Harold Hutchison / February 19, 2019

Border-Security Debate Highlights Need for Tactics and Strategy

Republicans have an opportunity to unite against an increasingly extreme Democrat Party.

When President Donald Trump signed the compromise spending legislation and then declared a national emergency, there was criticism from both the establishment wing of the Republican Party and from the conservative movement. To be honest, getting about a fifth of what he sought in funds for physical barriers on the U.S.-Mexico border was on the low end, but his critics from all sides miss some big points.

First of all, the situation on the border is arguably an emergency with national-security overtones. Brandon Darby, the Director of the Border and Cartel Chronicles Project from Breitbart News, noted that two cartels headquartered in Mexican cities on the Texas border have morphed into terrorist groups. Does anyone seriously think that the depredations of these cartels do not spill over into Texas?

Second, as The Heritage Foundation’s Conn Carroll stated, Trump was able to reprogram roughly $3.1 billion under two sections that did not require an emergency declaration. Another $3.6 billion will require the demonstration. But the funds from the budget and the $3.1 billion that didn’t require the declaration will be spent first. In other words, litigation will likely not halt progress immediately.

Third, given that Democrats vowed to not give one dollar for any barriers, and some went so far as to advocate abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement, this bill is quite a win in a tactical sense — Trump has $1.3 billion from Congress. Not all of the 1,960 miles of border between the United States and Mexico need man-made barriers. Nature has provided obstacles in some parts. Others already have barriers (but it never hurts to update them).

In this sense, Trump was smart to get what he could. Future continuing resolutions will likely include other funding for physical barriers. To paraphrase a saying, 55 miles here, 55 miles there, and soon you’re securing the entire 1,960 miles of border between the United States and Mexico. Essentially, Trump used the shutdown to show the general public how serious he is on the issue — and he was able to secure some seed money for physical barriers.

The compromise (which passed by veto-proof margins) was not all he wanted. Those who think he should have vetoed the bill have shown the same inability to count that marred the 2013 ObamaCare shutdown. One reason is that Trump has been hampered by the fact that there are substantial divisions amongst the right-of-center coalition that makes up the GOP on this issue.

The more libertarian wing sees no problem with legal immigration and little with illegal immigration. They’d set the limits higher. Other conservatives want to cut back on even legal immigration. Moderates wince at the extreme rhetoric from the hard-liners on this issue, which gives the media enough to hand the Left’s claims of racism across all those who insist on Rule of Law vis-à-vis the border. Proponents of more border security argue that moderates are ignoring the very real harm done by an unsecured border.

It goes without saying that seeking a secure border is not proof of racism. Nor is wanting to deal with MS-13. Nor is wanting to stop human trafficking and drug smugglers. At least that’s what an honest media would be pointing out. Alas, we do not have an honest media. For the most part, with the exception of Fox News, some smaller outlets, and talk radio, the media is pretty much parroting the Left’s talking points. Right now, the Leftmedia-Democratic National Committee team is painting everyone who does take border security and enforcement of immigration laws as racist, with the help of the comments by Rep. Steve King.

But this went beyond the tactical fighting; it’s also about having a good strategy. As The Patriot Post team noted in 2016, Trump has shown much more tactical and strategic competence than many conservatives. We’ve seen that emerge in the debate over border security. President Trump has managed to draw some Democrats into an extreme position against secure borders — a strategic move that will only help him and his Republicans in 2020.

How extreme have the Democrats become? Well, they not only want to abolish ICE but some talked about zeroing out the entire Department of Homeland Security. This included the Coast Guard, which they held up as victims during the current shutdown. Others are literally talking about demolishing the physical barriers already in place. This extremism may end up giving Republicans something to unite against on the issue.

Here’s what many conservatives struggle with: Principles and policy objectives are nice, but to implement the former and to reach the latter requires strategy and tactics. But often good strategies and tactics require compromises — something too many conservatives have not taken to heart. Too many view the Barry Goldwater approach — a principled stand — as a good one, even if it means a massive defeat. This Goldwater envy has done much to hurt the ability of conservatives to win elections in a hostile media climate.

Trump, on the other hand, has shown what good strategy and tactics can accomplish on immigration, one of the thorniest issues in America. If Republicans and conservatives learn from this example, they can avoid the trap Goldwater fell into and, as a result, they could fare far better in future elections.

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