Thursday, January 31, 2019

The Wall's Political Stake

Slate's Ben Mathis-Lilley acknowledges that polls underestimated Donald Trump's chances in 2016 and that polls 543 days ahead of an election are not predictive. (Add to that the possible effect, negative or positive, of a Special Counsel's report and the possibility that the standard-bearer will be President Pence.)

Still, he notes that surveys now show President Trump losing a matchup against Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden by a wide margin, and by less of a margin than against Elizabeth Warren or Kamala Harris. Moreover,

What’s most worrisome for Trump about these results is not just that Biden and Sanders are both very well-known—only 9 percent of Americans said they didn’t have an opinion about Sanders in a recent Gallup poll, and Biden is Biden—but that they’re well-known for being about as far apart ideologically as two Democratic presidential candidates could be. Biden is the guy strongly associated with the Democratic Party establishment who has a long record on issues like criminal justice and financial regulation that now qualify as conservative; Sanders is the fiery leftist outsider who wants to crush the banks and raise taxes to pay for universal health care and higher education. If both of those guys would trounce Trump, it suggests that there’s not much that voters could learn about Warren or Harris—or really anyone with a (D) next to their name—that they would find disqualifying.

And that’s in the context of a fairly strong economy. And in the context of Michigan voters believing their state is on “the right track” by a 19-point margin, according to the same poll.

The latter fact is either extraordinary or very misleading. Heading into the 2016 presidential election, a "satisfied"/"dissatisfied" poll indicated the American people were very displeased, indeed, and the challenger scored a surprising victory over the candidate of the incumbent party, who was well pleased with President Obama.

Mathis-Lilley concludes

Not good for the Trump man! But hey, there’s still time to turn it around. Maybe if he builds the wall? (WDIV and the Detroit News found that Michigan voters oppose Trump’s wall plan by a 21-point margin.)

But don't discount the impact approval by Congress of funding for a wall would have on the support for President Trump. His popularity would increase in the immediate aftermath of legislation reopening the federal government in return for money for a concrete or steel wall.

This may seem counter-intuitive because surveys have confirmed that most voters oppose a hard barrier between Mexico and the USA. Presumably, this is an accurate reflection of public sentiment, though it is likely that some respondents were wary of admitting that they support something which Nancy Pelosi has termed  "immoral" and others have characterized as "racist."  (Accordingly, in the off-chance that surveyors have a Spanish accent, all bets are off.)

However, there are more significant reasons that Donald Trump's re-election prospects soar if negotiations end with a wall provision which the President can credibly spin into a victory. A justified declaration of victory isn't necessary; only a legitimate declaration, one not patently absurd, is required.

President Trump will have fulfilled, or appear to have fulfilled, or appear on his way to fulfilling, a big campaign promise- his major campaign promise. And as if that would not be enough, Trump would come off as a winner- the consummate winner. That is the linchpin of his political strategy. Most of all, he wants his adversary to come off as a loser, but if he wins, he has demonstrated "the art of the deal."

During the shutdown, Senator Kamala Harris, currently the leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination (fortunately, subject to change), declares definitively (at 4:41) "it will not end with a wall."

Temporarily it did not, with negotiations ensuing in this next phase of the drama.  However, Harris, who appears to choose her words carefully, states the shutdown will not end with a wall.  And of course it won't, because the most which can result is (partial) funding for the wall.

"Perception is reality" goes the cliche, though if perception were reality, it would not be perception. Nonetheless, in politics perception can create reality.  If Donald Trump can reasonably claim that the wall is coming, he will brag that he has done what no other politician does or presidents have: keep the country safe and fulfill a big promise.

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