Magazine article Newsweek

Donald Trump Made Republicans the Family Separations Party-Does It Spell Political Death in 2018 Midterms? the Republican Nominee in Arizona's Senate Race, as in Scores of Contests across the Country, Will Be Molded in Trump's Image

Magazine article Newsweek

Donald Trump Made Republicans the Family Separations Party-Does It Spell Political Death in 2018 Midterms? the Republican Nominee in Arizona's Senate Race, as in Scores of Contests across the Country, Will Be Molded in Trump's Image

Article excerpt

Byline: Nina Burleigh

A blow-dryer hot wind distorted the microphones as Arizona Representative Martha McSally and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen took their places at an outdoor podium in the Sonoran Desert. It was late May, and the two stood under the baking sun on sandy soil near a section of steel border wall in Nogales. "If you crossed the border illegally with your family, we take the parents, and we prosecute them," Nielsen said, as U.S. agents were separating parents from children from Tijuana, Mexico, to McAllen, Texas. "People seem to think there should be no critical consequences if they have children." A cluster of TV cameras and a crew from the Spanish-language Univision recorded the scene.

As chair of the Homeland Security subcommittee on borders, McSally had invited Nielsen to meet with "border stakeholders." With the wall and a few ranchers in 10-gallon hats as backdrop, and border patrol helicopters maneuvering above, Nielsen responded to a question about family separations, which were just beginning to penetrate the national news cycle. She said incoming families contribute to "lawlessness and insecurity at our borders" and classified the children as fake news. "In the last couple of weeks," she said, "there has been a massive dishonest misinformation campaign by people who do not want to see our borders secure."

McSally, standing nearby in blue jeans and boots, looked pained and uncomfortable. Although the press conference fell within her purview as a subcommittee chairman--and it gave her a chance to look hawkish on the so-called border crisis in her run to become Arizona's new senator--it was the voters of the mostly immigrant-friendly Tucson area who had sent her to Washington. So when reporters moved in to ask about the family separations, she dodged, summoning an aide to corral the media behind the windows of a U.S. Border Patrol press bus.

In normal political times, a woman with badass military cred who leans right-center would make an unbeatable Republican candidate in Arizona. McSally was the first female to fly in combat--she helped enforce the no-fly zone over Iraq in the 1990s--and the first woman to command an aviation squadron of fighters and bombers. She retired from the Air Force in 2010, after earning a Bronze Star and six air medals. Her district elected her as a moderate Republican in 2014. She supported citizenship for the young undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers and later opposed Donald Trump's presidential run.

But these are not normal political times. In 2018, the Republican Party belongs to Trump. The president began remaking the GOP from the ground up during his campaign. He cracked the Overton window, or range of appropriate discourse, and, in stumping for nationalism and against liberals and intellectuals, opened the door to the so-called alt-right and fringe conspiracy theorists. Supporters of the GOP, once the staid party of fiscal responsibility and conservatism, watched in disbelief as he was elected, then fell in line.

And now Republicans, like a mule with a burr, are stuck with Trump. To be sure, the president has accomplished many of the GOP's goals: tax cuts, deregulation and, very likely, a Supreme Court that could overturn Roe v. Wade. But his foreign policy decisions have decimated the pro-NATO and pro-coalition stance of both President Bushes, and his tariffs run counter to traditional free-trade policies. Still, few Republicans campaigning today could possibly publicly disagree with him and survive. Not when Trump will eviscerate critics on social media, and not when polls reveal that 90 percent of Republicans are behind him, even after the polarizing child separation headlines in June.

While his nativist influence has, arguably, made the party a happier home for racist or fringe-courting candidates--in Illinois and Virginia, for example--his popularity means even moderates running in the midterms have to move to the right to appease his base. …

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