The answer to the question won’t be known until next Tuesday night. Logic tells me it’s a bust, but here’s the thing. Many of the President’s moves before the last election could be considered busts from a logical perspective and it all worked out well for him in the end. I’m not a betting lady, but if I were I’d put my money on the President’s uncanny ability to turn controversy into victory.
One thing is certain: most major news outlets are discussing birthright citizenship more than they’re discussing the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre, the mail bomber, or President Trump’s “hateful” rhetoric.
When he first announced his candidacy, he did so by ruffling feathers instantly. By directly attacking illegal immigrants using language people weren’t accustomed to from a serious presidential candidate, he was declared by most analysts as a sideshow, not a serious candidate, or someone who would fade away in time. That didn’t happen. Once he secured the nomination, the media destroyed him over every new controversy that came out every week or so leading up to the election. They were handing the election to Hillary Clinton. That didn’t happen either.
But it isn’t the President who’s running in this election. It’s his agenda and the ability to fulfill it. Some will argue that the immigration debate will not be beneficial to Republican House candidates in areas they need to win, but again I defer to his uncanny judgment on such things. He and his team are banking on Americans being concerned enough about spiking illegal immigration and violent migrant caravans. It’s a gamble, one that defies logic since many of the most competitive House races are far from the border.
I’ll say it a third time: I’m not ready to bet against President Trump’s election magic even if logic says I should.
Fan versus foil
One interesting takeaway on this is a tactic we haven’t seen from the President: offering a way for Republican candidates to differentiate themselves from the President. He is obsessed with loyalty, so much so that he’s put the wrong people in the wrong positions based solely on their perceived loyalty to him. That’s why it’s hard to imagine he was considering this when pushing out the birthright citizenship narrative, but let’s roll with it for a moment.
Candidates in blue districts are able to use this issue to present themselves as a foil to the President’s agenda. By coming out publicly opposed to ending birthright citizenship, GOP candidates in blue districts can show voters at this late stage that they’re willing to go against the President when they disagree with him.
Of course, this is an issue that can rally the President’s base for candidates in tough races in red districts. Those candidates will be able to point to the President lovingly and ask voters to help bring his full agenda forward.
If internal polling showed the President and his team that candidates in tough races aren’t getting enough support from conservatives to get them out to vote, this might be the move that reinvigorates them to vote Republican. He’s been travelling the country doing everything he can to get the base juiced up, but there are still conservative critics who are disappointed that there’s no wall, Obamacare is still intact, and/or Planned Parenthood is still alive and well.
The migrant caravan was looking like it could be the spark to reach these voters, but mainstream media and Democrats have done a fine job at minimizing the perceived threat they pose. Birthright citizenship is an evergreen topic; it doesn’t matter whether a voter fears the caravan or not. It’s a problem that truly needs a solution and now the President is offering them one.
If there’s a mistake being made here, it’s that he didn’t say he’d have to sign an executive order IF they lose the House. Perhaps he didn’t want to diminish the message by acknowledging an executive order would be weaker than legislation. Or he could be concerned challenges to legislation would be harder to overturn at the Supreme Court than challenges to an executive order. The other possibility is that he doesn’t think he would get legislation even if they retain the House, which based on Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s comments, may actually be the case.
Whatever motivated him to go down this path, he’s pulled the conversation back towards him from the opposite perspective than it was before. Instead of undecided voters getting pummeled by media reports that he’s to blame for violence and hatred by American citizens, they’re now saying he’s to blame for bigotry against illegal immigrants. That message suits him better even if it’s framed in a negative connotation.
Wait until Tuesday
The President understands how important it is for his agenda to keep going that they retain control of both chambers of Congress. It appears likely they’ll retain the Senate, though trends in some races are worrisome. The House is definitely in jeopardy.
The best thing Republicans can do at this point is follow the President’s lead on messaging and focus on illegal immigration. Tax cuts and healthcare are important, but the President chose to sprint to the finish line on birthright citizenship. Let’s do the same.