The Democrats have an all-but-unbeatable potential presidential candidate lined up for 2020. She’s a woman who enjoys an A rating from the National Rifle Association and brags about going out to shoot the family turkey for Thanksgiving. She has spoken out in favor of federal fines for sanctuary cities, supported making English the national language, called for more border enforcement, and opposed driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants. She is a fiscal moderate and a proud face of rural America. Ohio? Pennsylvania? Wisconsin? She’d romp in all of them.
Unfortunately for her party, this woman no longer exists. She is Kirsten Gillibrand circa 2008, the days when she was a congresswoman representing New York’s largely rural 20th district. The 2018 Gillibrand has renounced all of these stances, moving left and left and left again. She supports the New New Deal that is today’s progressive economics (Medicare for all, a federal jobs guarantee, a $15 minimum wage) and says she “couldn’t have been more wrong” about her previous support for gun rights. By 2010, her first full year in the Senate, the NRA had altered its rating of her record — to an F. A decade ago Gillibrand was a strong supporter of Israel; these days she is writing hymns of praise in Time magazine for the far-left anti-Semitic activist Linda Sarsour. She was the only senator to vote against confirming James Mattis as secretary of defense.
All of this now appears to be mere prelude to Gillibrand’s latest gambit: calling for extinguishing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. That puts her in a 31 percent minority among registered voters, according to a poll that followed a surge in not-so-great publicity for ICE. If 31 percent is all the support you can muster for abolishing ICE at a moment when the public image of same is “the child-caging agency,” you’d be better off arguing that the IRS should be put in charge of health care.
Abolishing ICE is an extreme position. It’s shocking. Shocking and extreme positions stick to the political consciousness. When you begin a sentence with “We should get rid of [ICE],” no one is going to hear any words that follow, even if your proposed fix sounds a lot like ICE under another name. Moreover, “abolish ICE” is becoming a rallying cry on the left, with one nutjob even shutting down the Statue of Liberty with the words on her lips. Once you’re associated with “Abolish ICE,” it’s not going to be easy to slip away from it.
Gillibrand is branding herself the ICEbreaker because of the pre-primary, the pundit primary, scrambling to position herself as the most notable scourge of Trump among potential presidential candidates and hoping to generate media attention in proportion. By proudly becoming the first senator to support abolishing ICE — beating even Elizabeth Warren, who quickly agreed — she created consternation for other Democrats. Were they altogether on-board with the idea of destroying the agency tasked with dealing with illegal aliens?
The Left is hoping the midterms will be a referendum on Trump’s behavior. The self-promoting tendencies of Gillibrand and other Democrats venturing to extremes could make it a referendum on ICE instead.
Like Barack Obama before her, and like Warren and Bernie Sanders and their Senate colleague and potential rival presidential candidate Cory Booker, Gillibrand has blinders on. All she can see is the White House. She fails to notice how risky ICEbreaking is for the Democratic brand in other areas, such as the Senate races. Consider the plight of all those red- and purple-state Democratic senators coming up for reelection who now find themselves members of the ICE-eliminationist party. Heck, from his position sandwiched between Gillibrand’s and Warren’s states, Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut felt the need to reel in his colleagues and change the subject back to Donald J. Trump, badness of: “Abolishing ICE will accomplish nothing unless we change the Trump policies,” Blumenthal declared.
That’s nonsense: Trump policies don’t mean a lot if they don’t have anybody out there with guns and badges to enforce them. But Blumenthal was getting back to the message, which is Vote Democratic, not Open the Floodgates. Blumenthal, unlike Gillibrand, seems aware of such developments as a) the upward drift of Trump support (an NBC News/SurveyMonkey poll released July 3 had him at 48 percent) and b) the hints that a desire for immigration enforcement could motivate GOP voters to get to the polls. Imagine being Claire McCaskill or Heidi Heitkamp this fall and facing voters who are being given excellent reason to think the Democrats want to replace the Border Patrol with a “Welcome y’all” sign.
The Left is hoping the midterms will be a referendum on Trump’s behavior. The self-promoting tendencies of Gillibrand and other Democrats venturing to extremes could make it a referendum on ICE instead. The harder they push on issues to galvanize the base and presidential-primary voters, the more difficult they are making it for any one of them actually to get elected president or to win the House and Senate seats a Democratic president would need to advance any legislation. The race to be most radical is a self-defeating strategy.