First things first: The theme song of the week is the theme to “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” by DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince.
Number of the week: A Quinnipiac University poll finds that 43% of voters support building a wall along the Mexican border. A majority, 54%, are opposed to such a wall.
If anything, the Quinnipiac poll is an outlier in favor of the pro-wall position. A CNN poll conducted earlier this month found that only 38% of Americans favored a wall, with 57% opposed. Either way, the average result is Americans clearly not wanting a wall.
What’s the point: President Donald Trump and some congressional Republicans wanted a partial government shutdown because Congress has not passed a funding bill that allocates what Trump and some Republicans deem adequate money for a border wall with Mexico.
Trump and these Republicans seem to be doubling down on a belief that politics is all about the base. Trump really pushed for a partial shutdown only after getting hammered by conservative media. This bashing came following reports that he was not pushing hard for wall funding.
In this case, conservative media is representing the Republican electorate well. The Quinnipiac poll, for example, showed that 86% of Republicans wanted the border wall. Indeed, Trump won the Republican primary in 2016 in large part because of his tough immigration stance.
The problem is that national elections are not all about the base. Yes, the base is important, but it’s also key to win over voters in the center of the electorate. Trump almost certainly needs to pick up the support of more voters if he is going to win in 2020. His overall approval rating remains in the low 40s.
The wall is exactly the type of issue that harms Trump’s chance of becoming popular with the center. Last year, I looked at a slew of potentially controversial policy stances. The wall was the most polarizing. It is opposed by a majority of independents and by 90% of Democrats, according to Quinnipiac.
Don’t believe me about the wall not being a political winner for Republicans? The midterm elections were just a test about whether Trump could use harsh immigration rhetoric to rally voters to his side. Immigration may have saved Republicans a deep red Senate seat for the Republicans, but in the House (where all voters got to cast ballots) it was a disaster.
According to a report compiled by David Winston, a Republican pollster, the focus on immigration instead of the economy resulted in late deciders breaking for the Democrats by double-digits points in 2018. Winston’s findings line up with what Democrats saw in their own polling per the Washington Examiner’s David Drucker.
Trump may like to believe that the midterm outcome was somehow not a reflection on his policies. Remember, though, that the 2018 midterm was the most presidential-centric in modern history. A higher percentage of those who approved of the President’s job performance voted for the President’s party than ever before in a midterm. A higher percentage of those who disapproved of Trump’s job voted for the opposition party than ever before in a midterm.
The overall House result was that Democrats won a plurality of the vote in states, making up 329 electoral votes to the Republicans’ 206. This calculation, done by Catalist, a data company that works with Democrats and others, importantly takes into account how seats where there was either no Democrat or no Republican on the ballot would have voted if there had been one. Democrats “won” a plurality of the House vote in almost all the swing states that Trump won in 2016, including Florida, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
I wouldn’t expect the shutdown to play out differently with regard to immigration. In the Quinnipiac poll, only 34% of voters favor a shutdown because of disagreements over funding for the wall. When asked who would get blamed for a shutdown, 51% said congressional Republicans and the President, compared with 37% who said congressional Democrats. A Suffolk University poll out this week came up with similar results.
The shutdown may please the base. It looks like a political loser overall, however. Perhaps more worrisome for Republicans, it doesn’t look like Trump learned a single thing from Republicans losing in the midterms.