Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie remark about the Republican primary in their recently published book, Let Trump Be Trump:
We wanted none of the other candidates to move to the right of us on immigration. From the overwhelmingly positive reaction we received at rallies to the boss’s hard-line immigration stance, we knew he had struck a chord with a large number of voters. What we couldn’t believe was how tone-deaf all the other candidates and the mainstream media seemed to be.
Although it may not have been too difficult to be to the right of Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio on immigration, as both politicians hold positions similar to many mainstream Democrats, it was a bold and contrarian move at the time to stake out such untended turf on an admittedly hot-button issue. Many seasoned political advisors would have thought—and did think—it was outlandish to wager that by outflanking even hard-right guys such as Ted Cruz on immigration, the Trump campaign would be anything other than further marginalized.
Instead, by grasping onto wild success in the wake of this immigration gambit, the Trump campaign showed that what polite, intellectual circles might consider “hard right” policy was, when it came to immigration at least, entirely mainstream.
Activist journalists and pollsters could create an aura of sympathy around amnesty by asking leading questions: if this innocent child were brought to the United States through no fault of her own and went to school and behaved in a civically responsible way, would you deport her? It would shock no one in the Trump campaign to hear that a sizable majority would say “no.” But most of them would answer “no” to the question without changing their fundamental and underlying position on immigration.
Context matters—and so does the hierarchy of passion. Many poll respondents who were guilted into offering some contingent path to citizenship were pushed to answer a question that was not weighing on them too heavily. The people who care the most on the amnesty side of the equation are either ineligible to vote (wonder why?) or dyed-in-the-wool liberals who would never consider voting for a Republican in any event. The New York Times featured exit polls immediately after the 2016 election, showing that among voters who said immigration was the most important issue, only 32 percent voted for Clinton, while a stunning 64 percent voted for Trump.
A particularly revealing new poll underscores just how mainstream Trump’s position really is. Already outlets such as NPR have published matter-of-fact attempts to diminish the poll’s results, mainly because they are so damning for liberal aims. A breathtaking 81 percent of Americans want immigration levels below 1 million a year, according to the Harvard-Harris poll (yes, that beacon of conservatism, Harvard University). Though this might superficially seem to contradict Gallup’s polling on the topic, it rather hones the sloppiness of the Gallup poll’s wording (reduce, maintain, or increase immigration levels?) by providing precise guidelines for immigration numbers: none, 1 to 250,000, 250,000 to 499,999, and incrementally upwards to the highest category, 2.5 million or more.
Many Americans are not so exposed to the sheer scale of immigration into the United States because they don’t happen to live those parts of the country where immigration matters most. However, anyone should be able to visualize what the Harvard poll’s numerical guidelines mean in the context of their communities —just how sizable a crowd a half a million people comprise, and what this represents in a country of hundreds of millions. Perhaps Harvard-Harris could submit the question to the public again in a month, with some context as to how current numbers compare to those of the past century, both in percentages (they’re high now) and in absolute numbers (they’re off the charts).
The NPR story incorrectly states that 72 percent of respondents chose some number under 1 million—again, at least 81 percent seek numbers below current levels, which have recently been well above 1 million. The Harvard-Harris poll also contains other results inconvenient for a liberal immigration agenda: 68 percent oppose the diversity visa lottery, and significant majorities opposed the government shutdown, while also supporting a deal similar to that just offered by the Trump Administration.
That deal has provoked fierce outrage from conservative writers and grassroots alike, most of whom are hoping that it was just, as Trump tweeted, “to show that Democrats do not want to solve DACA, only use it.” Trump’s media strategy has proven wily beyond words, time after time, and so it is probably too early to say what the master plan was here.
The reaction, however, should be an unambiguous reminder that it’s time to return to the immigration ideas that animated a winning coalition, outflank all opponents on the Right, and face down elected officials who stand in the way of a propulsive popular mandate to reduce immigration. Any deal with concessions to amnesty activists must have at its core a major reduction in immigration numbers—both near term and long term.