Elections have consequences is a maxim that’s as true as ever, but it’s a maxim that has lost some of its punch in a “can-you-top-this?” culture. The punditry insists, as always, that every election is the most important one of everybody’s lifetime. It’s hyperbole, of course, but it’s also true that the 2018 midterms are very, very important. “It’s the economy, stupid,” is giving way to a maxim waiting for someone to coin: Immigration determines what kind of nation we’ll be, and most Americans like the nation we already have.
The military establishment tends to prepare to fight the previous war (another maxim). This year the Republicans may be tempted to try to fight the previous election by making their tax reform success the centerpiece of their campaign message. With the U.S. economy humming at a breathtaking 4.1 percent growth rate, the contrast between the Trump low-tax, high-growth economic strategy and the high-tax, low-growth Obama formula could not be more stark. The so-called “tax cut 2.0” legislative package which Kevin Brady, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, outlined last week is worthy of praise and consideration. It would make permanent the reductions in individual tax rates in legislation signed last year by President Trump.
But in a new Harvard/Harris poll conducted in last month, immigration was named by 36 percent of respondents as the most important issue facing the country. Health care was named by 31 percent, terrorism by 26 percent. Only 25 percent chose the economy and jobs as their top concern. Taxes, the issue that Republicans are counting on to hold their House and Senate majorities, is regarded as the top concern of only 11 percent.
The Harvard-Harris poll affirmed a survey in June that 73 percent of Americans want immigration reform and 76 percent want secure borders. The 70 percent who want stricter enforcement of immigration laws include 77 percent of white voters, 53 percent of blacks and, in a mild surprise, 51 percent of Hispanics. Among the respondents to the poll, a strong, 64 percent majority want illegal immigrants to be sent home, and 53 percent want them prosecuted. Those numbers indicate a solid consensus of voters who believe, as the president does, that a nation without borders is no nation at all.
In true Trumpian fashion, the president jolted the cybersphere with a weekend Twitter explosion of capital letters and exclamation points: “I would be willing to ‘shut down’ government if the Democrats do not give us the votes for Border Security, which includes the Wall! Must get rid of Lottery, Catch & Release etc. and finally go to system of Immigration based on MERIT! We need great people coming into our Country!”
For congressional Republicans, words that combine border bombast with a threat of a government shutdown sound like something to make the earth move as if preceding a Democratic midterm landslide. Congress has tiptoed around the border issue by placing $5 billion for wall construction in a Department of Homeland Security appropriation bill — due for a vote after the November election is safely over.
The president’s warning about immigration recalls the tightening of border security that led to the separation of children from their illegal immigrant parents, which Americans overwhelmingly reviled. Experience has taught Republicans that no matter the circumstances, the anti-Trump media will leap at every opportunity to blame Republicans for something. The media did not have to leap very far. Some bureaucrats left and right, Democrat and Republican, are born tone-deaf.
A president can be tone-deaf, too. Rather than treat federal workers this fall with a vacation at taxpayers’ expense, Mr. Trump should exploit the border security issue to help his party’s candidates and hammer Democrats. The “angel families” of those slain by border-crashers have been permanently separated from “their loved ones” and they will be the president’s most persuasive advocates.
If the president builds the wall, the media will descend deeper into hysteria and that will send his poll numbers through the roof.” But Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will be the wall. Patience is a virtue, and so is the relentless pursuit of other goals already at hand. Americans want order restored at their border. Restoration will send the president’s poll numbers through the roof, too.
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