows Americans opposing Trump’s family separation policy by a whopping 66%-27%. In addition, only 12% of Americans want a decrease in legal immigration, as Trump has repeatedly demanded. Even more startling, 67% of Americans support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, 79% specifically want a path to citizenship for DREAMers, and 58% oppose Trump’s proposed border wall.

For all the talk of Trump governing on a “populist platform”, his platform isn’t really popular. In addition to Quinnipiac, we have a new CNN national poll that makes this point into a big exclamation point. Not only has Trump’s overall approval slipped since they released their last national poll, but CNN also shows Americans disapprove of Trump’s immigration agenda by a wide 59%-35% spread. Like Quinnipiac, CNN shows a similar 67%-28% disapproval of Trump’s family separation policy, and it shows a glaring 80%-14% spread against Trump’s decision to end DACA.

Of course, these are just two recent national polls… That just so happen to align with other recent polls. A Public Policy Polling (PPP) national survey revealed Americans support the DREAM Act with a path to citizenship for DREAMers 64%-26%, and that they oppose Trump’s proposed border wall 36%-56%. The latest George Washington University/YouGov national survey said Americans support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants 63%-32%, and a continuation of DACA protection from DREAMers 64%-28%. And the most recent Fox News poll showed 79% of Americans supporting a path to citizenship for DREAMers, and voters preferring the Democrats’ approach to immigration reform over the Republicans’ by a 46%-39% spread. So even when we zoom out to observe the bigger picture, Trump’s “populist” immigration policies are still quite unpopular.

So why can’t Trump defy the polls?

And yet, despite these recent polls, many Republican elected officials and candidates continue to embrace Trump and Trumpism. After all, he won in 2016. “The polls were wrong.” And Trump is all about “winning, winning, winning”. So are the polls all wrong and Trump all right?

Not so fast. Though most Republican lawmakers are sticking with Trump, a greater number of prominent Republicans are condemning Trump’s immigration policies. On MSNBC yesterday, Ohio Governor John Kasich said, “They are people. They’re flesh and they’re blood and they bleed and they cry. We have to care about them.”

And now, two more Republican Governors, Charlie Baker (R-Massachusetts) and Larry Hogan (R-Maryland), are pulling their respective states’ troops out of the Trump administration’s National Guard operation on the U.S.-Mexico Border. (Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval [R] already declined to send Nevada National Guard troops to participate in the border deployment in April.)

Are Republicans getting worried? And if so, why?
Photo by Andrew Davey

So a few “old-guard, establishment RINO’s” spoke. So what? Here’s what: We’re now starting to see current Republican Members of Congress speak out as well.

This morning, Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colorado), who’s facing a tough reelection fight in his suburban Denver district that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016, is now condemning Trump. So is Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Virginia), another vulnerable House Republican in a suburban D.C. district that Hillary Clinton carried comfortably. Perhaps Coffman and Comstock are truly horrified by Trump’s actions, or perhaps they’re starting to say in public what other Republicans are fretting in private because Trump’s hard line against immigrants is placing Congressional Republicans at greater risk of losing their majority.

Trump’s coming back to Nevada this Saturday. What might Dean Heller say to him?

This fear of losing elections and losing power may finally be trickling back home to Nevada. After telling an audience at a private fundraiser that he only supports immigration legislation that Trump approves of, Senator Dean Heller’s (R) office released a statement that frowns upon family separation. Though Heller continues to refuse to place blame where it actually belongs, this suggests that his political team realizes the danger of tying oneself too closely to Trump in a midterm election that’s becoming a referendum on Trump’s controversial presidency.

And yet, Trump is still set to appear with Heller here in Las Vegas this Saturday. We may never know all of what Heller says to Trump on Saturday, but the fact that he’s still campaigning with Trump, and the fact that he won’t elaborate beyond this and his other occasional vague statements of possibly mild disapproval, makes me wonder how much the Senator truly cares about the plight of immigrant communities targeted by the Trump administration. Perhaps the campaign is waiting for some new polling data to figure out their next steps.

UPDATE, 2:45 PM:

Heller joined 11 other Republican Senators to release this letter that places the blame on the Trump administration for family separation.

The letter suggests these Republicans are breaking from their own leadership. Earlier today, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) hinted that Republican leaders were working on a bill that narrowly addresses the issue of family separation. To no one’s surprise, he overlooked the legislation that Senate Democrats, including Nevada’s own Catherine Cortez Masto (D), have already been rallying around.

So now, the White House must choose whether to heed Republican Senators’ call for an administrative solution to Trump’s own administrative action, or risk another bruising fight in Congress that may very well end up being another harsh rebuke of Trump’s anti-immigrant policies. We’ll keep an eye on this as the week churns on.

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