Question for you: What is Donald Trump's position on immigration?
Right, right, the wall. Trump had barely paused for a breath during the speech announcing his candidacy a year ago when he was already railing about the Mexicans that were being sent over the border. (Some of them, he assumes, are good people.) Donald Trump won the Republican primary thanks in part to the initial boost that his hard-line position on immigration gave him — and thanks to the publicity he got from defending his comments.
Recent polling makes clear that his position on immigration isn't really an asset anymore. In the most recent Washington Post/ABC News poll, Trump trails Hillary Clinton with Democrats, independents, whites, nonwhites and even white men with a college degree when asked who they trusted more to handle immigration. Among Republicans and white men without college degrees, he still leads Clinton — but he's already winning with those voters anyway. As we transition to the general election, he needs to expand his base, not remind them why they love him. Everyone knows his position on immigration and most people prefer his opponent as a result. That suggests that reminding people of his position isn't going to be helpful.
Which is why it's baffling that Trump has invited controversial Maricopa (Ariz.) County Sheriff Joe Arpaio to speak on the last day of the Republican convention — the day during which the most people will be tuning in.
Arpaio is as well-known for the harsh tactics he uses in his jails as he is for his opposition to undocumented immigrants. He's been the focus of repeated investigations and lawsuits focused on his treatment of inmates and activism. Earlier this year, he was found to be in contempt of court for ignoring an order to halt racial profiling against Hispanics in his department. "In short, the Court finds that the Defendants have engaged in multiple acts of misconduct, dishonesty, and bad faith with respect to the Plaintiff class and the protection of its rights," the judge in the case wrote, as reported by the Arizona Republic.
That judge on Thursday — hours before Arpaio is set to address the convention — announced the first round of punishments against the sheriff and his department.
But Arpaio's been a Trump ally for a long time. Trump's focus on immigration early in his campaign brought him to Arizona for a big rally last summer; it was this rally that prompted Sen. John McCain to criticize Trump, and Trump then to disparage McCain's service record. Arpaio joined Trump's efforts to uncover President Obama's "real" birth certificate, earning a note of praise from the businessman back in 2012.
Given his emphasis on targeting Hispanics, Arpaio is very unpopular with Hispanics who know him. A Public Policy Polling survey conducted in Arizona in May found that Arpaio was viewed more negatively than positively by Arizonans overall, but more negatively by a nearly 3-to-1 margin among Hispanics in the state.
Trump needs to increase his support among Hispanics, not reduce it, and it's hard to see how Arpaio helps in that regard. Trump's not doing much worse than Mitt Romney was in 2012 at this point among Hispanic voters, but Romney's level of support in 2012 inspired a panic by Republicans who quickly called for an analysis of how the party could better appeal to the group. (That analysis was part of the so-called "autopsy" after the election.)
Next week, the Democrats will hold their convention, and Americans will hear from a number of speakers, including Obama. The president has seen a recent increase in his job approval ratings, which the Democrats hope to leverage. But it's worth noting how that number has changed by demographic.
Since the summer of 2014, Obama's approval rating with whites has increased by 7 points, according to Gallup. His approval rating with blacks is up 5 points. His approval rating with Hispanics? Up 15.
Why? Simple. Because shortly after the 2014 elections, word leaked that he was expanding his efforts to allow some immigrants here illegally to stay and work. A week later, the White House announced the plan, and his approval among Hispanics shot up. It hasn't gone back down.
That's the political environment that Trump faces. So, on the last night that he's offered unfettered, uncontrolled access to millions of American viewers, he invites a man to speak who is broadly disliked by Hispanic voters and who only hours before was informed of the penalties he will face for targeting Hispanics in his state unfairly. All to appeal to people who are already voting for him.
Why? You got me.