Trump is Winning the Immigration Debate

Rich Lowry, Politico, July 5, 2017

With his penchant for tweeted insults and GIFs, Donald Trump will never be mistaken for a master of the sweet art of persuasion. Yet he is clearly winning the public argument on the issue of immigration.

He isn’t doing it through sustained, careful attention. He tweeted the other day that the media will eventually have to cover his success at the border, even though he himself has devoted more energy to his war with CNN than promoting the reduction in illegal border crossings.

No, it is the sheer fact of his November victory, and the data showing the importance of the issue of immigration to it, that has begun to shift the intellectual climate.

It had been assumed, even by many Republicans like Sen. John McCain, that opposition to amnesty and higher levels of legal immigration would doom the GOP to minority status forevermore. Trump blew up this conventional wisdom.

Now, intellectuals on the center-left are calling for Democrats to rethink the party’s orthodoxy on immigration, which has become more and more hostile to enforcement and to any skepticism about current high levels of immigration.

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In light of the election, Josh Barro of Business Insider, William Galston of the Brookings Institution, Peter Beinart of the Atlantic, Fareed Zakaria of CNN, and Stan Greenberg of Democracy Corps, among others, have urged Democrats to re-calibrate.

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In an act of heresy for the Davos set, Fareed Zakaria recommends that “the party should take a position on immigration that is less absolutist and recognizes both the cultural and economic costs of large-scale immigration.”

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This sentiment wouldn’t be so noteworthy if the Democratic Party hadn’t become so radical on immigration. Beinart’s Atlantic piece was a trenchant reminder that as recently as 10 years ago the Left allowed much more room for dissent on immigration. Go back a little further, to the 1990s, and Bill Clinton was forthrightly denouncing illegal immigration and liberal giant Barbara Jordan was heading a bipartisan commission that called for enhanced enforcement and reduced levels of legal immigration.

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Reversing field won’t be easy.

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The pull of the left’s cosmopolitanism is strong. In an attack on Beinart, Dylan Matthews of Vox argues that the left’s egalitarianism can’t stop at the nation’s borders—“it means a strong presumption in favor of open immigration.”

So, it’d be a mistake to make too much of the recent spate of articles calling for Democrats to rethink this issue. If Democrats are ever going to shift on immigration, though, elite opinion has to change first, and at least there is now an opening.

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