Why Trump's border crisis will cost him in November

Lynda Tran

*The following article was originally published on CBSNews.com.

The sound of scared and distraught migrant children crying for their parents, the pictures of them in cages and covered by thin sheets of mylar – those enduring impressions of the Trump administration's family separation policy could be the Republican Party's undoing at the ballot box this November, even if the president is trying to distance himself from it.

This "zero-tolerance policy," which has caused the family separations, and which the administration still defends, is winning no one over. It has torn more than 2,300 children from their parents – some as young as eight months old – and has been roundly condemned, with critics from across the ideological spectrum, uniting faith and business leaders, GOP and Democratic members of Congress, and public figures. Former first lady Laura Bush in a rare op-ed, called the policy "immoral," and in fact, every living first lady, including the present one, has rejected the policy.

The conservative writer George Will, a frequent Trump critic, is making the case that Americans should "Vote against the GOP this November." Will left the Republican Party over Trump in 2016, and now, he's arguing the "family-shredding policy along the southern border" is reason to oppose not only the president, but the entire Republican conference. As Will put it, "[T]o vote against [Trump's] party's cowering congressional caucuses is to affirm the nation's honor while quarantining him."

Trump knows that immigration is red meat for his base – his campaign was founded on a rallying cry of "build that wall," and it's a slogan that still resonates with his supporters. They chanted it at his recent rally in South Carolina. Conservative voters have always ranked border security high among their priorities, and Republicans typically care more about immigration than either Democrats or Independents. But family separation muddies the issue.

It's true that historically, immigration hasn't been much of a voting issue in midterm elections. CBS News exit polling data shows that in 2014, only 14 percent of midterm voters chose immigration as the most important problem facing them, and in 2010, a mere 8 percent put it at the top of their list. However, family separation may have changed that dynamic. According to CBS News' recent Battleground Tracker poll, the treatment of families at the border is important to the way most Americans will vote this fall. While this is primarily true for Democrats – 84 percent say it's important to their vote – it's also important to 55 percent of independent voters and to 43 percent of Republicans.

Broadly, the latest Gallup poll shows a record high number of Americans across the political spectrum believe immigration is good for the country. Seventy-five percent now view immigration as a good thing – an increase of 4 percentage points since last year alone and a continuation of the generally upward trajectory over the past two decades. The narrative we like to believe about America is that welcoming immigrants is a part of our national fabric. It's who we are as a country. So, President Trump's anti-immigrant policies may speak to his core supporters, but the broader electorate is less likely to share their fervor.

In states with high numbers of Latino and Hispanic voters, the border crisis could actually be a deciding factor in key races this fall – including along the border itself. Texas boasts three nationally-watched races that have been targeted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee as high priorities for flipping from red to blue: TX-07, TX-23, and TX-32. Two of the three Democratic candidates are women, and two of the three are candidates of color.

Although the broad public outcry against tearing families apart demonstrates that you don't have to be a mother to be concerned about the issue, progressive groups have anecdotally begun using the issue to engage the very women voters who made the difference in recent elections in Texas to make sure they keep the border crisis in mind as they head to the polls in a few short months.

In Arizona, which Trump carried by just 4 points in 2016, new polling out last week shows a majority of voters say they, like George Will, want Congress to be a check on the president and plan to vote accordingly. Fully 57 percent of voters think it's time to give a new person a chance in the White House. Here again, the Latino community could be a pivotal voting bloc in the upcoming elections, with local organizations like One Arizona – which has made immigrant rights a central tenet of its work – planning to register 200,000 Latino voters this year. Hispanic voters have historically turned out to vote at lower numbers than either white voters or black voters – especially in midterm elections. However, Democrats have an opportunity to capitalize on local energy in this battleground state, as protests against the family separations have continued despite the president's executive order last month, in which Mr. Trump tried to walk back his own policy.

The primary election in New York's 14th Congressional District – while about as far from the southern border as you can get – offers more data on how the border crisis could play nationally. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez spent the Sunday before Election Day visiting with immigrants who have been detained in West Texas and made the crisis a centerpiece of her campaign to unseat 10-term Democratic incumbent Joe Crowley. No doubt the 28-year-old former bartender – an overnight progressive star – will have a big megaphone heading into the fall. She's sure use it to keep championing "people who felt ignored and invisible for a long, long time."

Despite the statements by the administration that families are being reunited, this problem isn't going away for Trump and the GOP. Protests at the White House and more than 700 events around the country over the weekend indicated the administration's crisis of its own making is far from over. These actions alone drew hundreds of thousands of protesters nationwide – and the groups organizing them have no incentive to ratchet down their efforts.

"Elections matter," as former President Obama used to say. And the reckoning for this administration is coming -- as long as voters aren't complacent. Obama said just last week, "I would caution us from extrapolating too much from a bunch of special elections and starting to think that, 'OK, this will take care of itself.' Because it won't." But the simple message for right now, he said, is this: "if people participate and they vote, then this democracy works."

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