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Opinion Can Trump help Democrats take back the House? Here’s a big thing to watch.

The Trump administration issued guidelines strengthening enforcement against illegal immigration but insists that it isn’t seeking “mass deportations.” (Video: Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post)


President Trump’s new plans for vastly expanded deportations, and the forthcoming new version of his immigration ban, are a reminder: Trump is governing in full accordance with the xenophobic nationalism that drove his campaign. That posture may have driven up huge numbers among blue-collar whites, which offset his relative losses among college-educated white voters and helped him win key Rust Belt states.

But now that he is president, can the brutal real-world realization of these policies boost Democratic chances of taking back the House? If this is possible, what does that tell us about the political staying power of Trumpism in a broader sense?

Nate Cohn has a good piece this morning that looks at the Democrats’ chances of recapturing the House and how they might pull that off. The key conclusion: While Trump still remains very popular among blue-collar whites, those voters may not be all that decisive in the battle to wrest House seats from Republican incumbents. That’s because many of the districts where Republicans are weak have higher concentrations of college-educated whites and Latinos:

Across the nation, the most vulnerable Republican incumbents among the 50 or so most competitive seats tend to be in relatively well-educated, metropolitan districts with above-average Hispanic populations. It’s the opposite of most of the 2016 presidential battleground states, which were whiter, less educated and far less Hispanic than the country as a whole.
Mr. Trump might still be riding high in central Pennsylvania steel towns, but there are plenty of signs that his support remains weak in precisely the districts where House Republicans are most vulnerable…The competitive districts are mainly suburban, and there are startlingly few competitive working-class districts in the old Rust Belt that are traditionally Democratic but are held by Republicans.

The path to a Democratic House majority, Cohn says, runs through such districts and through the Sun Belt, rather than the Rust Belt. One question is: What will happen with those districts’ college-educated whites — particularly, as Cohn notes, the “well-educated, often traditionally Republican-leaning voters who supported Mrs. Clinton in 2016”? Will Trump’s tenure in the White House lead them to vote in a Democratic House to act as a check on him?

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To be clear, Democrats still face a huge uphill climb — they have to net 24 seats, and Republicans still enjoy a huge amount of safe districts. Latinos turn out at low levels in midterms. Other factors, such as recruitment and retirements, will also matter. Trump may end up more popular than seems likely right now. And it should be stressed that Democrats still do have to address their weakness with blue-collar whites for all kinds of moral and political reasons.

But this is a dynamic to watch, and not just because of what it says about Democrats’ chances of taking back the House.

One of the big questions in American politics right now is how deep public support really is for the agenda loosely known as “Trumpism.” Did the 2016 election represent a fluke-like confluence of factors that enabled Trump to eke out a narrow electoral college win, despite having his worldview repudiated in the popular vote? Or are we in the midst of a genuine turn in public opinion — away from the inclusive, cosmopolitan pluralism that seemed to be gaining ground and toward restrictive, America-first, wall-them-off nationalism?

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Steve Bannon says it’s the latter. He says a large majority of Americans support Trump’s “populist nation-state policies.” An outpouring of opposition greeted Trump’s travel ban. But Bannon insists that this opposition is confined to the “cosmopolitan elites in the media that live in a handful of our larger cities.” In other words, Real America supports them.

It’s true that there’s an educational split among white voters on Trump’s immigration moves. A recent Gallup poll showed that college-educated whites tilt against them, while non-college-educated whites favor them. But those college-educated white voters, and working-class nonwhites, also presumably count as residents of Real America. As a result of their sentiments, majorities overall oppose Trump’s main immigration policies. Thus, Bannon’s caricature of broad-based opposition to Trump’s policies as elite bubble sentiment that has lost touch with Real America is deeply absurd.

The question now, as Trump’s expanded deportations and possibly a new travel ban (and other Trumpisms) take hold, is what impact this might have on the battle for the House. (The Senate is another matter: Democrats are already disadvantaged by the awful underlying map.) If college-educated whites are overwhelmingly alienated by them, and if Democratic turnout is activated, perhaps they could give Democrats a boost. (It’s also possible, of course, that the battle for the House might turn on other issues entirely.) And all of this will bear watching for what it says, more broadly, about the political endurance of Trumpism.

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Admittedly, some of us predicted Trump’s struggles outside of his blue-collar base would probably sink him in 2016. We were catastrophically wrong. Maybe Bannon will be right again. But if not — if alienation from Trump’s policies help Democrats make even some gains in the House, which alone could make a difference, even if Democrats don’t take it back — perhaps 2018 will constitute the Revenge of the Bubble.


* TRUMP HASN’T SAID HOW HE’LL FUND MASS DEPORTATIONS: The New York Times’s overview of Trump’s expanded deportations policy observes:

Mr. Trump has not yet said where he will get the billions of dollars needed to pay for thousands of new border control agents…But politically, [the actions] serve to reinforce the president’s standing among a core constituency — those who blame unauthorized immigrants for taking jobs away from citizens, committing heinous crimes and being a financial burden on federal, state and local governments.

This is now on congressional Republicans, and it’s not clear that this is worth the money. But Trump has shown his “core constituency” that he’s getting tough, so who cares about the details?

* THE FIRST TARGETS OF TRUMP’S DEPORTATIONS: The Los Angeles Times reports on the first people who are in the new deportation cross-hairs:

Among their first targets could be the more than 940,000 people who already have a final order of removal from an immigration judge and have either refused to leave or were allowed to stay temporarily, often because of the hardship their deportation would cause to family in the U.S.

Remember, a lot of this is about merely driving up the numbers of people being deported by going after the “low-hanging fruit,” regardless of the humanitarian consequences.

* DHS CHIEF INFLATES BORDER THREAT: Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly claims stepped-up enforcement is needed because of a “surge of illegal immigration at the southern border.” A good Post editorial sets the record straight:

In the fiscal year that ended last fall, the number of undocumented immigrants apprehended on the southwestern border was just a quarter the number in 2000 and less than half the annual count during most of George W. Bush’s administration. Although last year’s apprehensions in the Southwest rose from the previous year — largely because of unaccompanied minors and families from Central America seeking refugee status — the overall number was among the lowest since the turn of the century.

Given that Trump lied about undocumented immigrants on the campaign trail for a year, it’s not surprising that his appointees are now inflating the threat to justify their “solutions.”

* NEW TRAVEL BAN WILL BE JUST LIKE OLD ONE: Trump adviser Stephen Miller says the next version of the immigration ban will include only “minor technical differences” from the one blocked by the courts:

“Fundamentally, you’re still going to have the same basic policy outcome for the country,” Miller said…on Fox News. “But you’re going to be responsive to a lot of very technical issues that were brought up by the court.” Miller insisted that “nothing was wrong with the first executive order” and dismissed the rulings against it as “flawed” and “erroneous.”

And everything leading up to the enactment of the old one, which revealed it as likely discriminatory in intent and largely arbitrary in policy terms, will remain true.

* HIGH STAKES FOR TRUMP’S NEXT TRAVEL BAN: CNN explains why a lot is riding on the new travel ban surviving the courts this time:

It is vital for the credibility of the President and a White House that things go smoothly this time around. This may be the best, last chance for the administration to establish whether it can write an executive order that can honor Trump’s goals but at the same time not fall foul of constitutional due process rights of travelers trying to get into the United States who might be covered by the ban.

Or, put another way, the White House needs to prove that it will not be constrained by countervailing institutions when it looks to implement more of the same later.

* BANNON TO SPEAK AT CPAC: The Post reports that Trump advisers Stephen Bannon and Reince Priebus will speak together Thursday at the Conservative Political Action Conference:

Bannon hopes to explain Trump’s actions in his first month in office, in particular, policies on immigration and the creation of manufacturing jobs…By sitting with Priebus…Bannon aims to showcase how the party guard and formerly obscure players on the right are… working together to enact a new kind of conservative agenda…directed at reaching working-class voters who are disillusioned with the global economy and elites.

We expect the usual bluster about how a vast, silent majority is rooting for Trumpism to succeed, but we’ll also pay close attention here to the substance of the speech.

* GOP SENATOR TELLS TRUMP PROTESTS ARE ‘LEGITIMATE’: Trump has taken to claiming the protests at town halls are ginned up by “liberal activists.” Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) tells him he’s wrong:

“I want to make clear it’s all legitimate,” he told reporters after his second meeting of the day, in Garner, Iowa. “If Hillary Clinton had been elected president, there’d be people from the conservative end of the spectrum probably doing the same thing.”

Clinton didn’t really win the popular vote, because millions voted illegally … the media is falsely diminishing Trump’s inaugural crowds … anti-Trump protests are artificial. Anyone else notice a pattern here?