President Trump gloated over the Republican victory in this week’s special election in North Carolina’s 9th congressional district. Fair enough. This was a vital race. But a two percentage point victory in a North Carolina district, which Trump and Romney won by double-digits and has been in Republican hands since 1963, is nothing to brag about. If Republicans want to hold the presidency and the U.S. Senate next year, North Carolina needs to be a lock.
Now it’s time for Trump to try to broaden his appeal, so he can win Florida, which as usual will likely determine the presidency. That means trading the divisive anti-immigrant approach for a uniting pro-growth message that appeals to the Sunshine State’s voting block that’s evolved since 2016.
If Trump loses Florida in 2020, then he would have to repeat his inside straight of winning Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin (as well as hold all his other 2016 states) to get re-elected. Even under the best of circumstances, It’s unlikely that he’ll draw this hand again. He won these “blue wall” states by just 0.2, 0.7, and 0.8 percentage points, respectively, last time. And Republicans have suffered setbacks in all three since then.
Trump won Florida in 2016 by 113 thousand votes (1.2 percentage points). Yet at least three trends are working against him in 2020: Convicted criminals who have served their sentences will be voting in 2020 for the first time thanks to a 2018 ballot measure; roughly 100,000 Puerto Ricans have moved to the state in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria and political upheaval; and hundreds of thousands of blue state Northeasterners have relocated to Florida in recent years.
These factors suggest Florida is going to be more difficult for Trump to win in 2020. For the best shot at victory, Trump should pivot from his ongoing thousand cuts immigration agenda. This change would not only help him in a diverse state like Florida but also throughout the increasingly suburbanized country, which handed Republicans their biggest midterm loss since Watergate in 2018.
Last week, President Trump signaled his opposition to relaxing visa requirements for residents of the Bahamas, which has been hit hard by Hurricane Dorian. “I don’t want to allow … some very bad people and some very bad gang members and some very, very bad drug dealers,” he said in justification.
The decision contradicted the wishes of Florida Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, who wrote Trump a joint letter asking for travel restrictions to be suspended. Trump also announced that he wouldn’t offer Bahamenians any type of temporary protected status despite the devastation in the nation and even though millions of Floridians claim Caribbean ancestry.
The Trump administration has also recently ramped-up Cuban deportations, which is a shift from long-standing American policy. The Miami Herald headline: “Immigration officials deport 120 Cubans to Havana—and that’s just the beginning.” There are roughly 1.5 million Florida residents of Cuban descent, whose continued support Trump will need to win the state next year.
Then there are the numerous little immigration actions recently taken by Trump that likely turn off the 20 percent of the state’s population that’s foreign-born. To take just two recent examples: The administration recently made it more difficult for children of immigrants who are on active duty in the armed forces to acquire citizenship; and it recently announced that it would no longer consider medical requests for deferred action from deportation.
These minor policy “victories” have been won at the cost of major PR blowback. Forget the policy implications for a moment; from a political perspective, they’re just not worth it.
There’s still time to chuck this immigration approach and pursue a more inclusive campaign strategy based on economic opportunity, which would appeal to Florida’s evolving electorate and suburbanites across the country. Absent such a pivot, Trump’s Ahab-like pursuit of immigration could cost him Florida as well as reelection.
Jordan Bruneau is an immigration policy analyst in Los Angeles.