Thursday, August 16, 2018

Abolishing ICE Is a Pretty Terrible Campaign Slogan

Today Paul Starr published a compelling critique of the slogan on the American Prospect website, while John Judis offered a similarly critical take on the New Republic site. Also of interest is an older op-ed by Justin Gest and Tyler Reny that was in the Los Angeles Times.
The articles have occasioned some blowback, despite acknowledgement of the indisputable fact that this is quite an unpopular policy, including especially among moderate and swing voters. As near as I can make out, those determined to defend the slogan claim one or several of the following:
* the activists promulgating this slogan are well-intentioned so we should be empathetic with their concerns.
* the slogan may alienate moderate and swing voters but there really aren't any anymore so it doesn't matter.
* since candidates running in swing districts generally are disavowing the slogan it will not hurt them.
* the Democrats are on track for a good election so this is just a bit of high spirits that won't matter for the outcome.
* the public is supportive of many Democratic policies on immigration while disliking many of Trump's. One somewhat controversial stand on immigration will not overshadow these views.
To which I say:
* well-intentioned policies can easily be toxic politically and we do have an election coming up.
* there may be fewer swing voters than in the past but there are still quite a few and they will greatly matter to the size of a blue wave in November.
* sure, Democratic candidates may disavow the slogan but (surprise!) GOP opponents will lie anyway and say those candidates support it (this is already happening).
* the Democrats are benefiting greatly in this election cycle from a national mood that sees Trump and the GOP as extreme; why would you want to give the Republicans an opportunity to tar the Democrats with the same brush?
* sure, the public supports Democrats' advocacy for the Dreamers and does not support many of Trump's draconian measures. But they still believe in border security and the median voter will make the equation abolish ICE = no enforcement against illegal immigrants = open borders. This is a good way to turn whatever advantages Democrats currently have on immigration into their opposite.
As Starr puts it in his article:
"The brutal inhumanity of Trump’s child-separation policies, turning away of refugees, and deportations of immigrants who have long been well-regarded members of their community should put Republicans this fall wholly on the defensive on immigration. Republican candidates ought to have a lot of awkward explaining to do, and Democrats ought to have opportunities to win back support. Not all conservatives and independents are hopelessly anti-immigrant; many Republicans have supported bipartisan immigration reform, and many pay heed to religious leaders who have strongly condemned the child separations and other inhumane measures Trump has adopted.
The “Abolish ICE” campaign has three distinct things wrong with it. First, it focuses attention on the bureaucracy carrying out current policies rather than the responsible political leaders and the policies themselves. It sounds a lot like right-wing campaigns to abolish the Department of Education or Department of Energy.
Second, abolishing ICE raises the question of what would replace the agency, and the fact is those demanding its abolition have no clear idea. “Abolish ICE” legislation introduced by Representative Mark Pocan, Democrat of Wisconsin, calls for a commission to study the issue for a year. That’s not much of a response to skeptical voters. Calling for a study commission is a classic political move to avoid answering tough questions.
Third, Trump and other Republicans have seized on “Abolish ICE” for obvious reasons: The slogan seems to confirm Trump’s accusations that Democrats favor “open borders” and are “weak” on border security. As a result, instead of Republicans having a lot of awkward explaining to do, Democratic candidates all over the country are now being forced to explain where they stand on ICE—always a slippery matter—and nearly all candidates in competitive races are skating away from the idea of abolishing the agency."
In other words, let's not snatch defeat from the jaws of victory! This slogan hurts the Democrats at the margin in competitive races and it is at the margins where a lot of these races will be decided. Democrats should be focused like a laser beam on maximizing their chances of victory--and as big a victory as possible--this November. This slogan does not--and will not--help.
About this website
PROSPECT.ORG
The “Abolish ICE” slogan hands Republicans an opportunity on an issue where they ought to be entirely on the defensive.

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