The other day, Brian Kilmeade stirred controversy on “Fox and Friends” — a show our president watches religiously — with harsh rhetoric about the migrant children being held in horrific, inhumane conditions at the southern border.
“Like it or not, these aren’t our kids,” Kilmeade said. “Show them some compassion. But it’s not like he’s doing this to the people of Idaho or Texas. These are people from another country. And now people are saying that they’re more important than people in our country.”
Now a left-leaning data group has polled on this framing of the issue. And it has found that, while very large majorities of overall Americans reject a version of this argument, a sizable majority of Republican respondents agree with it.
At the same time, however, a large minority of Republicans reject it — suggesting this kind of framing drives some GOP voters away.
The poll was conducted by YouGov Blue and Data for Progress, a progressive group that advocates for abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement. YouGov Blue conducted 1,014 interviews online with registered voters between June 27 and June 30.
The poll first informed respondents of this: “There have been news reports of unsafe and unsanitary conditions for children held in detention at the border. Children have been reported to be without toothbrushes, soap, and blankets, and older children are reportedly caring for babies they don't know.”
Then the poll asked for respondents’ views. And it found that 68 percent support this statement: “These are unacceptable conditions that need to be fixed immediately so children have a safe environment. Our government should not treat children this way.”
By contrast, only 32 percent supported this statement: “These are not our children, and they should not have come or been brought here. The government is doing all that it needs to be doing.”
The partisan breakdown gets more interesting. Among Democrats, those numbers are 92 percent to 8 percent, and among independents, they are 59 percent to 41 percent.
But among Republicans, 60 percent agree with the “not our children” view, while 40 percent agree with the “unacceptable conditions” view:
The question is framed starkly. The lead-in paints an arresting — though accurate — picture, and the second view negatively describes the children as not ours, and adopts a deliberately callous expression of how our government should be treating them.
But Alissa Stollwerk, the director of YouGov Blue, tells me that this is precisely the point — to test how voters view the more callous framing, in contrast with the more sympathetic one, in part because the former is the kind of rhetoric you hear on Fox News.
It’s worth noting that this framing is not far from that used by President Trump himself. He recently tweeted: “If Illegal Immigrants are unhappy with the conditions in the quickly built or refitted detentions centers, just tell them not to come.”
Trump said that right after a government report documented that children are being held in shockingly unsanitary and overcrowded conditions, garnering widespread media attention. Trump also suggests we shouldn’t let in asylum seekers at all, because we should put “United States Citizens first.”
Trump, then, similarly suggests our government doesn’t need to do more than it is doing — and indeed should do a lot less — because these migrants are making the choice to come here, as opposed to fleeing horrific conditions, thus supposedly diluting our obligations toward them.
Let’s be clear — the effort to scale back those obligations is at the core of this whole argument. It’s often observed, following Adam Serwer, that “the cruelty is the point” of these policies, which appears to have real basis (note that Trump reportedly said of child separations that “my people love it”).
But that’s not the only point. The other point is to retreat on our international humanitarian obligations — obligations articulated in international human rights documents and enshrined in our laws — to ensure that fewer immigrants enter our country, in keeping with a vision that’s plainly ethno-nationalist at its core.
Trump argues we must close loopholes to remove the supposed overriding lure for migrants — the ability to disappear into the interior. I think that argument is mostly a crock for many reasons, but put that aside. The point is, Trump is also doing many, many things to make it harder to apply and qualify for asylum, regardless of the migrant’s rationale. The obvious intent is for fewer people to succeed in getting asylum, regardless of merit.
By the way, more neutrally worded polling by CNN found a similar divide: Large majorities of Americans, including of independents, favor allowing Central American refugees to apply for asylum, while large majorities of Republicans oppose it.
This humanitarian retreat and the nationalist vision underlying it are justified with the sort of rhetoric Kilmeade used and this poll tested. This kind of thing coming from Fox News and the president may be pushing Republican voters into agreeing with their framing of the core issues here. But it may also be splitting Republicans, as well.