‘Donald Trump Did This’: How to Beat MAGA on Border Security

Force them to own their immigration fails, starting right now.

By Jill Lawrence

DEMOCRATS AND PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN are overlooking what could be a powerful argument in their do-or-die campaign to make sure Donald Trump does not win the November election. They should immediately seize the problem-solver high ground on immigration and border security.

There’s never been a better or more urgent moment for Democrats to claim the mantle of pragmatists who get that corrective action is needed, and force Trump to own his nakedly political efforts to prolong the border chaos so he could run on it and win. National polls increasingly find immigration is people’s top concern, and Democrats have plenty of material to work with.

Start with Trump’s proxy veto of a bipartisan border security deal because, apparently, he feared it might work. As things stand now, he can keep attacking Biden and immigrants and insisting America will implode into an even worse hellscape of chaos and violence—unless he wins.

Inconveniently for Trump, the U.S. crime rate is falling and statistics show that immigrants, documented or not, are less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans. But millions buy into his fantasy that he’s a savior come to deliver the United States from American carnage, part deux. A past and possibly future president who would rather fuel a crisis than welcome a solution? The ad writes itself:

Scenes of border chaos. Conservative Republican Senate negotiator James Lankford touting that bipartisan deal as a win for stricter border controls. The Trump-friendly Border Patrol union endorsing the deal as “far better than the status quo.” Biden repeatedly embracing it as “the toughest set of border security reforms we’ve ever seen.” Trump saying Republicans would be “STUPID” to support it. Speaker Mike Johnson calling it dead on arrival in the House. The tagline: “Donald Trump did this.”

If that tagline sounds familiar, it’s because the Biden campaign has already used it in a gut-wrenching ad about a pregnant Texas woman who nearly died because, under the state abortion ban enabled after Trump’s Supreme Court nominees overturned Roe v. Wade, doctors were afraid to provide standard medical care to prevent infection—an abortion—when she had a miscarriage at eighteen weeks. She was in the ICU with sepsis for three days, the ad says, and her fertility was so compromised she may never be able to get pregnant again.

“Donald Trump did this” is the perfect theme for an expansive ad campaign tying Trump to his actual presidency. A chunk of the nation is in the grip of severe amnesia, as a new CNN poll shows. There are multiple episodes and policies that people have minimized, forgotten, or never knew about, including “avoidable” COVID deaths, dangerous national security lapses, and the brutal January 6th attack on the Capitol.

Immigration is the most pressing because of its salience to voters and Trump’s advantage on “who would do a better job” on it (for instance, nearly 2 to 1 in a recent poll of key swing-state Wisconsin, which is nowhere near the southern border with Mexico). And now it appears there’s growing national support for Trump’s mass deportations plan. Or, as Axios puts it, America is “warming” to throwing out an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants.

Americans may be warming to that policy in the abstract, but the harsh reality of families and communities torn apart, amplified across news programs and social media, would change that fast. It would be a reprise of Trump’s historically unpopular 2018 border policy of separating thousands of children from their asylum-seeking parents. Americans were horrified by the footage of crying, parentless children penned into what looked like internment camps. Six years later, voters should be reminded of that trauma—a nightmare easily conjured by any parent—and reminded that “Donald Trump did this.”

REPUBLICANS LIKE TRUMP talk big and tough on the border, but they’re reaping mostly failure and backlash from their stunts, power grabs, cynicism, cruelty, and, sometimes, raw racism.

This month’s eye-blink impeachment of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas was a national embarrassment. House Republicans impeached him 214–213 on two counts, in essence for trying to do his job in a Democratic administration while begging Republicans in Congress for resources to do that job—and at the same time working with Lankford on the doomed Senate border deal. Even some Republicans said the “charges” the House approved did not approach the constitutional bar of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” The Democratic-run Senate dismissed them in a brisk three hours.

Out in the states, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is claiming an “invasion” and trying usurp federal authority at the border. That’s now on hold with Biden winning an early round in court. And Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s outrageous plan to fly some four dozen migrants from San Antonio (not in Florida, as far as I know) to Massachusetts has backfired.

The migrants, almost all from Venezuela, were offered jobs and housing at destinations like New York and Washington, D.C. But they landed at Martha’s Vineyard, a surprise to both the migrants and the resort island community. And in what’s doubtless a surprise to DeSantis, who claimed credit for the scheme, some are on a path to legal residency because they have been certified victims of possible crimes who are helping authorities investigate—the crimes in this case being that they were “lured . . . under false pretenses” to board the planes to Martha’s Vineyard and stranded on arrival.

Meanwhile, Trump is still talking about “shithole countries” versus “nice” countries, immigrants he doesn’t want (from Haiti and Africa, prisons and Yemen—“where they’re blowing each other up all over the place”), and nations he wishes would send more (Norway, Denmark, Switzerland). Not subtle. Nor is how he refers to immigrants in America illegally (“animals”) while linking them to murder and violence.

There are at least two ways to neutralize or even triumph over the dystopian immigration fictions Trump and the GOP are spinning. The first is for Biden and the Senate to try again to pass the bipartisan border deal—but given House demands, that’s an unrealistic goal, and the odds are steadily worse as the election draws near. The second is to throw scads of money at ads and other messaging, from now until November, painting Trump and MAGA conservatives as committed to scapegoating immigrants and perpetuating border chaos.

It is tempting to stand aside as Trump disintegrates into lies, insults, and incoherence at rallies and on social media, or as he deflates in courtrooms—an aging and angry criminal defendant no longer in control of his life. But Democrats need maximum, sustained engagement starting right now.

They are in an existential race against a criminally charged aspiring dictator, and they should act accordingly—especially and first on immigration. For Biden, his party, their allies, and their donors, here’s the takeaway from decades of GOP hardball: Dominate the political landscape rather than accepting it, accommodating it, and realizing too late that they should have been trying all along to remake it.


Jill Lawrence is an opinion writer for The Bulwark and author of “The Art of the Political Deal,” is a former politics editor and reporter at USA Today, National Journal, the Associated Press and other publications.

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