Supporters of border security can only hope that, over the Christmas recess, Santa gifted congressional Republicans with a crash course in effective messaging on the need for funding for President Donald Trump’s border wall.
They will need it when Congress reconvenes Thursday amid the partial government shutdown caused by Democratic intransigence over funding the border barrier.
The crash course should be taught by psychologists who would start by counseling weak-kneed GOP lawmakers that the best way to overcome a phobia — in this case, “shutdown-ophobia” — is to confront the fear head-on, rather than running away from it.
The tutorial in messaging is needed because, until Trump forced their hand, GOP leaders in Congress were poised to throw away the only leverage they have to secure funding for the wall, by agreeing to another continuing budget resolution with almost no money for the wall.
That capitulation would have only ensured the wall would never get funded, much less built, with Democrats — who are indefensibly opposed to border security, their protestations to the contrary notwithstanding –set to retake control of the House next week.
So, why were congressional Republicans willing to surrender unilaterally, and why did it require Trump’s vow to veto the continuing resolution to inject some much-needed steel into their spines?
It can all be traced back to shutdown-ophobia.
Psychologists define phobias as “an extreme or irrational fear of, or aversion to, something,” and the Republican leadership’s shutdown-ophobia is nothing if not irrational, given that Republicans scored presidential landslides in 1984 and 1988 despite no fewer than eight government closures during the Reagan administrations alone.
More recently, Republicans actually added to their House majority and took control of the Senate in the 2014 midterms following a 2013 shutdown of more than two weeks’ duration brought about by Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz’s opposition to Obamacare.
So much for the elephant’s memory.
Despite having a winning hand on the issue of the border wall if it’s messaged properly and consistently, Republican leaders in Congress inexplicably feared the government-shutdown boogeyman more than they feared angering the party’s base, which overwhelmingly supports building the wall.
Congressional Republicans were about to blink and throw their base under the bus in exchange for, well, nothing, until Trump put his foot down.
Democrats were setting the stage for a reprise of 1992, when they prodded President George H.W. Bush to repudiate his “Read my lips; no new taxes” pledge. That as much as Ross Perot’s third-party candidacy ensured that there would be no new term for Bush.
Capitulation on border wall funding likely would have had that same dispiriting effect on the GOP base, because the wall was and is Trump’s signature issue.
Throwing in the towel rightly would have been seen as a betrayal, and it would almost certainly doom any chances Trump has of re-election in 2020.
But GOP congressional leaders were seemingly paralyzed by shutdown-ophobia, fear that the mainstream media — who, like the Democrats, support open borders — would blame them for the shutdown, even though Democrats’ intransigence is the real cause.
If the GOP’s overrated K Street consultants were any good at strategy and messaging (they’ve demonstrated time and again they’re not), it would be an easy matter to recast the blame for the shutdown on Democratic unwillingness to defend America’s borders.
That brings us back to the need for better messaging. Presidential tweets are insufficient. Trump should request nothing less than TV airtime for a prime-time address to the nation on the issue of border security.
Yes, national sovereignty is that important, and that’s precisely how the issue should be cast.
The president could begin his address — which he should have given weeks ago, before the prior continuing resolution lapsed — by citing a Dec. 11 tweet from Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel.
In ’13 under Obama, all 54 Dems in the Dem Senate voted to:
*double length of border barrier w/ Mexico
*spend $40B on border security
*end diversity visa lottery
*double # of border agents to 40K
*create merit-based visas
Now that @realDonaldTrump‘s in office, they’re opposed.
— Ronna McDaniel (@GOPChairwoman) December 11, 2018
That hypocrisy would put the lie to Senate Democrats’ insistence that they’re not against border security, just against a border wall as a way to achieve it.
The president should also borrow a tactic from leftist Saul Alinsky’s playbook, “Rules for Radicals”; namely, ridicule, which Alinsky described as “man’s most potent weapon.” Underscore the absurdity of the Democrats, who have never met a spending program they wouldn’t increase, claiming the mantle of budget hawks in arguing we “can’t afford” $5 billion for a border wall.
In a $4.4 trillion annual federal budget, $5 billion doesn’t even qualify as a rounding error. It’s significantly less than the $5.89 billion the Treasury says we spent on food stamps in October alone.
The president should also explain that the one-time cost of building a wall is absolutely dwarfed by how much illegal immigration costs federal, state, and local governments every year. Estimates range from a 2013 tally by The Heritage Foundation of a net cost of $54 billion a year to a 2017 calculation of $115.9 billion by the Federation for American Immigration Reform.
Democrats opposed to the wall must be made to answer two simple questions: How many is too many illegal immigrants? And how much is too much for taxpayers to have to pay for their presence here?
During his address from the Oval Office, Trump should be flanked by Border Patrol agents and border county sheriffs, who overwhelmingly support the wall, and by survivors of the victims of the crimes of illegal immigrants, like the parents of Kate Steinle and Mollie Tibbetts.
The president could call on representatives of both groups to make remarks reinforcing his own, as if to say, “If you don’t believe me, believe them.”
That’s what an effective, compelling messaging strategy would look like if Republican leaders would just overcome their irrational shutdown-ophobia and fight back with all the weapons at their disposal.
Peter Parisi is an editor and writer for The Daily Signal.
This Op-Ed originally appeared on The Daily Signal.
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