Trump's Immigration Push Plays to Base in Lead up to Midterm Elections

A week before the midterm elections, President Donald Trump has thrown kerosene on the immigration and border security fires already demonstrably raging within the Republican Pary by loudly promoting two measures aimed squarely at GOP voters focused on immigration and border security. First, the president has called up 5,200 active duty military personnel to converge on the Texas border in anticipation of a caravan of migrants from Honduras. Second, in an Axios / HBO interview to air this weekend, it was revealed that the president is considering repealing birthright citizenship as guaranteed in the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution through executive order.

Both of these moves are likely to play well with the Republican base in Texas, where GOP campaign ads up and down the ticket, from Governor Abbott down to various state legislative candidates, invoke the spectres of illegal immigration and porous borders, sometimes luridly, in order to agitate GOP voters and get them to the polls. According to data from both past and recently released University of Texas/Texas Tribune polls, these ads, like Trump's most recent pronouncements, find a ready audience among GOP voters being targeted by Texas Republican candidates hedging against the threat of a possible increase in Democratic turnout. Birthright citizenship has always been a target on the outskirts of the mainstream debates over immigration, but in November 2015 UT/TT polling, a plurality of Texans expressed support for repealing the part of the 14th Amendment that provides "that all children born in the United States are automatically U.S. citizens regardless of their parents' legal status." This included 26 percent of Democrats and 66 percent of Republicans.

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Don't know / No opinion13%

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Don't know / No opinion13%16%12%

While this data was collected three years ago, data collected just this month provides little indication of a softening of these attitudes. Despite major crackdowns on undocumented immigrants by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), religious and then regional travel bans, the separation of children from their parents when crossing the border, and a consideration of closing the asylum process down entirely, a majority of Texas voters say that the Trump administration's enforcement of immigration policy has either been "about right" (20 percent) or that it has "not gone far enough" (33 percent). Among Republicans, 87 percent say that the administration's approach has been "about right" (30 percent) or that it has "not fone far enough" (57 percent).

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Gone too far41%
Been about right20%
Not gone far enough33%
Don't know6%

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Gone too far81%38%9%
Been about right9%16%30%
Not gone far enough5%36%57%
Don't know5%10%4%

There is little indication that one should expect a reversion to the mean on the GOP's appetitie for punitive immigration policies. In this same November polling, a majority of Texans (54 percent), and 81 percent of Texas Republicans supported the immediate deportation of undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States – an 11-point increase over February 2018 results.

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Strongly agree32%
Somewhat agree22%
Somewhat disagree19%
Strongly disagree26%

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Strongly agree11%35%51%
Somewhat agree12%22%30%
Somewhat disagree26%21%13%
Strongly disagree50%21%6%

The president's flurry of action on immigration is hardly an October surprise, but it harmonizes with the campaign strategies of GOP elected officials on the ballot in Texas as Republican candidates, particularly below the statwide ballot, continue to fret about the possible effects of increased Democratic turnout in urban and perhaps suburban Texas. This harmony was not always a sure thing. As the uncertain early months of the Trump presidency unfolded during the regular session of the 86th Texas Legislature, the legisalture's othewise internally divided GOP majority came together to pass a so-called anti-sanctuary cities bill that has now found a place in GOP political ads across the state. This ensured that Repunlican candidates could invoke their own homegrown record of willingness to push the boundaries on illegal immigrants and border security (and in fact, the courts have found some of those boundary crossings unconstitutional), whether Trump delivered on his campaign promises or not. As it turns out, the president was not about to be trumped by the GOP majorities in the Texas Legislature, even if they were there first in providing election-ready deliverables to their base on immigration.