Jeremy Beck's picture


  by  Jeremy Beck

Brian Norris and Anita Kumar join the throng of political observers noting the palatable absence of immigration during the 2020 campaign:

Immigration dominated the 2016 presidential campaign, but Joe Biden's promise during the second debate to "within a hundred days ... send to the United States Congress a pathway to citizenship for over 11 million undocumented people" was the first high-profile focus on the issue in the 2020 campaign.
Trump made immigration the centerpiece of his 2016 campaign, as well as the 2018 midterm elections. But in 2020, he talked less about the issue, in large part because the election was overtaken by the pandemic, which has killed over 265,000 Americans and decimated the economy.

David Shor suggests that Biden and the Democrats were wise to downplay immigration in 2020 (and lucky that Trump didn't make it a bigger issue):

In 2016, we didn't lose because our get-out-the-vote lists were not sorted well enough. And it wasn't that we had the wrong kind of digital targeting. We lost because, big picture, we ran a campaign that increased the salience of immigration at a time when marginal voters in swing states in the Midwest disagreed with us on immigration. That's why we lost.

David Leonhardt and Frank Bruni at The New York Times echo Shor:

Democrats are almost certainly fooling themselves if they conclude that America has turned into a left-leaning country that's ready to get rid of private health insurance, defund the police, abolish immigration enforcement and vote out Republicans because they are filling the courts with anti-abortion judges. Manyworking-class voters -- white, Hispanic, Black and Asian-American - disagree with progressive activists on several of those issues.
And Trump 2016 lived in Trump 2020. He demonstrated the same knack for correctly identifying and mercilessly exploiting his opponents' vulnerabilities. (He's like a sadist who knows precisely where to press his finger to cause the most excruciating pain.) This time around, that meant a warning that Democrats - and, by extension, Biden - were in thrall to socialism, intent on enfeebling the police and about to abolish anything and everything that runs on fossil fuel. Overblown? Absolutely. But what mattered was that it seemed to resonate with some voters...The party held a presidential primary in which, at the start, most contenders called for the decriminalization of unauthorized border crossings and health insurance for undocumented immigrants.

Their colleague Ross Douthat looks back on the last three elections...

Way back in the days after the 2012 election, the last Republican presidential defeat, all the conventional wisdom in American politics converged on a simple idea: The G.O.P. was doomed as a national institution unless it became, in effect, a moderate party of the business class, stiff-arming social conservatives and wooing Hispanic voters by promising more liberal immigration laws.

Against this consensus, a few observers made dissenting points: First, a lot of working-class white voters who tilted Republican had stayed home amid Mitt Romney's business-class campaign in 2012, and second, the Hispanic vote was hardly a single-issue-voting, pro-immigration monolith. So it was as easy to imagine Republicans surviving in a changing country by simply becoming more populist on economic issues as it was to imagine them moving in the more libertarian direction favored by the party's donors and consultants.

After two national elections with Donald Trump at the top of the ticket, those dissenters can claim a lot of vindication. For the second presidential cycle in a row, notwithstanding plague, economic crisis and his own immense faults, Trump was a competitive candidate with a coalition that was more blue-collar and non white than the Republican vote in 2012. Relative to four years ago, he turned out even more whites without college degrees in many states (even as his share of the white working class may have slipped a little bit overall) and increased his support from African-Americans and in heavily Hispanic areas -- not just in the Cuban parts of Florida, but in regions as different as southern Texas and Lawrence, Mass.

...and sees immigration reduction as a key to the GOP's future...

....Trump was at his most unpopular when he behaved grotesquely and ceded policymaking to the Republican old guard, so his would-be successors need to act less like tinpot tyrants, eschew the ranting and the insults, and also make good on some of the policy promises Trump left by the wayside. A populism 2.0 that doesn't alienate as many people with its rhetoric, that promises more support for families and domestic industry, that accepts universal health care and attacks monopolies and keeps low-skilled immigration low, all while confronting China and avoiding Middle East entanglements and fighting elite progressivism tooth and nail - there's your new Republican majority.

Nicholas Lemann's pre-election thoughts on a post-Trump Republican party include this telling of how the GOP's commitment to immigration expansion peaked and crashed:

Shortly after Bush's victory against John Kerry, he made a swaggering appearance before the press, announcing, "I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it." He did this by making two big bets on the future of the Republican Party, both of which went spectacularly awry. The first was a relatively permissive immigration policy. He believed that Republicans could appeal to Latinos, the country's fastest-growing minority group. The first flight of ads that Bush ran as a Presidential candidate, in Iowa in 2000, included radio spots in Spanish - "artifacts from a lost civilization," one of his media consultants called them. In 2004, he got about forty per cent of the Latino vote....

....After Obama defeated Mitt Romney in the 2012 election, Reince Priebus, then the head of the Republican National Committee (who later followed the familiar trajectory from Never Trumper to Trump enabler to Trump exile), commissioned an inquiry to find out what had gone wrong. The resulting report, known in Republican circles as "the autopsy," noted a significant decline in the Latino vote for Republican Presidential candidates since the George W. Bush high-water mark, in 2004, and urgently called on the Party to reaffirm its identity as pro-market, government-skeptical, and ethnically and culturally inclusive. Romney would have carried Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada if he had replicated Bush's share of the Latino vote. The Republican establishment, and most of the 2016 Republican Presidential field, accepted the autopsy as revealed truth.

This left an opening for Trump to ignore a series of supposedly inviolable Republican bromides. He didn't talk about the need for limited government or for balancing the federal budget. He didn't talk about the United States as the guarantor of freedom worldwide. He didn't extoll free trade. He didn't court the Koch brothers. He did not sign the no-new-tax pledge that the conservative organizer Grover Norquist has been imposing on Republican Presidential aspirants for decades. A new book, "Never Trump," by two political scientists, Robert Saldin and Steven Teles, asserts that Trump was opposed by more officials in his own Party (the Never Trumpers of their title) than any Presidential nominee in recent American history. Nonetheless, he got more votes in the Republican primary than any Presidential candidate ever has.

Ironically, one of Lemann's contenders to move Trumpism forward is the Gang of Eight's own Marco Rubio:

In 2018, Rubio hired Mike Needham, a former employee of an organization affiliated with the Heritage Foundation who had converted to Reversalism, as his chief of staff. Needham is on the board of American Compass. Rubio has recently been making speeches that call for "common-good capitalism," which would entail a strong government role in managing the economy and would attempt to attract religious and minority voters.

Henry Olsen and Mike Needham (see above) offer some encouraging ideas about where the GOP should go on immigration in a post-Trump world.

For richer or for poorer

Shakil Hamid says immigration and the economy should serve Americans, not the other way around:

No one, least of all me, will deny that many immigrants are hardworking and contribute to the United States. No one else should deny, either, that high levels of immigration drive down wages and displace American workers, who can and will do any job in the United States. The solution isn't to end immigration. What Congress needs to do is to reduce the overall level of immigration, and reform the system so that employers can't use it to undermine the standing of American workers.

Christopher Caldwell looks closer at one of Trump's more important and overlooked successes:

In 2019, the share of overall earnings going to the bottom 90 percent of earners rose for the first time in a decade.

The reasons for Trump's success are not yet clear. They may well have involved his unorthodox policy choices: above all, limiting immigration. Whatever the reason, this equalization must be why Trump's economic approval was over 50 percent at election time, even as his personal scores remained low. We can assume that the great demographic surprise of the election - Trump's uptick among Black and Latino men - owed more to this wage progress than to Lil Wayne's endorsement, or to Trump's musing aloud that he had done more for Blacks in America than any president since Abraham Lincoln.

Now that he's leaving...

Post-election polls (I know, I know) are showing a dramatic shift in Democratic voters' attitudes about immigration:

A May 2020 question asked respondents if they favored admitting more foreign workers for blue collar jobs, just 54 percent of Democrats agreed that it is "better for businesses to raise the pay and try harder to recruit non-working Americans even if it causes prices to rise."

But that score jumped 10 points, to 64 percent, in the post-election November 15-19 poll of 1,250 likely voters.

Similarly, in the May poll, 33 percent of Democrats said they preferred government to "bring in new foreign workers to help keep business costs and prices down." In November, the response dropped 1o points to 23 percent, and the share of Democrats favoring cheap labor migration dropped from one-third to one-quarter.

A smaller shift was seen among self-described liberals. Their preference for Americans rose from just from 58 percent before the election up to 61 percent after the election. Their support for extra foreign workers slumped from a pre-election share of 30 percent down to 24 percent after the election.

The November poll showed few significant shifts among Republicans, "other" voters, or moderates.

An elite theory

Peter Turchin is a pine beetle expert turned "megahistorian" (the same genre of data-driven historical inquiry where you'll find Steven Pinker, Jared Diamond, and Yuval Noah Harari) whose theory about elite overproduction (i.e. too many elites and not enough for them to do) and the violent cycles of nations are getting a closer look after predicting that 2020 would a be a year of great upheaval. Money quote from Graeme Wood's feature in The Atlantic:

Turchin's prescriptions are, as a whole, vague and unclassifiable. Some sound like ideas that might have come from Senator Elizabeth Warren - tax the elites until there are fewer of them--while others, such as a call to reduce immigration to keep wages high for American workers, resemble Trumpian protectionism. Other policies are simply heretical. He opposes credential-oriented higher education, for example, which he says is a way of mass-producing elites without also mass-producing elite jobs for them to occupy. Architects of such policies, he told me, are "creating surplus elites, and some become counter-elites." A smarter approach would be to keep the elite numbers small, and the real wages of the general population on a constant rise.
JEREMY BECK is the Director of the Sustainability Initiative for NumbersUSA

Updated: Thu, Dec 24th 2020 @ 9:40am EST

NumbersUSA's blogs are copyrighted and may be republished or reposted only if they are copied in their entirety, including this paragraph, and provide proper credit to NumbersUSA. NumbersUSA bears no responsibility for where our blogs may be republished or reposted. The views expressed in blogs do not necessarily reflect the official position of NumbersUSA.