Trump Gives Dems an Opening on the Border
By Republicans to abandon a bipartisan deal, Trump is putting him election ahead of securing the border
I don’t have many nice things to say about Mitch McConnell. He has probably done more damage to American democracy than any other politician in the last half-century. However, he has refused to join the rest of the Republican leadership in slavish devotion to Donald Trump and the cause of MAGA extremism.
According to reporting from Punchbowl News:
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told a private meeting of Senate Republicans Wednesday afternoon that the politics of the border has flipped for his party and cast doubt on linking immigration policy with new aid for Ukraine, according to multiple sources present … “The politics on this have changed,” McConnell then told his GOP colleagues.
All of this is about former President Donald Trump, who is on a path toward the Republican nomination, as well as complaints from hardline conservatives. McConnell went as far as to quote Trump criticizing the emerging bipartisan proposal, which Lankford has been crafting with Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).
McConnell referred to Trump as “the nominee” and noted the former president wants to run his 2024 campaign centered on immigration. And the GOP leader said, “We don’t want to do anything to undermine him.”
In other words, Trump wants to use the situation at the border to defeat Biden. He and McConnell want to ensure that nothing is done to improve the situation before Trump can exploit it. These Republicans call the border a “crisis” and tell tall tales about Hamas terrorists coming across the border. Yet, with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to implement border security policies that they have long touted, the Republicans chose inaction for political expediency.
Trump’s gambit and McConnell’s obsequious submission will do damage at home and abroad. The slim hopes of passing urgent aid for Ukraine depend on a border security deal in the Senate. There are reports that the Ukrainian military is short on ammo and furiously waiting on U.S. aid that may never arrive.
Trump is not incorrect to see political opportunity in border politics. As I wrote in a recent post about House Republicans’ opposition to the border deal:
This is not just a phenomenon among Republicans consuming Fox News. Nearly a quarter of Democrats and half of Independents call it a “crisis.” And 75% of all Americans say what is happening at the border is either a “crisis” or “very serious.”
However, the way Trump, McConnell, and the Republicans torpedoed this bipartisan deal is so ham-handed and patently cynical as to present Democrats with the chance to turn a weakness into a strength; and hopefully put Trump on the defensive on his top issue.
One of my goals with this newsletter is to provide people working at all levels of politics — from presidential campaign managers to those trying to convince their cousins not to vote for RFK Jr — with the sort of messaging advice that I give to Democratic candidates and campaigns. I am ramping up those efforts in 2024. If you find this post useful, please share it with your network.
If you want to support this work for the 2024 cycle, please consider becoming a paid subscriber.
How to Make Trump Pay
In an ideal world, Nikki Haley would see this turn of events as an opportunity to pump some life into her fledgling campaign. It’s not complicated — she is running against Trump, claiming he is an agent of chaos who can’t deliver on a conservative agenda. She also supports helping Ukraine defeat Russia. The ads, speeches, and tweets basically write themselves. However, if her past is prologue, then she may be too worried about Trump painting her as soft on the border.
However, Democrats at all levels — from candidates to congresspeople to those simply trying to persuade friends and family — shouldn’t wait for Nikki Haley to come to her senses. Here are some thoughts on messaging to Republicans:
Hammer Trump and the GOP Immediately and Relentlessly: I know it feels like Trump offers Democratic ad makers and messengers an all-you-can-eat buffet of criminality, corruption, incoherence, and unpopular policies. However, it’s not often that Trump gives an opportunity to hit him where all the polls show he is strongest and Biden the weakest. It’s not enough to fire off some tweets (or threads). If you are issuing a press release, you’re wasting your time (or think it’s 2004). All of us should incorporate this into our narrative about why Trump is the wrong choice and then hammer that narrative regularly. It takes time and effort to inform people of anything in this media environment. Trump counts on us moving on to the next outrage du jour before the electorate knows about this one. No one will know about what Trump did if Democrats don’t tell them. So let’s do that.
Make the Critique Believable: This obvious point is often forgotten in political messaging. The efficacy of a political attack is directly related to what voters find believable. When Republicans would call Obama “anti-American” or a “communist,” it fell on deaf ears because those words did not compute with how voters saw Obama. There will be a temptation to call Trump soft on the border. I get it, but much like the truthful accusations that Republicans were the ones who defunded the police (by cutting funding for local police departments), I doubt it will work. Trump is intrinsically associated with building a wall on the border. Cruel, over-the-top border policies and rhetoric are part of his political identity. But if voters won’t believe that Trump is soft on the border, they will believe that he is a cynical narcissist who put his own personal interests ahead of the nation’s wellbeing.
Use Republican Messengers: In addition to believability, the other factor that makes a political message effective is the credibility of the person delivering the message. When trying to persuade independents, soft Republicans, and the Trump-Biden voters (who we desperately need), a Republican criticizing Trump for scuttling the deal will be exponentially more powerful than a Democrat or mainstream media figure. Here’s an example worth sharing:
Yes, Nikki Haley is still running, and Trump is still focused on rage ‘Truthing” about her. But as the Biden campaign noted after the New Hampshire Primary, the general election is here, and Trump wasted no time reminding us why it’s so necessary that we beat him and his megalomaniacal brand of politics.