With the chaos that his immigration policies have generated at the border, Donald Trump is trying to get the Democrats’ backs against the wall by accusing them of advocating for “open borders,” the abolition of ICE, and therefore supporting “illegality.”
After all, for electoral reasons Trump is just trying to keep this base satisfied with a simple and clear strategy: paint the Democrats as “socialists” who oppose border controls and prefer undocumented immigrants over citizens of this country. That’s where his Machiavellian plan to “dump” undocumented immigrants in sanctuary cities comes from.
“Socialism” and “open borders” are the two messages Trump uses to define the Democrats among his faithful followers. The Democrats will never be able to appeal to this 40%, which sees them this way and will never betray Trump, despite the fact that he has not followed through on his promise of the wall–much less of having Mexico pay for it–and that his tax reform and his war on Obamacare, Medicare, and Social Security actually affects them. His base has not noticed, and if it has, it does not care.
On immigration matters the Democrats, for their part, can appeal to a base that advocates for sensible, humane, and compassionate policies.
But the challenge for Democrats is to define immigration policies that appeal to the diverse points of view that form their base, since there are sectors opposed to border control methods, while others are of the opinion that the Party has to be pragmatic and understand that to win elections you have to add up votes beyond those of your base–above all, independent voters who believe that having compassionate immigration policies is not divorced from effective border controls.
And that is where the work gets difficult for Democrats, because their internal positions are as diverse as the melting pot of cultures and ideologies that define this party, something which has become even more evident due to the fact that the Democrats have eighteen candidates aspiring to by their Party’s presidential nominee.
That is, while Trump only has to pronounce the magic words “socialism” and “open borders” in order to energize his base, the Democrats have to engage in a discourse that attracts independent voters without “offending” the wing that advocates for more radical immigration proposals including, for example, the abolition of ICE.
And while these ideological debates are healthy, I simply hope that the Democratic primary process does not become a “litmus test” on immigration such that the primary candidates degenerate into fights that divide the Party more and make the contest against Trump more difficult.
I understand perfectly well that people are asking for clarity on the immigration positions of the candidates who aspire to the Democratic nomination.
What I cannot fit into my head is that diverse sectors of the Democratic Party believe that, in the face of 2020, they have the luxury of getting involved in internal fights, just like they did in 2016, which could end up handing Trump a second term in the White House on a silver platter.
Or that despite what we have lived through these two and a half years of Trump’s presidency and all of his illegality, lies, lack of respect to institutions, and damaging policies, there are still Democratic sectors who push their luck and demand purity from the primary candidates or they will not support them. Or who ding the primary candidates for being too young, or inexperienced, or for lacking leadership.
People look at who is president. A 72 year-old man-child, who lies on a daily basis and disrespects institutions, who as a businessman declared bankruptcy multiple times and now signs or rejects budgets, who does have even the most limited understanding of foreign policy, much less domestic. And what’s worse, he is a cruel individual who is using families, women, and migrant children as pawns in his macabre game of political chess.
It is very easy to be demanding with the Democratic primary candidates from the comfort of citizenship or permanent residency, or make someone the bad guy because they do not fulfill all expectations. Those who will suffer the consequences of another Trump term are precisely those most vulnerable sectors such as undocumented immigrants or the thousands looking for refuge in this country from the violence that plagues their nations.
What use is it for Candidate X or Y to offer up a detailed immigration plan that hits all of the required points without offending or disappointing anyone? The plan will not matter if he or she does not win the presidency.
The only way forward for the Democrats must be to choose a viable candidate who can beat Trump. The important part is winning. All the rest comes later.
Maribel Hastings is a Senior Advisor and columnist at América’s Voice and América’s Voice Education Fund.
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