The following article by Ruy Teixeira, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, politics editor of The Liberal Patriot newsletter and co-author with John B. Judis of the new Book “Where Have All the Democrats Gone?,” is cross-posted from The Liberal Patriot:
With the Iowa caucuses in the rear view mirror, it seems even more likely that Trump will be the GOP candidate facing off against Biden this November. That should concentrate the mind. Right now Biden is running behind Trump in national polls and in every swing state with the possible exception of Wisconsin. In some of these states Trump’s lead is quite substantial: 5 points in Arizona, Michigan, and Nevada and 7 points in Georgia.
Of course it’s still early days. But let’s just say none of this is a good sign for Team Biden.
Right now the number one issue for voters is the economy and inflation and, as has been widely noted, Biden’s economic performance is viewed very poorly by voters. The latest ABC News poll has Biden’s approval rating on the economy at 31 percent. Only 13 percent say they are better off financially since Biden took office, compared to 43 percent who say they are worse off. When given a choice between two statements, 71 percent say “the economy is in bad shape, given higher prices and interest rates” rather than “the economy is in good shape, given low unemployment and rising wages” (24 percent). Perhaps most worrisome, in the latest CBS News poll half of voters believe that if Biden wins in November, his policies in a second term would make them financially worse off, with just a fifth saying those policies would make them better off. In contrast, half of voters think Trump’s policies, if he wins, would make them financially better off, compared to 30 percent who think his policies would make them worse off.
Not good. Maybe economic perceptions will improve over the course of the year. Maybe the Biden campaign’s economic messaging will improve after the debacle of “Bidenomics” (the Blueprint public opinion research group has some good ideas about this). Maybe the Democrats’ relentless drumbeat about “MAGA Republicans” and how “Democracy is on the ballot” will neutralize Trump’s advantage on the economy (and on mental and physical fitness). Maybe.
But it’ll be an uphill climb. And lurking in the weeds is voters’ second most important issue: immigration and the border. The Democrats are in such terrible shape on this issue that it could tip the balance decisively in Trump’s favor.
Start with this: Biden’s approval rating on “handling the immigration situation at the U.S.-Mexico border” is now 18 percent. Eighteen percent! That’s really, really bad and the lowest presidential approval on the issue ABC News has measured since 2004.
In the latest Wall Street Journal poll, Trump is preferred over Biden by 30 points, his greatest lead on any issue. In the latest Fox News poll, voters favor a wide variety of measures to crack down on illegal immigration: increasing border agents (79 percent); deporting illegal immigrants (67 percent); penalizing hiring illegal immigrants (64 percent); using the US military at the border (58 percent); and even building a border wall (54 percent).
Illuminating detail comes from a December survey conducted by the Blueprint group. Between Trump and Biden, who are voters most likely to think is close to their views on immigration? It’s Trump by a country mile: 44 percent of voters say Trump is close to their position, compared to a mere 25 percent who say Biden is close to their position. Even Hispanic voters are more likely to say Trump is close to their views on immigration than to say Biden is! (To understand this last data point I recommend Politico reporter David Siders’ sobering article, “There Are a Lot of Mexican People Looking Forward to Trump,” based on a reporting trip to El Paso, Texas.)
Across all voters, 56 percent say Biden is more liberal than they are on the immigration issue. Given a binary choice, voters prefer an approach that would “increase border enforcement and make asylum and refugee policies stricter” (61 percent) to one that would “increase legal pathways to immigrate to the United States” (39 percent). And they are far more likely to say rules on refugee and asylum status should be made stricter (53 percent) rather than looser (14 percent), and to believe that the US should take in fewer (52 percent) rather than more (17 percent) refugees and asylum seekers.
What part of “We need to get a lot tougher on border security” don’t Democrats understand? Of course, they are starting to bend a little on the issue, as we are currently seeing with the negotiations over linking border security changes to supplemental funding for Ukraine and Israel. We shall see how much they are willing to bend and how much Republicans, especially House Republicans, are willing to play ball.
Frankly, it’s a bit late in the day to finally be moving on this issue and only under duress from the Republicans. The border debacle has been unfolding throughout Biden’s term and the political damage has been accumulating. A big part of the problem is that there are a lot of Democrats who didn’t—and don’t—really want to do much about border security.
Once a country has established borders, it must confront the unavoidably thorny issue of which outsiders it should admit and which it should not…“For those who believe in a multicultural America, this question can be uncomfortable to confront, because any system short of open borders invariably requires drawing distinctions that declare some people worthy of entry and others unworthy,” Jia Lynn Yang, a journalist, wrote in her history of immigration law. Because of this discomfort, the modern Democratic Party has struggled to articulate an immigration policy beyond what might be summarized as: More is better, and less is racist. The party has cast aside the legacies of [Barbara] Jordan and other progressives who made finer distinctions.
Leonhardt summarizes in a recent column:
Today, many Democratic politicians are willing to accept high levels of undocumented immigration and oppose enforcement measures that the party once favored. Some Democrats, especially on the left, argue that the government doesn’t even have the power to reduce migration much.
“More is better and less is racist” isn’t much of an immigration policy but it is the default position of many Democrats. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, has said that her members wouldn’t get behind any immigration legislation endorsed by Republicans. The delusional Jayapal added that any GOP-endorsed immigration legislation would hurt, not help, the Democrats in swing states this November.
“Compromises? We don’ need no stinkin’ compromises!” For these Democrats moving toward actually-existing public opinion on immigration is a betrayal and, of course (that magical concept), would demobilize the all-important progressive base. With “allies” like this, Biden will likely have a hard time re-positioning himself and his party on this critical issue.
I have noted the tendency of Democrats to indulge in the Fox News Fallacy on a variety of issues. To wit: if Fox News is going after the Democrats on some issue, it is likely made up and nothing Democrats should worry about. There is no starker example of this than Democrats’ attitude toward the immigration surge at the southern border. Cast your mind back to the early days of the Biden administration when the party line was that the situation at the Mexican border should not be called a “crisis”—only the bad people at Fox News use that word!—and that an initial surge at the border would go away on its own as the hot weather season arrived.
[O]f the 3.1 million undocumented immigrants who entered the United States at the Southwest border in FY 2023, about 1.5 million entered the maze of the immigrant court system, 300,000 were paroled, and 600,000 got through undetected. That’s about 2.4 million undocumented migrants in addition to the 1.1 million authorized to receive permanent visas under current immigration law. That’s an influx of undocumented immigrants that matches the population of Chicago or Houston. Given that migrants who were expelled could try again, America’s borders have been de facto open during the first three years of the Biden administration.
Not good! Rather than being dismissive of concerns about illegal immigration, it now seems obvious Democrats should have taken them more seriously from the very beginning. Trump of course will be delighted to take advantage of the Democrats’ colossal blunder. Could it hand him victory this November? It is my sad duty to inform you that yes, this is quite possible.