April 24, 2024 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

Thanks to Trump, the House GOP is now vulnerable on the border

The Democrats believe they can flip the House on the issue.

Courtesy of CSPAN, via screenshot.
Courtesy of CSPAN, via screenshot.

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Over the weekend, the House passed a bill providing billions in military aid to Ukraine – no strings attached. This is a long way from where things started. House Speaker Mike Johnson had said, once upon a time, that no aid would go to Ukraine without a solution to “the border crisis.”

Johnson almost got what he wanted. He almost got what every Republican has wanted for decades, including Donald Trump. In exchange for GOP support of Ukraine funding, the Senate Democrats assembled a “border security” package for which they dropped their traditional demand for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented migrants. They also dropped opposition to a border wall. The eventual bipartisan bill included $650 million for its continued construction.

Then Trump ruined it. The man who campaigned on building a border wall in 2016 is the same man who killed, eight years later, the GOP’s best, and perhaps last, chance of finishing one. The Democrats caved to Johnson. The speaker was this close to Shangri-La. Then he caved to Trump. What did he get? More public humiliation. And he compounded that by leading passage of Ukraine funding with no strings attached.

GOP-leaning swing voters cared about the “border crisis,” not least because Trump kept talking about it. Then he sabotaged their faith in him. These voters may now be willing to give Biden the benefit of the doubt.

(The Senate passed the foreign aid bill Tuesday. It includes funding for Taiwan and Israel. As I was writing this, the president signed it into law. “It’s a good day for America, it’s a good day for Europe and it’s a good day for world peace,” Joe Biden said in remarks at the White House. “It’s going to make America safer, it’s going to make the world safer and it continues America’s leadership in the world and everyone knows it.”)

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made it seem like no harm was done during a presser, as if the Republicans arrived where they had intended to. Axios described his remarks yesterday as “a victory lap.” Maybe so, but Trump killing off the Republicans’ best chance in a generation of getting everything they had wanted on “border security” has left an impression on people critical to his party’s success in November. Of course, I’m talking about GOP-leaning swing voters. 

They cared about the “border crisis,” not least because Trump and the Republicans kept talking about it. They were prepared to accept whatever solution the Congress came up with – even if it meant holding up support for a democratic ally in exchange – because they believed Trump and the Republicans also cared about the problem. 

Then Trump sabotaged their faith in him. 

Now the Democrats see a new opening. They knew their chances of flipping the House were pretty good this year. The GOP is vulnerable on abortion rights. What they couldn’t have known, before Trump demonstrated to GOP-leaning swing voters that he didn’t really care about a problem he had said he cared about, is the GOP is vulnerable on “border security,” too. They believe all they need to do is flip four seats.

Few are paying attention to this. The focus is on abortion. As The New Yorker’s Susan Glasser said, Trump “seems like a man running for cover that simply isn’t there.” That’s understandable. But expect the border to keep popping up, not just among Republicans but Democrats, too. 

It was key to winning a recent congressional election in New York. Trump undermined the GOP candidate’s credibility as a border hawk when he nixed the bipartisan border bill. That allowed the Democratic candidate, Tom Suozzi, to campaign on a traditional Democratic mix of citizenship for undocumented migrants and tougher “border security.” 

A super PAC aligned with the House Democrats sees Suozzi’s victory as replicable. It has already invested $182 million in political ads, well above the $102 million it spent in 2022. According to a CNN report, it’s “making its largest investment ever to flood key districts with an aggressive ad campaign, including attacks against Republicans on abortion and the collapse of a bipartisan border security deal.” 

That jumped out at me. Suddenly, it seems like Joe Biden and the Democrats have an advantage when it comes to border policy reform. Republican-leaning swing voters may be ready to give them the benefit of the doubt, even if it means supporting a pathway to citizenship for undocumented migrants, as long as it’s in exchange for stronger and better “border security,” which is something the Democrats have been offering for years. The president and his party have shown they care about a problem that GOP-leaning swing voters also care about.

Trump is deepening the impression that he really doesn’t care about solving problems, only cynically exploiting them. He joined Mike Johnson last week in demanding a federal law preventing non-citizens from voting. The implication was that Biden’s “open borders policy” – which isn’t a thing; really, it’s not – will lead to “illegals” voting for him. 

Republican-leaning swing voters tend to be well-read. They already know federal law forbids non-citizens from voting in federal elections. They probably also suspect Trump is adding insult to injury. Not only did he leave money on the table by nixing what could have been, from the GOP perspective, the most transformative border-policy bill in a generation. He’s acting like the Democrats made him to do it. Worse, Johnson is standing by him. For what? Yet more public humiliation.

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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