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What Pundits Get Wrong About The Border Security Fight


In response to growing problems on the southern U.S. border, President Donald Trump attempted to get Congress to authorize broad border security provisions including a secure barrier, more personnel, more beds for detainees, technology for drug interdiction, and $800 million in aid for asylum seekers, among other things.

Congress did not want to authorize these things, leading to a partial government shutdown lasting 35 days. On Friday, the two branches agreed to a temporary re-opening of the government for three weeks to work out a deal.

Pundits, the media, and other Trump critics were elated that he was unable to secure the border provisions he sought during the shutdown, and presented the temporary re-opening as a huge victory for Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif). Trump supporters viewed the failure to get the deal as a huge loss and tremendous disappointment. Neither set of people are wrong, but here are a few other things to keep in mind as the discussion continues.

The Shutdown Reprieve Is Temporary

It is absolutely true that the shutdown ended without Trump being able to deliver increased border security. The failure to end the shutdown with increased border security is a victory for Pelosi, who said she’d refuse to even think about the topic until the government was re-opened. She won that standoff.

It is also true that the government is only re-opening for three weeks. This is not necessarily a permanent failure to secure the border. All will depend on what the White House, Pelosi, and Senate Republicans do in the interim. But here there is also reason for concern from those who support borders, rule of law, and national sovereignty.

The White House had lost the high ground in the battle when it started throwing the kitchen sink at Democrats in a bid to get a deal, offering up valuable reprieves on amnesty for younger aliens and Central American programs in exchange for a deal they didn’t get. It will be interesting if they will handle the three weeks of negotiation better. Anonymously sourced reports indicate serious opposition within the White House to Jared Kushner’s handling of the negotiations.

Senate Republicans from Mitt Romney to Mitch McConnell had telegraphed to everyone in their path that they didn’t want the fight over border security. Republican senators opposed Trump pushing for a deal, and did not put much muscle, if any, into fighting on his behalf.

Axios’ Mike Allen “reported” that “an advisor to top Republicans” had told him Trump had to cave because of Senate Republicans’ behavior. “The Senate Rs were about to cut and run. He had no exit ramp.” They may have telegraphed their views on the matter a bit too much, however. They may want to convince Republican voters that they aren’t completely useless during the three-week negotiation, even while remaining opposed to Trump’s proposed improvements at the southern border.

Pelosi also has a challenge during the three-week negotiation period. Newly emboldened, she may just put her foot down and refuse to do anything on the border. However, while “defeating Trump” is good for beltway accolades, “failing to secure the border when given an opportunity” could pose problems in the coming years. Plus, 30 Democrats called on Pelosi to give Trump a vote should he agree to a temporary reprieve, which he did.

Pelosi refused to do anything while 25 percent of the government was shut down. Now that it’s temporarily re-opened, her message might need to be more substantive.

How Pelosi Is Viewed Inside Vs. Outside the Beltway

Again, there is no question that Pelosi is the queen of the DC Establishment. Chuck Todd had this to say on “Meet The Press”:

CHUCK TODD: Tom Brokaw, a month ago, we were asking the question, who’s the leader of the Democratic Party? I want to put up some, I want to put up some quotes here from people that weren’t always so supportive of Nancy Pelosi becoming speaker again. A.O.C., ‘Speaker Pelosi doesn’t mess around.’ Tim Ryan, who challenged her, ‘She’s definitely up to the task.’ And then her home state governor, Gavin Newsom, ‘Grateful for our champion in Washington, Speaker Pelosi.’ I think it’s undoubt — that Democrats have a leader. It’s Nancy Pelosi.

Pelosi is the leader of the Democrats. But among the reasons that might not be a good thing for them is that Pelosi’s negative ratings shot up during the shutdown. In fact, she has a bigger spread in favorable and unfavorable ratings than Trump does. A just-released NBC/WSJ poll had 28 percent of those surveyed viewing her favorably and 47 percent unfavorably, a 19-point spread. By contrast, Trump had 39 positive and 51 negative for a 12-point spread. McConnell, for his part, has an 18-point unfavorable spread.

Speaking of what pundits get wrong, that same poll showed another interesting result. When asked to pick one of two choices for their view of government in D.C., more people chose “we need to keep shaking things up” than “we need more competence,” a suggestion of dissatisfaction with the establishment’s failures.

Overstating Trump’s Negative Poll Numbers

In their glee to stomp on Trump, media figures tended to ignore Pelosi’s extremely low numbers while saying untrue things about Trump’s ratings. For example, ABC’s George Stephanopoulos claimed on his show “This Week” that Trump was “coming back from a 35-day stalemate that drove his poll numbers to historic lows.” That’s simply not true.

The Real Clear Politics poll average for Trump fell to 40.9 percent during the shutdown. That is not a historic low. It was actually lower in September 2018 at 40.6 percent and considerably lower in August and December of 2017 when it was in the 37s.

Stephanopoulos’s own ABC News poll had lower ratings for Trump in August 2018, January 2018, and July 2017. Fox News has had lower ratings for Trump than now. So has NBC News. The YouGov poll has been lower. The Ipsos poll has been lower. The 538 average was lower in February 2018 and for much of 2017.

It would have been true to say Trump slipped in the polls. It is not true to say he reached historic lows. It’s unclear why Stephanopoulos, the former spokesman for President Bill Clinton, felt the need to say this untrue statement, particularly while ignoring Pelosi’s slippage.

Losing Battles Vs. Losing Wars

Again, there is no question that Trump lost the battle of his own making. That loss means that the project of southern border security faces problems. It is also true that this is not the final battle in whether the country seeks to uphold rule of law at her border.

Now that Trump has given Pelosi her demand in exchange for negotiating border security, it falls on both houses of Congress to do something with that reprieve. They could continue to do little to nothing to deal with the structural problems that have led to the flow of illegal immigrants and drugs across the border. That’s a very serious possibility given the fact that elected Republicans and elected Democrats have a history of not doing what it takes to address problems there.

In fact, on this weekend’s “Meet The Press” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) signaled that Senate Republicans have no willingness to fight and no serious plan to achieve border security. Should they do nothing, Trump’s case for viewing the situation there as an emergency requiring his action would be seriously strengthened. His case that there is something seriously broken with Congress would also be strengthened.

To that extent, assuming the White House doesn’t completely muck up the next three weeks, it is wise for pundits to consider what the next three weeks hold before taking their anti-Trump victory laps.