This time, though, Democrats argue that public sentiment on issues like immigration and LGBTQ rights has shifted so much that Trump’s strategy could backfire, potentially alienating suburban moderates and helping former Vice President Joe Biden and down-ballot Democrats appeal to first-time voters.
Supreme Court and judicial appointments were elevated in the 2020 presidential race this week after the nation’s high court dealt Trump’s administration two major blows.
The court on Thursday blocked the Trump administration’s attempt to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an Obama-era program that protects hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought to the US as children from deportation. The ruling, in a 5-4 opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts, came three days after a 6-3 opinion backed by a Trump appointee, Neil Gorsuch, in which the court said LGBTQ Americans are protected under the Civil Rights Act.
Trump reacted to the rulings with a string of tweets, saying on Thursday they were a “shotgun blasts into the face of people that are proud to call themselves Republicans or Conservatives,” and said Americans’ Second Amendment right to bear arms and the country’s borders were under assault in the judicial system.
“I will be releasing a new list of Conservative Supreme Court Justice nominees, which may include some, or many of those already on the list, by September 1, 2020. If given the opportunity, I will only choose from this list, as in the past, a Conservative Supreme Court Justice,” Trump tweeted.
It’s the same playbook Trump used in 2016, when he released an initial list of 11 people he would consider for the Supreme Court vacancy created by Antonin Scalia’s death.
Neither of the justices Trump has appointed, Gorsuch nor Brett Kavanaugh, was on that initial list – though Gorsuch was added later in the campaign and Kavanaugh was included on a new version of the list in 2017.
Biden has not offered a similar list. He has, though, said he would appoint a black woman to the Supreme Court – something that has never been done.
As Trump tweeted his opposition to the rulings, Biden vowed Thursday to “immediately” seek to make DACA permanent if he is elected.
“In November, joined by millions across this country, we will reject the President who tried to rip so many of our family members, friends, and coworkers out of our lives,” Biden said in a statement.
Democrats’ insistence that Trump’s tactics won’t work in 2020 underscores a rapid shift in the politics around immigration.
Nearly 10 years ago, the “Dream Act” – legislation that would have given undocumented immigrants who were brought into the United States as children a path to permanent residency – died in the Senate after five Democrats joined all Republicans in opposing it. And in 2016, Trump made racist attacks on Mexicans and Muslims core campaign themes, and won.
Since then, though, Trump’s efforts to weaponize immigration have fallen flat. He warned of MS-13 gangs in 2017 ahead of the Virginia governor’s race, only to see Democrat Ralph Northam win by a 9-point margin. In the 2018 midterms, Trump’s message focused on caravans of immigrants from Central America. But images of Trump’s administration separating children from their parents and placing those who arrived in cages dominated headlines, and Republicans lost control of the House, with suburban voters abandoning the GOP in droves.
Now, Democrats say, they see no evidence that similar Trump scare tactics would work in this year’s general election.
“What we’re seeing is really a change in the tides around immigration,” said progressive strategist Jess Morales Rocketto.
“I don’t know that the average general election voter is voting on the courts specifically. But they are voting on stuff like civil rights; stuff like immigration,” she said, adding that Democrats benefit when “the connections to those things are really clear that we have to do everything we can to elect the right leaders.”
Astrid Silva, a DACA recipient and prominent immigrant rights advocate, said Thursday that the court ruling was “a win that our community needed” – but that she expected Trump to spend the four-plus months until the November 3 election reprising his attacks on immigrants.
“It really shows just how deep the pandering to the base is going to go, and I suspect we’re going to have five very difficult months as immigrants,” Silva said.
She said Biden and other Democrats should focus bringing newly sworn-in citizens and the US-born children of DACA recipients into the electorate.
“We need to engage those who have never been contacted before,” she said.