“I’m not a shrink so I don’t fully understand it,” Carlson replied. “I don’t think Russia is our close friend or anything like that. I think of course they’re trying to interfere in our affairs. They have for a long time. Many countries do, some more successfully than Russia.”
“Like Mexico, which is routinely interfering in our elections by packing our electorate,” he continued, with laughter in the background. “So those are all concerns. I just don’t understand why we need to believe that Russia is the primary issue of American political life.”
Since taking over the prime-time slot left vacant by Greta van Susteren, when she departed the network shortly before the 2016 election, Carlson has been a measured supporter of Trump — but a fervent advocate for Trump’s hard-right position on immigration. His comments about Mexico reflect that, injected into a discussion about Trump and Russia apparently for little other reason than an oblique example of whataboutism.
It’s worth considering Carlson’s comment about Mexico and “packing the electorate” in isolation, though.
In September 2016, then-candidate Trump warned that 2016 would be “the last election that the Republicans can win.” Why? “[B]ecause you’re going to have people flowing across the border, you’re going to have illegal immigrants coming in and they’re going to be legalized and they’re going to be able to vote and once that all happens you can forget it.” Trump promised to stand as a bulwark against giving straw men the franchise.
That was Trump’s argument: Immigration from Mexico and Central America will tilt the electorate in favor of the Democrats once all of those immigrants get the right to vote. Carlson’s is more opaque, but similar in its outline. Mexico is shaping American elections.
Think about that claim for a moment, though. The only people who can vote in federal elections are citizens of the United States. There’s a shorter way to say “citizens of the United States”: Americans. If an immigrant from any country comes to the United States, gains citizenship and votes, that’s an American voting, something that even Carlson would presumably support.
For months, though, Carlson has argued the same thing as Trump. Democrats, he warns ominously, are looking to give those in the country illegally the right to vote directly, sidestepping the issue of citizenship. He has pointed to local efforts to give immigrants the right to vote in nonfederal elections, warning about a slippery slope. Needless to say, there has not been any significant push to give the vote to noncitizens and, given Republican control of Congress and the White House, it’s not going to happen anytime soon, if ever. What Carlson warns about is people committing the already illegal act of voter fraud, which we’ll come back to.
Step a layer lower, though, and Carlson is making another claim: that Mexico is intentionally sending people to the United States to vote. This mirrors Trump’s claim at his campaign launch about immigrants, that Mexico is “sending its people” across the border. For obvious reasons, Trump likes to frame immigrants to the United States as the unwanted from other countries shipped here in a sort of international recycling program. That’s not how it works, of course. Immigrants may be fleeing violence and persecution in their homelands, but they often are moving to the United States seeking the same sort of opportunity that brought Trump’s own grandfather here from Germany in the late 19th century.
To believe that Mexico is “packing the electorate” is to believe that Mexico sent millions of its citizens to another country to become citizens there, to . . . what? What good does it do for Mexico to control American elections, exactly? What good has it done Mexico to have a number of its citizens move to the United States and gain the right to vote?
There are about 8 million people in the United States born in Latin America who are citizens. That’s a little more than the 7.4 million people born in Asia who share that status. As a voting bloc, this purported policy of “packing the electorate” has been a huge failure.
Especially since the flow of migration from Mexico reversed under President Barack Obama. From 1995 to 2000, about 2.3 million more people from Mexico came into the United States than returned to their home countries. From 2005 to 2010, the migration was about even. From 2009 to 2014? About 140,000 more people left the United States for Mexico than arrived.
If anything, this appears to be an *un*packing of the electorate.
There is also that grand boogeyman of the Trump era: The Illegal Voter. There are people who can vote in local elections, and who, Carlson warns, might vote in federal elections — an act that’s already illegal. Not that there’s evidence this happens to any significant degree and not that there are many places where noncitizens are given the ability to vote in nonfederal elections.
What of the constant rumblings of swarms of people in the country illegally heading to the polls? Like Trump’s warning about how Clinton’s lopsided win in California in 2016 was a function of illegal voting? To put it succinctly, those claims are nonsense, based on nothing. There is no evidence that those in the country illegally went to the polls in any significant numbers in any election, including 2016. There is no evidence that more than a handful did so at any point. There have been no arrests of illegal voters. There have been no reports of machines built to ferry those voters to the polls and protect them afterward. There has not even been any argument made to explain why someone living in the country illegally, hoping to avoid attention from the authorities, would bother going to cast one of several million votes in an election in the first place.
Carlson is fearmongering, an effective tactic for success on his employer’s network but not something that should be considered serious or thoughtful commentary on the state of things. In this case, Carlson is fearmongering to diminish the negative blowback Trump saw following his news conference with Putin. Carlson is waving the shiny object of nonwhite insidiousness to placate fans of Trump by showing How Politics Works.
It’s not how politics works. Sadly, this is how punditry works.