It is now becoming clear that President Trump is succeeding in saturating the media with his anti-immigrant agitprop, a goal that’s crucial to GOP hopes of holding Congress. As many have documented, the big news organizations are cranking out wall-to-wall coverage of the “caravan” of migrants traveling through Mexico, in some cases showcasing Trump’s biggest lies about it, thus hyping the sense that it presents a national emergency, which is just pure fiction of the rankest and ugliest sort.

If this is going to be the case, I have a modest request: If Republicans do lose the House, can media figures remember this coverage when assessing why that happened? If so, the broadly reached conclusion should be that the results represented a massive repudiation of Trump’s immigration agenda and, more broadly, the xenophobic nationalism that is driving it.

The New York Times reports that Trump and his advisers are already laying the groundwork to creatively spin a loss in a way that minimizes his culpability for it. As the Times puts it, White House political director Bill Stepien is preparing to “claim credit” for whatever House seats Republicans do not lose. To do so, they are sending Trump to heavily Republican areas where he can juice GOP turnout, after which they will credit Trump with “saving” seats in those areas.

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But the rub here is that, even as Trump’s advisers are doing this, they are also keeping Trump out of swing territory. As the Times puts it, for some Republican incumbents, “Trump rallies are simply hazards to be avoided.”

And so Trump’s advisers are keeping him away from “the entire Pacific Coast,” since numerous contested races are playing out in California. They are also keeping him away from media markets that include suburbs around places such as Minneapolis and Kansas City, and other areas where GOP incumbents “are attempting to convince their suburban electorate that they are independent of Mr. Trump.”

In other words, in many of the suburban and well-educated districts that will decide control of the House, Trump remains at least partly toxic. This is directly relevant to the argument about the caravan.

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The media is obsessed with the caravan, just as Trump wants

One big question is whether Trump’s fear-mongering about the caravan, and related Republican race-baiting messaging that portrays Democrats as soft on immigration, is just about energizing GOP voters — or whether it might also have some appeal to swing voters. Trump’s aides are keeping him away from swing areas, but Trump’s allies sometimes argue that even if swing voters find the president personally distasteful or loathsome, they tacitly agree with him on immigration.

The media coverage has focused heavily on the caravan, just as Trump and GOP operatives have hoped. Media Matters has documented that as Trump increased his focus on the migrants, cable news coverage of them ramped up dramatically.

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I’m somewhat agnostic on whether this much coverage of the migrants is editorially the correct thing to do. Much of it has been aggressive in fact-checking Trump’s lies, and some of it has placed a human face on the migrants’ plight, spotlighting big and difficult questions about the root causes of this big exodus and, more broadly, what our responsibilities are when such upheavals happen.

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But one downside of all this coverage is very clear. As Brian Beutler points out, even when it is good, it is still focused on a problem that is distant, in comparison with the actual stakes that are genuinely on the line in the midterm elections:

Republicans oppose meaningful protections for people with pre-existing conditions (including ones that exist under current law) but have told obscene, Orwellian lies to hide this fact. … Republicans would like to cut funding to Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid dramatically, and have promised to take another run at the Affordable Care Act, including its pre-existing conditions protections, if they win the midterms. Any savings they wring from their assault on health care spending would likely finance another regressive tax cut.
A Democratic victory would put the risk that agenda poses to millions of people’s health coverage to rest for at least two years. It would also uncork the congressional oversight function that Republicans have kept bottled up since Trump’s inauguration. … A Democratic House would unearth mountains of new, damning information about the president and his administration … These stakes have disappeared from national headlines.

Let’s hope that we all don’t forget this if Democrats do win the House and the assessments begin.

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Don’t blow this twice, media

In the run-up to the 2012 presidential election, it was widely asserted that the battle between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney represented a grand ideological struggle over the country’s future. But once Obama won, that narrative basically vanished and was replaced with lots of analysis that claimed Obama’s victory was “small” and “narrow.”

If Democrats do take the House, it is an absolute certainty that Trump and his allies will immediately claim that Republicans lost because they did not embrace Trumpian populist nationalism full-throatedly enough. They will point to the fact that (as noted above) in swing areas, Republicans wanted to keep him out of sight.

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But, while this is true as far as it goes, in this election, Trumpism is absolutely saturating everything. Many Republicans are running ads demagoguing undocumented immigrants as criminal invaders. The airwaves and newspapers are groaning under the weight of the most Trump-friendly imagery imaginable — imagery showing massive migrant hordes moving inexorably northward toward the southern border.

All of Trump’s claims — while sometimes debunked in these accounts — are everywhere, from his assertion that Democrats who oppose further restrictions on refugee and legal immigration flows tacitly want the border overrun by swarthy hordes, to his insistence that these migrants, and immigration generally, pose such a dire threat to the country that truly draconian measures are justified in response.

If Democrats win the House, it will mean, at least in part, that not just Trump himself, but also the worldview and agenda accompanying all those lies, might have been more toxic for the American mainstream than Trump and his allies admit. If Democrats win the House, will prominent figures at the news orgs that madly hyped all this to the skies render the verdict that this worldview and agenda have been repudiated?

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