Dear Dems, Remember the Basics

Will "Abolish ICE" hurt the party? Answer: No one cares.

OK, it’s the Friday of a holiday week in the middle of a hot sticky summer. You know what that illustrates? My long-held and possibly tedious view that most people most of the time have something better to do than pay attention to politics.

With hot dogs on the grill and fireworks in the air, who cares if a handful of ambitious Democrats are demanding the abolition of Immigration and Customs Enforcement? The answer: only those of us who are paying attention to politics.

That’s why I don’t take seriously pundits worrying about whether calls to abolish ICE will hurt the Democrats in the fall, or help President Trump. True, partisans are dug in, but normal people are putting off politics until they need to think about politics.

This isn’t to say there’s no argument to be made. There is, but it’s premature, and in being premature, the argument kind of underscores my point. For those of us who spend out daylight hours thinking about politics, these summer months, in which most people most of the time have something better to do, can be boring. There isn’t much at stake, so we settle for academic arguments that amount to little.

But what about in the fall? Will “Abolish ICE” hurt the Democrats? The Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty thinks so. On the Fourth of July, she argued that some Democrats are sloganeering but not coming up with policy solutions. They want to get rid of ICE, but, she said, “replace it with what? Democrats don’t have a clear answer for that, which is why they are heading into dangerous political territory.”

She added:

“Demonizing a government agency is an old, tired strategy—one that rarely if ever has worked.”

Truth is, it depends on what “works” means. Tumulty turns to Newt Gingrich, who says the Democrats are falling into a trap. That’s where my eyes glazed over. I won’t go into his checkered past, but I will say this: Newt Gingrich is a cancer that has been metastasizing in the body politic since he weaponized ethics investigations to knock off House Speaker Jim Wright in 1989 and take his job five years later.

For me, “works” could mean better policy, but that’s not what anyone has in mind right now. If we were talking about policy, I’d hope more sober minds would discuss the merits of deregulating the border. Allowing a freer flow of people looking for work would kneecap ICE’s legitimacy as well as appeal to farmers, small business owners and small-town mayors hoping to revive their tax bases. Opening the border, in other words, would achieve more than abolishing ICE would alone.  

Alone, however, it does a lot politically. It gives partisans something to focus on, and with that focus comes more or less constructive debate about the merits of abolishing what is demonstrably a fascist agency. It does not hurt the Democrats for the electorate to deliberate what it means when the government metes out serious punishment for what’s in fact a petty crime. It might hurt Trump, though.

Demonizing the government is what made the GOP what it is. There is some downside for the Democrats, I suppose, given that they tend to champion the role of an active government. But that kind of parity overlooks the fact that ICE is evil.

These summers months reveal another truth important to remember, especially for those of us who pay attention to politics. It’s not as complicated as it looks.

Some brass tacks: Presidents always lose ground in the midterms. This has been true for so long no one remembers the last time it didn’t happen. (I’m kidding.) This would be true whether or not the president is Donald Trump, but because he is Trump, he brings with him a unique set of factors. For instance: most don’t like him.

The next time someone frets about a handful of Democrats taking an “extreme” position that might “alienate swing voters,” remind him or her that this is a congressional election we’re talking about, not a presidential election. Swing voters aren’t as important as partisans. Moreover, we’re talking about a deeply unpopular minority president who never had a mandate to govern who behaves as if he were the president of the Republican Party, not the president of the United States.

For these reasons, Chris Luongo believes the above projection of House results is far from optimistic. The Editorial Board’s new elections forecaster estimates that, as of now, the Democrats are likely to win the House by comfortable margins.

Will “abolish ICE” hurt the Democrats? Someday maybe.

But not this year.


New additions!

Please welcome Chris Luongo to the Editorial Board family! I asked Chris yesterday to contribute to our efforts here. Like me, he has a main gig but does politics on the side. He’s doing this for love of country, and because it’s fun. Follow him on Twitter!