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During then-President Donald Trump’s single term, he envisioned a spiteful shifting of migrants into Democratic strongholds. The Department of Homeland Security threatened to take the asylum-seeking migrants to New York City and California, in an attempt to locate the likely hardened criminals. To stage an action worthy of headlines, he would have to get rid all the self-made crises that were already clogging Page One from coasts to coast.
Trump’s latest scheme ended up in the lap of Miles Taylor, who was then the top political hand at the Department of Homeland Security. Taylor told MSNBC in a recent interview that he went down to his team of lawyers and asked them for help. “We went to our general counsel’s office to find every way to go tell them that was illegal. We got enough options to go back to the White House,” recalled Talyor, who resigned as the Department of Homeland Security’s chief of staff and emerged as one of the most credible converts to NeverTrumpism. “I’ve put all of the senior staff on an email and said, ‘This is illegal. Now, tell me you want to do it.’ And there was crickets on the chain.”
Now, Taylor isn’t a lawyer. But if the former top aide at DHS saw the ploy as illegal, then surely some lawyers who specialize in such matters—and populate a ton of offices on Capitol Hill and throughout the executive branch—can find a way to stop the narrower version of this Trump’s scheme, being carried out now by Republican governors looking to make a national splash for themselves, right?
Of course, but despite a faint sputter here and a performative protest there, Democrats are approaching the stunt of relocating migrants in Martha’s Vineyard, Mass, with the awareness that it is, in fact, a stunt. While there may be real victims in this case, no one is hurrying to put this on the schedule for the Congress. It’s a move Ron DeSantis or the Republican governors who are behind it would make a lot of money.
The quick backstory, which was this column’s topic on Friday: DeSantis’ allies allegedly recruited migrants amassed in Texas, convinced them to board planes on the promise of jobs, housing, and financial help, and dropped them in the unsuspecting island communities of Martha’s Vineyard. The fliers they were reading promised “8 months cash assistance,” help finding housing and schools for kids, transportation to job interviews, job training, and jobs themselves, and many other benefits. At this stage in the asylum process, there was no help for migrants. These documents look like trifold government flyers and were obtained by Popular.Info.
The topline move is similar to what fellow Republican governors’ have been doing in recent months with thousands of migrants awaiting adjudication of asylum cases, an effort to jam liberal enclaves in California, New York, and Washington, D.C. All three governors—DeSantis, Doug Ducey of Arizona, and Greg Abbott of Texas—have presidential ambitions and are betting the meanspirited exploitation of scared migrants helps their hand, particularly if Trump chooses to run again. They have done the same thing as Trump’s minders and they all succeeded in the exchanging of other human beings.
Massachusetts’ delegation has asked the Treasury Department to look into what money was involved. DeSantis is the second possible Republican nominee for 2024. A Texas elected sheriff has launched an investigation. On Friday, the White House hosted a meeting on the subject of the migrant-busing program. However, Democrats are heading into this election with a syndicated narrative that they consider a winner. Many are cautiously approaching potential human rights violations because they fear anything might dilute their well-honed message.
Then there’s this crass reality: DeSantis’ stunt, despite the outrage it is drawing, might do far more for Republicans’ fortunes than Democrats. It seems counter to Americans’ better angels, but it should be clear by now that this isn’t an era where many leaders should be eager to meet Saint Peter.
Polling—however imperfect as it might be right now—shows voters not as focused on immigration as Republicans may hope. “Threats to democracy”—aka the Big Lie, election fraud, Jan. 6, and Trump’s alleged absconding of classified materials—again topped the list as the single biggest issue facing voters this fall in this month’s NBC poll, with 20% citing the future of the American experiment as their driving worry. The cost of living and the economy were basically tied at issues two and three, while immigration ranked a distant fourth for 12% of voters—virtually unchanged from a month prior. At 8%, abortion was tied with climate change. Statistics show that it is statistically the same as separate questions regarding crime and guns.
Since October of last year in that poll, Republicans’ advantage on the border has risen 9 percentage points, with 56% of all voters giving the GOP higher marks than Democrats and leaping ahead of them by 36 percentage points. The Republicans have a 17 percentage point advantage over Democrats on the topic of immigration. This is a significant improvement from last year, when Democrats enjoyed a gap of 9 points between them and Republicans. The Republicans are holding steady with their nearly-20 point lead in the economy.
For their part, Democrats have their own baked-in advantages—albeit smaller ones. They’ve more than doubled their lead on the question of “dealing with the issue of abortion,” in the NBC phrasing; Democrats have moved from a net 10-point advantage a year ago to a 22-point lead now. It seems that the nation isn’t ready to accept a post-9/11 world.RoeThe polls show that the opposition to globalization is at 2-to-1.
A quick exercise, now that these numbers are front of mind: if you’re a Democratic strategist, do you trade abortion—an issue animating suburban women like none other—for immigration, which is similarly a second-tier issue, but one where the party starts at an obvious disadvantage? And if you’re a Republican, what can you do to move Trumpist rhetoric about the 2020 election off the front page just as the GOP faces a one-two punch of Jan. 6 hearings resuming and Trump’s legal problems over document security?
Still, as much of liberal Twitter’s pundits clutched their kerchiefs and pearls and gnashed about how terrible DeSantis is, they’re missing the point. Republicans are also predicting that swingy suburban communities will be cheering a move by 50 immigrants from Texas to Massachusetts. The “threats to democracy” message seems durable, and Democrats have the advantage of setting the tone for the debate as Trump himself remains on the defensive in many different jurisdictions—not the least of which is Congress. Republicans could win majority support in the House or Senate, as the voters have already listened to economic messages.
What about migrants and the border? Those, unfortunately, are secondary issues for a lot of Americans who just want to see government work again, are weary of yet more stunts, and are about to be reminded again why the final push to Election Day is often the most uncomfortable—if revealing—stretch of our national therapy sessions. Sometimes, elections hold the mirror up to society. Just look at why DeSantis sees his flight plans as roadmaps to the White House and why Democrats aren’t ready to meet him on the tarmac.
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