The Perils of a Political Strategy Disconnect - Sunday Political Brunch June 24, 2018


CHARLESTON, W.Va. – You can’t escape the debate this past week over border enforcement and the family separation policy. I’ll leave it to others to argue the pros and cons, and they have been all over social media and network TV. What I want to look at this week, as a political analyst, is what the strategy seems to be behind the scenes, and the implications for November if the polices drag on. Let’s “brunch” on that this week.

“The Bully Pulpit” – One of the things we’ve learned in the Trump administration is that he is an in-your-face, bull-in-a-China-shop negotiator. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), a frequent foe of President Trump, has often described him as a street fighter. It has been decades since there was significant immigration reform in Washington, and the President was likely trying to leverage the shocking images of family separation into a pressure tactic on both fellow Republicans and Democrats to pass a significant immigration reform bill. So far, the effort has failed.

“Implications for November” – In some states, such as West Virginia, Trump is popular, and his policies play well on both sides. For example, this week, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved Trump’s Homeland Security Budget, which includes $1.6 billion for the Border Wall with Mexico. Both Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-West Virginia) voted for the security budget, including funding for the wall. Not every state agrees. As we’ve discussed in recent weeks, seven California U.S. House districts currently occupied by Republicans are on the bubble. Former Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-New York) won all these districts in the 2016 Presidential race. The hardline family separation policy may not play well here for the GOP. Control of the Senate and House are at stake on Capitol Hill.

“Immigration Bills” – If President Trump, as I hypothesize, was trying to insert leverage and pass a comprehensive immigration bill, so far it has not come to bear. A Thursday vote failed in the House, and a companion bill faces uncertainty in the days ahead. Even if anything passes the House, it’s likely dead in the Senate, where the GOP needs some Democratic votes for approval.

“The Pass-Pattern on Immigration” – The last significant immigration bill was the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. That was 32 years ago, yet the problem has gotten worse under both Republican and Democrat administrations. Why is that, given that voters are so outraged on both sides of the debate? Here is the unvarnished answer. Democrats look at illegal immigrants as likely voters. Republicans look at illegal immigrants as an affordable labor source in the underground economy, often dominating the agribusiness and hospitality industries. Both sides feel comfortable looking the other way in hoping to advance their own self-interest. It sounds cynical, but it’s true.

“The Politics of Provocation” – I am not making an editorial comment here when I say the President likes to finesse, or “bully” his agenda into policy or votes. Calling opponents “Lyin’ Ted,” “Crooked Hillary,” or “Crazy Bernie,” was not just to create bumper stickers. President Trump likes to bait his opponents by provoking and angering them, in hopes of knocking them off balance. Calling North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “Little Rocket Man” was meant to demean and belittle him. Then, President Trump invites him to a summit, only to cancel it and reschedule it again. That is the Trump strategy: To make Trump the power broker in the deal.

“The First Lady” – When I read Thursday that Melania Trump was on her way to the border for a fact-finding mission, I thought what a great way to counteract all the negative publicity surrounding family separation, including some of the highly-volatile video images. Yes, it’s a publicity gimmick, but all first ladies in my lifetime have often had a softening effect on their partner, or at least gave the impression of a more compassionate soul. I still view the pictures of the late First Lady Barbara Bush holding an AIDS baby as the shining example. But Melania Trump traveled to Texas with a coat bearing the expression, “I really don’t care, do u?” What a disaster! Where are her aides? Where is her own good judgement? Its indefensible. Images matter! Who on earth thought this was a good idea?

“Scatter and Run” – We are five-and-a-half months from the November election. With President Trump signing an Executive Order and reversing his policy on family separation at the border, it’s possible the issue may fade, despite the impassioned outcries people have today. It’s a long way to November and memories fade. That’s a political reality.

“The Shelf Life of News” – News about politics remains a “what have you done for me lately business”, even in the internet-age. If the immigration policy was a crisis for the Trump Administration in June, it might not even register as a blip on the radar in November, especially if the policy fades away. Strategically, the President was probably right to make the public provocation in June, even though it may have backfired in the short term.

Do you support or oppose a border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border? Why, or why not? Just click the comment button at

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is a nationally-known political reporter, analyst and author, now based in West Virginia. He is the Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia and neighboring states.

© 2018, Mark Curtis Media, LLC

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

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