Even with establishment candidates, border issues set Republicans apart from Democrats.
Why are border issues coming up in the Virginia election? Ed Gillespie is the Republican candidate for governor of Virginia. His Democrat opponent is Ralph Northam. Neither can be described as populist. Gillespie is not part of the Trump movement and Northam is not part of the Bernie wing of his party.
One would expect immigration enforcement to not come up during the campaign. But it has.
Donald Trump has made border issues inescapable and even centrist Republicans are paying attention.
John Daniel Davidson writes at The Federalist, “The Virginia Governor’s Race Has Exposed A Big Immigration Problem For Democrats.”
The odd thing about the race is that Republican candidate Ed Gillespie and Democratic candidate Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam don’t belong to the rising populist factions of their respective parties. Gillespie, a former Republican National Committee chair, is more or less a centrist Republican who beat a Trumpian candidate in the GOP primary. In the Democratic primary, Northam beat former Rep. Tom Perriello, a progressive who had the endorsements of progressive Democratic standard-bearers Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
So you might think the race wouldn’t be about supposedly “populist issues” like illegal immigration, sanctuary cities, and how many Central American MS-13 gang members live in Fairfax County. But it has been.
Lately, Gillespie has eased off talking about MS-13 and focused more on the economy, but by bringing illegal immigration into the race he’s managed to capitalize on what Trump exposed last year: Democrats, even centrist ones like Northam, don’t really believe in immigration enforcement anymore. To the extent that’s a message even a decidedly non-Trumpian Republican like Gillespie can leverage, it’s not just an immediate problem for Northam but a national problem for the Democratic Party.
Democrats might denounce it as racist, but the importance of the immigration question can’t be emphasized enough. Last week, Andrew Sullivan wrote, “The most powerful thing Trump said in the campaign, I’d argue, was: ‘If you don’t have borders, you don’t have a country.’ And the Democrats had no answer, something that millions of Americans immediately saw. They still formally favor enforcement of immigration laws, but rhetorically, they keep signaling the opposite.”
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