Column: The issue driving the populist revolt has disappeared in 2020
Washington Free Beacon
Mathew Contineti – October 9, 2020
It is a sign of the times that immigration has not been mentioned in three hours of debate between the presidential tickets. A review of the transcripts of both the presidential and vice-presidential encounters finds no questions asked nor answers proffered about an issue that until only recently defined much of our politics and distinguished our two parties. Needless to say, both moderators wanted to know where the candidates stand on climate change, which routinely drifts toward the bottom of any list of public priorities.
Why the omission? It is tempting to say that immigration did not come up because the elites who manage the presidential debates are uncomfortable with the topic, are worried that the issue favors Republican border hawks, and are more interested in subjects relevant to their cultural coterie. But it is also true that presidential debates tend to focus on current events and pressing challenges, and that immigration just does not seem as great a concern today as the coronavirus, the economy, race relations and civil unrest, and California brushfires.
The apparent irrelevance of immigration and border security to the election might also be attributed to the achievements of the Trump administration. But these achievements are partial, tenuous, and dependent on events and relationships and court decisions. And they are easily reversed. What should worry the president is that the somnolence on the border deprives him of the very issue that propelled his rise to power, and that drove the populist revolt against the Washington establishment whose offshoots included the Ron Paul candidacies, the Tea Party, and Republican victories in 2014 and 2016. Immigration is next only to the economy and to the courts as a place where the president can contrast his record and agenda with Biden’s and appeal to national solidarity and historical tradition. His parlous electoral status may be related to the fact that immigration is not much of a factor in this most unusual campaign.
There is no gainsaying immigration’s importance to the Trump presidency. It was immigration that triggered the grassroots rebellion against the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations, and against congressional supporters of amnesty for illegal immigrants, culminating in Trump’s 2016 primary victory. Immigration became the touchstone of Trump’s campaign on day one and served as the cudgel by which he defeated Jeb Bush and other Republicans for whom the Bush-Obama approach to legalization was correct. The border wall was not only a rallying cry but also a symbol of how a Trump presidency would privilege American citizens above all else. And Trump fused immigration to economics, by opposing H-1B visas; to crime, by highlighting gang activity; and to national security, by enacting his travel ban against countries that sponsor terrorism.