Will Trump’s ‘build a wall’ rhetoric sink him in US border states?

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 November, 2016, 12:58am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 November, 2016, 8:23am

“Build the wall” is one of Donald Trump’s most dependable rally cries across the country, but in the US border states, his message has landed with a thud.

In a sign that he has misread a crucial part of the electorate, polling shows that the New York businessman’s proposals on immigration are unpopular in border states, said several Republican operatives in Arizona, Texas, New Mexico and California.

“He sticks with what he knows and what he’s comfortable with, and it’s those more extremist views that are turning people off,“ said Bert Coleman, an Arizona-based Republican strategist. ”Building a wall and saying Mexico is going to pay for it is quite an extremist view.”

Trump’s immigration proposals have played particularly poorly with non-white voters, an increasingly crucial voting bloc in border states, and one that appears to be strongly supporting Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton. In addition, high percentages of younger voters and college-educated whites are also turned off by the rhetoric.

The result: Clinton is closer than any recent Democrat to winning Texas—though probably not close enough.

Both campaigns say they think they can win Arizona and New Mexico, though the crucial issues there are more likely to be Obamacare and the economy.

The biggest border state surprise is Arizona, where Republicans have lost a presidential contest only twice in 68 years–when President Bill Clinton won in 1996 and President Harry Truman won in 1948.

Despite Trump’s seven trips there this election cycle, the race is a statistical toss up. Four years ago, Republican nominee Mitt Romney won Arizona by 9 points.

Only 35 per cent of Arizona voters say the US should either definitely or maybe build a border wall; a majority oppose it, an Arizona Republic/Morrison/Cronkite News poll conducted October 10 to 15 found. And 68 per cent oppose deporting all undocumented immigrants.

People are more concerned about cost effects of Obamacare than building a wall, Coleman said. A recent government report showed Arizona consumers using the Obamacare exchanges will be particularly hit hard by rising insurance premiums, with some rates going up more than 100 per cent next year, and only two health insurance companies still participating in the programme.

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Another “huge misstep” for Trump was to bash US Senator John McCain of Arizona and his war hero status, Coleman said.

“When you bash the hometown hero that certainly doesn’t play well with the independents and the Republicans,” he said. “That’s been talked about a lot in the race here.”

McCain, who made building a wall the centrepiece of his 2010 race, has a strong polling advantage in his re-election race.

Trump’s strategists said in recent days their internal polling shows him in a “dead heat” in another border state: New Mexico.

They see an opportunity to win New Mexico as news of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s examination of more Clinton e-mails dominates the headlines.

To prove their confidence, they sent Trump to campaign in Albuquerque on Sunday with a message that centered on repealing Obamacare, keeping terrorists and illegal immigrants out, and spending more on Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque.

“We’re tied in New Mexico!” Trump said during his rally there, nine days out from Election Day. “We’re going to win New Mexico.”

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But public polling shows Clinton leading by an average of more than 8 points in the state, which has gone Democratic in the presidential race in five of the last seven elections. Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson, who was governor in New Mexico, takes votes from Trump there. Johnson is at 19 per cent in the RealClearPolitics.com polling average.

Trump also referred to the wall repeatedly, at one point saying Clinton “wants to let people just pour in. You could have 650 million people pour in and we do nothing about it. Think of it. That’s what could happen. You triple the size of our country in one week. Once you lose control of your borders, you have no country, folks.”

In Texas, a state Republican presidential contenders have won since 1976, Trump leads by just 5 points in the Real Clear Politics average. That’s far more narrow than the recent margins enjoyed by other Republicans. In 2008, then Republican nominee John McCain beat Barack Obama by 11.5 points there, and 2012 nominee Mitt Romney won by nearly 16 points.

While Democrats have long fantasized about a demographic shift in Texas making it a swing state, this year that dream may be within reach. Figures from Secretary of State Carlos Cascos’ office show that more than 1.45 million more voters have registered since 2012, the Wall Street Journal reported, and a large percentage of them are Hispanic.

Trump campaign officials say they aren’t worried about Texas and that Clinton hasn’t campaigned there. “That’s a big head fake,” Kellyanne Conway on CNBC on Monday. “She ended up spending $100,000 [on an] ad buy we tracked in Texas, a state of 27 million people where your average Senate race can cost you $70 [million], $80 million.”

Arizona is still reeling from the effects of SB 1070, a landmark law meant to crack down on illegal immigration that led to accusations of discriminatory policing of Latinos.

The controversy hurt Arizona’s national image, and Joe Arpaio, the sheriff in the Phoenix area and a Trump backer, is facing a federal charge of contempt over his use of immigration patrols. He’s also up for election, and polls show he could lose.

Robert McCutcheon, 19, who was an Arizona delegate to the Republican National Convention, said the left is united against the anti-illegal immigration law, but the right is divided.

“The younger millennial voters, people I hang out with, are tired of it, whether SB 1070 is right or wrong or constitutional or not. They see a lot of waste of taxpayers’ money to fight these court cases,” he said.

Still, Trump delivered his most hardline remarks on illegal immigration for Arizona during a speech there in August. On Saturday, he stressed that Clinton has allowed “dangerous criminal aliens” to go free in the US, and that when he’s president, he’ll build the wall and end the “crime wave.”

“Very few voters are single-issue ‘build a wall or die’ voters,” said Stan Barnes, an Arizona Republican political consultant and former state legislator.

Barnes also said that Trump doesn’t do as well in urban areas in the state – and 5 million of Arizona’s nearly 7 million residents live in the Phoenix and Tucson metro areas.

On Saturday, Trump praised Arpaio as “a good man,” and asked Arizona to make sure he’s re-elected despite “some bad undercurrents out there.” Barnes said in spite of supporting each other, the Trump and Arpaio campaigns aren’t tied together, and their fates aren’t as linked. “Arpaio is a caricature of his own, decades old in the making,” he said.

As of Monday, 1.1 million Arizona residents had already voted, Coleman said, and many cast ballots “at the worst time in Donald Trump’s campaign,” when women were stepping forward to publicly say he groped them, as he described in a 2005 conversation with an “Access Hollywood” host.

In Arpaio’s county, Maricopa, the state’s largest, Republicans have a small lead in early voting, Republican National Committee officials said. Democrats have cast 186,000 votes, Republicans have cast 225,000 votes, a lead of 39,000 votes.

Statewide, Democrats are closing the gap in early ballots returned compared to last cycle. At this point in 2012, Republicans led Democrats by 62,500 ballots returned. Now, Republicans lead Democrats by 39,000, state records show.

“The end result is going to be close,” said Jeff DeWit, the Trump campaign’s chief operating officer. But Trump will prevail, he said.

DeWit’s argument: Of Arizona’s seven statewide office holders, all are Republican. Romney won Arizona by 9 points four years ago, “and I don’t think the demographics have changed that much since then,” he said. “I think some of these polling firms want to artificially show it close because then you have go out and buy more polls.”

DeWit said Trump’s stance on a border wall won’t cost him.

“Donald loves going to Arizona,” said DeWit, who is Arizona’s state treasurer. “That’s where you really see a lot of people come up to us and say they’ve never voted before but they’re going to come out and vote for Donald Trump, especially because immigration is such a hot topic in a border state.“