Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Democrats on Immigration

A strategy memo co-authored by the Center for American Progress and Third Way -- two Washington-based think tanks -- recommended that certain Democrats speak about the topic as little as possible and instead focus on topics that will better resonate with their voters.
Navin Nayak, executive director of the Center for American Progress Action, said that even though the memo was sent to a broad set of districts, it excluded ones with large Latino populations or particularly diverse districts because it’s not intended to provide blanket advice.
Lots to unpack here.

First, the party establishment has feared immigration for a long time, before Donald Trump. President Obama did not expend much political capital on it. Before him, Bill Clinton passed sometimes harsh anti-immigrant bills, more so than George W. Bush, in the hope of grabbing the median voter.

Second, you can claim to be aiming your message only at certain districts, but this gets heard nationally. The accompanying message is that if a Democrat is elected in 2020, the establishment will not be pushing for immigration reform. The tiptoeing will continue. The only way out is the candidate her/himself wanted it, just as Trump is forcing establishment Republicans in certain directions they wouldn't otherwise go.

Third, I just wrote about how the Latino population is lukewarm on the Democratic Party, and this message reinforces the notion that Democrats want to assume their support will continue with a lukewarm message on the suffering of immigrants.

Fourth, racism is right under the surface here. The signal is that you don't use this message in "particularly diverse districts." If the districts are white, however, you downplay the fact that your party wants to help non-whites.

Fifth, this means Republicans own immigration. Democrats are largely ceding it to them, playing a reactive and defensive role that does not seek to frame their own values. You will also hear a lot of Republicans with the classic reverse psychology "oh I hope they bring up immigration" meme even though it is not at clear that undecided voters will automatically have any problem with talking rationally about the topic. But a lot of Democrats will fear it.

This will become a major issue in the Democratic presidential primaries, where you have stronger pro-immigration reform voters. The risk is that Obama sought in vain to appease the mythical middle, where he deported people like crazy while claiming to be empathetic. The result was that everyone was unhappy, which is the worst of all outcomes.


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