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Manhattan Institute

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Democrats Raise Their Hands for a Second Trump Term

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Democrats Raise Their Hands for a Second Trump Term

The Wall Street Journal July 3, 2019
OtherCulture & Society

He accuses them of favoring more illegal immigration, and they admit he’s right.

One reason single-term presidencies are so rare—in the past century only four presidents have lost re-election bids—is that the party out of power must convince a significant number of people who voted for the incumbent to acknowledge that they had a lapse in judgment. Who likes to admit they were wrong?

The challenge for Democrats next year is to persuade swing voters that backing Donald Trump in 2016 was a mistake. The question for swing voters is whether backing any of the Democratic alternatives on stage in Miami last week would be an even bigger one. Much has been written about the ascendancy of progressive Democrats. Technically, Speaker Nancy Pelosi is the party’s leader, but lawmakers of the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez variety seem to have the whip hand in the House and the sympathy of the political press.

If you want to send President Trump packing in 2020, this is worrisome. The progressive agenda does not reflect the priorities of most Democrats, let alone most Americans. There is scant evidence that Democrats won back control of the House last year by campaigning on issues like slavery reparations and free college tuition or for phasing out gasoline-powered vehicles and charter schools.

It’s not even clear if most primary voters are on board with these extreme proposals, though you wouldn’t know it listening to the leading Democratic presidential candidates. CNN reports that primary voters continue to skew older. In 2016 people over 45 made up three-fifths of all Democrats who participated in the primaries and caucuses. And those who were 65 and over comprised a larger percentage of voters than those under 30. Do people in their peak earning years want to see the top marginal tax rate doubled? Do people who are perfectly happy with their private health insurance want it snatched away?

Kamala Harris’s busing revisionism got more attention, but the debate exchanges over immigration could prove more consequential. Time was, reasonable people on both sides of the aisle agreed that reducing illegal immigration was in the nation’s best interest, even while they disagreed on how best to proceed. When Mr. Trump says that his political opponents favor more illegal immigration, he is accused of misrepresenting the position of most mainstream Democratic lawmakers. I’m not sure that’s still the case, at least among the Democrats who want his job.

The leading candidates have all expressed support for decriminalizing the act of crossing the border illegally, which is now a misdemeanor, and for offering taxpayer-funded health care to illegal immigrants. Put another way, Democrats want to extend free government benefits to anyone who arrives here by any means and for any reason. Voters who want the border fixed, rather than erased, seem to be an afterthought.

Our immigration laws exist to prioritize the interests of our citizens, not foreign nationals. Vetting immigrants isn’t mean or racist, it’s prudent. It’s a bow to the reality that everyone who shows up at our border is not an economic migrant in search of a better life, or a legitimate asylum seeker facing persecution back home. We share a national boundary to the south with a country whose gross domestic product per capita is roughly a sixth of ours, according to the World Bank; and the Guatemalan, Honduran and Salvadoran migrants now showing up at our border hail from countries that are poorer than Mexico. Incentives matter, and if we start offering generous handouts to noncitizens, we’ll find ourselves with more foreigners here in search of welfare instead of work.

The bipartisan support for an emergency funding bill last week to address the simmering humanitarian crisis on the border represents progress, but it may be a one-off compromise. Some Democrats signed on reluctantly, and Mrs. Pelosi got an earful from her party’s left flank for even allowing the vote. The parties once had an understanding of sorts that better border security was a prerequisite for more liberal immigration policies. The thinking was that voters wouldn’t support higher levels of immigration until they saw evidence that politicians were taking border security seriously. Surveys have long shown that Americans welcome people from other countries but that they also revere the rule of law and resent those who make a mockery of it and face no consequences.

The danger for Democrats is that a 2020 election about border security will likely play to Donald Trump’s strengths, just as it did in 2016. His supporters don’t much care that he hasn’t delivered on the wall he promised, because he’s convinced them that he’s serious about reducing illegal immigration. He’s repeatedly told the country that Democrats don’t share his concern, and now he can point to 10 of their candidates standing together on stage with their hands raised to acknowledge as much. Who’s the immigration extremist now?

This piece originally appeared at The Wall Street Journal (paywall)

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Jason L. Riley is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, and a Fox News commentator. Follow him on Twitter here.

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty

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