The Atlantic's McKay Coppins tells us that Trump aide Stephen Miller thinks the administration's brutal family separation policy is excellent politics:
... it should be understood that Miller’s hardline approach to immigration predates his work for Trump. In 2013, as an aide to then-Senator Jeff Sessions, Miller made his name on Capitol Hill fighting ferociously against a bipartisan immigration-reform bill....
But when we talked, Miller also made it clear to me that he sees immigration as a winning political issue for his boss.
“The American people were warned—let me [be] sarcastic when I remark on that—[they] were quote-unquote warnedby Hillary Clinton that if they elected Donald Trump, he would enforce an extremely tough immigration policy, crack down on illegal immigration, deport people who were here illegally, improve our vetting and screening, and all these other things,” Miller told me. “And many people replied to that by voting for Donald Trump.”
... Speaking to The New York Times, Miller framed his theory this way: “You have one party that’s in favor of open borders, and you have one party that wants to secure the border. And all day long the American people are going to side with the party that wants to secure the border. And not by a little bit. Not 55–45. 60–40. 70–30. 80–20. I’m talking 90–10 on that.”
The New Republic's Jeet Heer believes that Trump and Miller are motivated much more by racism than by political considerations:
Trump and Miller might think this is smart politics but The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board strongly disagrees. In a Tuesday editorial they warn that the GOP’s “internal feuding over immigration that is fast becoming an election-year nightmare over separating immigrant children from their parents.” FiveThirtyEight shares this assessment, noting that the family separation policy “is generating widespread opposition, even from people who have traditionally been allies of the president. It has forced the administration to defend an approach that polls terribly....”
... It’s a mistake, though, to look at the Trump White House’s actions through the narrow prism of electoral politics. Figures like Trump Miller have genuine ideological convictions, which also shape what they think a winning political strategy should be.
Vox writer Matt Yglesias offers a clear cut way to think about this issue....
Obviously Miller is a racist, and Trump has been a racist since before Miller was born. But I think they also believe that 2016 proves they're the greatest electoral geniuses in America. Beating the experts that year means to them that every time the experts say they're making a mistake they must be doing something right. Bad polling means that they're winning, because the polls said they were going to lose two years ago.
Of course, the polls actually weren't far off in 2016 -- the final Real Clear Politics average showed Clinton beating Trump by 3.2%, and she beat him in the popular vote by 2.1%. Just before the election, Nate Silver warned that Trump might win the Electoral College even as Clinton won the popular vote.
Trump beat a candidate who wasn't a natural campaigner (or, like him, an experienced media performer) and who was hammered by the mainstream media as well as the right throughout the campaign, particularly on the subject of emails. Trump got favors from James Comey and Vladimir Putin. Trump got billions of dollars of free airtimefrom cable news outlets. Trump benefited from vote suppression in Republican states. And still he barely won.
Trump doesn't think 2016 was a fluke. Trump thinks it was a formula:Whenever you're polling badly, you're going to win. Whenever the media coverage is bad, it's good.
And Miller lives in an epistemically closed right-wing world where, yes, it probably does seem as if wailing Latin American children in cages poll at 90% approval, because it's probably been years since he had a conversation with anyone who doesn't approve of that sort of thing.
And Trump just watches Fox News, where he's told he can do no wrong. So, yes, they're stone-cold racists, but I think they really believe this is brilliant politics.
Crossposted at No More Mr. Nice Blog