Posted on July 7, 2021

Republicans Go All-in on Immigration as a Political Weapon

David Siders, Politico, June 30, 2021

Kristi Noem is sending the South Dakota National Guard to the U.S.-Mexico border. Florida’s Ron DeSantis is providing law enforcement officers. Greg Abbott is vowing that Texas will build its own wall.

With Donald Trump and a dozen House Republicans joining Abbott on the border on Wednesday, the GOP is loudly signaling its conviction that immigration will be a potent political weapon ahead of the midterm elections and presidential primary in 2024.

“As an issue, I can’t think of one that’s better,” said Jeff Roe, a Republican strategist and top adviser to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign in 2016. “One day they’re erecting a wall to keep illegal immigrants out, and the next day it’s 180,000 people coming across the border. It’s incredible. It’s just enigmatic of Biden’s failure … I mean, what the f— is going on?”

Five years after Trump rallied Republican primary voters with his chants of “Build that wall!” the election of a Democratic president coupled with the recent increase of migrants from Latin America has afforded Republicans a new opening on border security. It’s gaining traction in advertising in Republican campaigns across the country, and it has turned the southern border into a destination for candidates seeking to burnish their conservative bona fides at home.

“It’s off the Richter scale in terms of importance for the Republican electorate,” said John Thomas, a Republican strategist who works on House campaigns across the country. “It transcends jurisdictions. So, it goes from the suburbs of Orange County to statewide in Nevada … It’s even going to be included in a judicial race I’m doing in Fort Worth.”

Republicans have reason to be optimistic about the potential of immigration as a voting issue — and a potential point of weakness for the Democratic Party. In a Harvard CAPS-Harris poll this month, voters rated immigration just behind the economy and jobs on issues of importance, a finding in line with Republicans’ internal polling. Biden’s approval rating on immigration is still above water at 52 percent, according to the poll. But that’s a weaker endorsement of Biden than on any other subject measured, from the economy to crime and response to the coronavirus.

A Morning Consult survey last month suggested Democrats may be on even shakier ground, with disapproval of Biden’s handling of immigration outpacing approval 48 percent to 42 percent.


Nowhere is the issue more resonant than Texas, the border state where Trump appeared Wednesday beside Abbott, with the former president accusing Democrats of either being “incompetent” on border security or favoring “open borders.” Customs and Border Protection reported more than 180,000 migrant encounters at the border in May, up from about 23,000 in the same month in 2020, during the coronavirus pandemic, and about 144,000 in May 2019.

{snip} In a state whose electorate ranks immigration and border security above even the economy and the coronavirus as the most important problem facing the state, Republicans believe Democrats are especially vulnerable on the issue.

But GOP spending patterns suggest immigration resonates far beyond Texas or other border states. In Ohio, former Rep. Steve Stivers aired ads this month endorsing state Rep. Jeff LaRe to succeed him, pairing video of border wall construction with a promise that LaRe, among other reasons to elect him, would work to “strengthen our borders.” In Pennsylvania, Republican Jeff Bartos, a real estate developer running for the state’s open Senate seat, is putting out list-building digital ads asserting the state’s taxpayers “shouldn’t foot the bill for Biden’s Border Crisis.”

“There’s a reason why Trump got elected,” said Carl Fogliani, a Republican strategist based in Pittsburgh. “It’s the dominant issue. It’s obvious.”