AMAC Exclusive – By Daniel Berman
Martha’s Vineyard, an island off the southeast coast of Cape Cod in Massachusetts, has long been the summer retreat of Boston’s elite. Once Federalists, Whigs, then Republicans, residents are now almost uniformly the sort who complain that the Democrat Party is not left-wing enough. There is a touch of irony then, that the arrival of 50 illegal migrants on two aircraft from Florida last week helped mark an end to the Democrat Party’s Indian Summer – a period in which declining gas prices, decent special election results, and poll numbers recovering from the levels of awful reached in June to “merely bad” led many Democrats and media figures to speculate that November might not be a red wave after all. Or even a red ripple. But with the rise of immigration as a major campaign issue, one that for structural reasons is a lose-lose proposition for Democrat candidates, that delusion is fading quickly.
Governor Ron DeSantis’s decision to fly 50 Venezuelan migrants to Martha’s Vineyard has been denounced by Democrats and the mainstream media as a “stunt.” That it was. They are correct that 50 migrants is a meaningless number compared to the millions that have crossed the border illegally since Joe Biden took office, and that the cost of flying them to Martha’s Vineyard exceeded the monthly income of most Americans. But that is beside the point. It was precisely because it highlighted those issues that this “stunt” was so effective.
If 50 migrants arriving in Martha’s Vineyard unannounced with no jobs or housing awaiting them sent the community into chaos and forced a national guard deployment to transfer them to the mainland, it demonstrated what border communities face every single day on a much larger scale. If a lack of warning makes it nearly impossible to provide shelter or jobs for migrants, then that merely proves why illegal migration is such a challenge, as by definition migrants who arrive illegally do so without any sort of warning or logistical coordination with local authorities. In their complaints, local Massachusetts politicians, national Democrats, and the media simply reinforced the impression to those living in border communities that they had no idea what illegal migration actually involved, at least not until the migrants actually arrived in Martha’s Vineyard.
The same is true of charges about care and cost. Liberal outlets have been quick to claim that DeSantis expected locals to “mistreat” the migrants, and that their failure to do so (debatable given Massachusetts’ immediate removal of the migrants from the Vineyard) somehow made the move backfire. But those arguments assume that border communities are not compassionate. That their struggles are the result of a lack of will, rather than lack of resources to tackle a problem which would be nigh insolvable even with infinite funding.
DeSantis’s action was certainly audacious, and his success was aided (as were his successes on previous issues regarding education and COVID-19) by an inept and tone-deaf Democrat response. But the tone-deafness of the Democrat response to DeSantis is not a fortuitous occurrence. Rather, it is the product of the inherent weakness of the Democrat position on immigration. Put simply, Democrats will always lose when they discuss immigration, and any action that forces Democrats to discuss it, regardless of how superficial, will harm Biden’s party in proportion to how much public attention it attracts to the issue.
Immigration is at its core a law-and-order issue. Illegal immigration is about enforcement, and the Democratic position on “open borders” mirrors the party’s attitude toward “defund the police.” In both cases, the Democratic Party base embraces a principle and demands a policy which fulfills it. Democrat leadership then insists that for political reasons the desired policy is impossible, but in an effort to appeal to the base concedes the principle; in the first case, that illegal immigrants are victims of immigration enforcement, in the latter that police are the victimizers, rather than the criminals. Finally, that creates a situation whereby despite their denials, Democrats struggle to compete with the public on who can do a better job implementing a policy – tough on crime, immigration enforcement – which Democrats believe is morally wrong, Republicans believe is a moral obligation, and the vast majority of voters believe is a necessity for the survival of the republic.
Here lies the second problem for the party. Democrats, unable to openly promote their alternative of open borders, have no answer to what they would do on immigration. They are well-aware that open borders is neither viable in practice, nor politically feasible, so they are committed to enforcement. But in order to appeal to their base, they always have to favor less vigorous and therefore less effective enforcement than Republicans.
Under Biden, Democrats therefore are trapped asserting that their policy is the same as that of the GOP, differentiated only by their commitment to implementing it less effectively. They may try and spin this looser enforcement as compassionate, but it is compassionate in the same way as leaving guards at a federal prison unarmed might be more compassionate in that it allows some prisoners who would otherwise be shot trying to escape to wander off instead.
This creates the third and final problem for them. Because Democrats are forced to at least pretend to favor the enforcement of the exact same laws as Republicans, all of their attacks on Republicans on the issue of immigration are for Republicans enforcing laws that Democrats claim to also be enforcing, and which Democrats insist they do not wish to repeal. It is impossible for the Biden administration to both insist it is beefing up border security and determined to establish control of the border, yet to attack Republicans as cruel, and border agents as abusive for doing exactly that. To return to the analogy about the prison, every Democrat who goes on TV to attack Republicans for allowing a prisoner to be held is in effect bragging that Biden was negligent enough to allow them to escape.
The net result of this is that Democrats lose not just when Republicans talk about immigration but when Democrats themselves discuss it. DeSantis’s “gamble” looks a whole lot less like a gamble at all. Whatever criticisms could be made of his actions, they at least represented a policy. In turn, they would highlight the incoherence of the other side.
The effect can already be seen in declining Democrat fortunes. Gone are the August stories about Democrats holding the House, or GOP recruiting failures in Senate races. Democrats are now panicking about Georgia, where Herschel Walker seems to have established a small but firm lead over Senator Raphael Warnock. In Pennsylvania, Dr. Oz seems to have begun to close the gap with Lt. Governor John Fetterman, as concerns about Fetterman’s health, mocked in the media as a desperation attack by the Oz campaign only a few weeks ago, now have broken through into mainstream coverage. National Democrats are awakening to how bad their situation is in Nevada, and while they might have preferred to face General Don Bolduc in New Hampshire, they cannot be pleased with how quickly Republicans, including Governor Chris Sununu have rallied to his banner.
The return of immigration as a campaign issue is not the only reason for Democrat fortunes beginning to decline after August. Inflation is at 8.3%. The stock market has resumed its fall, with many traders having made the same error as Democrats in embracing the false optimism of August, to assume with gas prices falling the worst was over and that the Fed would not hike interest rates.
Nonetheless, immigration is an issue Republicans can win, control the intensity of, and most importantly unite the party around. It is an issue which helped enable Republicans to unite behind Dr. Oz, Herschel Walker, and Don Bolduc. Chris Sununu and Don Bolduc may not see eye-to-eye on everything, but when it comes to Biden’s immigration policy they are in full agreement.
Democrats can attack Ron DeSantis, and Texas Governor Greg Abbott (who bussed migrants to Vice President Harris’ residence last weekend), for “stunts”, but as with Donald Trump, they are learning that if those stunts highlight real issues, the fact that they are stunts does not detract from the importance of those issues. Immigration, like crime and inflation, is a real issue affecting everyday lives, and if Democrats have no answers, only spin, voters will punish them for it.
Daniel Berman is a frequent commentator and lecturer on foreign policy and political affairs, both nationally and internationally. He holds a Ph.D. in International Relations from the London School of Economics. He also writes as Daniel Roman.
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