Let’s face it. Conservatives are not currently winning the argument on illegal immigration. With all the hubbub over the separation of illegal immigrant parents from their children, the left has effectively leveraged the “crisis” against the Trump administration and those who wish to secure our borders.
Several polls show that the majority of Americans prefer that we hold children in detention with their parents. The outrage against the president’s zero-tolerance policy mandating that the authorities detain anyone who is caught illegally entering the country, prompted Trump to issue an executive order allowing children to remain with their parents.
A recent poll released by YouGov and The Economist shows that most Americans favor Trump’s approach to illegal immigration over President Obama’s “catch and release” policy. However, the debate over family separation at the border still provides conservatives with an example of how we must approach these incidents going forward if we want to earn more victories in the political discourse.
Keep It Simple
When the establishment media began their attacks on the president, our response was far more complex than it should have been. A good rule of thumb when it comes to putting out a persuasive message is to remember the old adage, “keep it simple, stupid!”
One of the mistakes that conservatives made in this battle was to dilute their counterarguments against the left. They argued that the Democrats were guilty of hypocrisy since they did not speak out when other presidents implemented similar policies. Conservatives also pointed to the fake Time magazine cover depicting Trump callously staring at the infant daughter of illegal immigrants. People on the right also fixated on the left’s use of Nazi analogies to describe the Trump administration’s zero tolerance policy.
Each of the aforementioned issues was relevant and valid, and conservatives were right to point them out. But in the grand scheme of things, these points are not the most important.
The fact that Democratic leadership was guilty of hypocrisy does not provide any insight on how we should address the border separation issue. The public is far more concerned with the issue at hand than they are about the previous behavior of one of the parties involved. While the Time magazine cover was deceptive, it doesn’t take away from the reality that families are being separated at the border. Lastly, the left’s reliance on Nazi imagery is repulsive enough on its own without focusing on it, at the expense of what’s actually important.
Conservatives diluted their messaging over a variety of ineffective rhetorical attacks instead of focusing on one compelling argument that would have been impossible for the left to counter. Instead of treating these facts as tertiary issues, they missed an opportunity to hone in on what is most important: protecting the victims of illegal immigrants. Yes, conservatives did talk about crimes committed by illegal immigrants, but the subject became lost in the morass of other talking points.
The Left’s Strength Is Our Weakness
There is one essential component of political debate that conservatives often neglect — emotion. Leftist politicians and media figures have mastered the art of playing to emotion. Indeed, most of their arguments are primarily based on feelings. Why? Because most people — including both conservatives and leftists — make decisions based in large part on their emotions.
Sales guru Jeffrey Gitomer says it best: “The head is attached to the price, the heart is attached to the wallet. If you jerk on the heartstrings, the wallet comes popping out of the back pocket.” Most of us like to think that we make all of our decisions based purely on logic and reason. Science disagrees.
Study after study after study has revealed that emotions have an enormous impact on our decision making. This includes decisions on how we form our opinions on certain matters. Scott Adams, author of the book “Win Bigly” and the creator of the Dilbert comic strip, discusses how emotions can even be more important than facts and data when making our decisions:
“The decision-making process is largely divorced from facts and reason. We live under a consistent illusion that facts and logic guide our decisions. They don’t.
The exception to this rule is when there is no emotional dimension to a decision. For example, if a mechanic says it will cost you $1,000 to fix your car, and you can see no other option that makes sense, one could say that facts and logic guided your decision to approve the repairs. But emotion-free decisions are unusual. You rarely see emotion-free decisions when it comes to politics, relationships, or even your career.”
Adams is right. When it comes to influence, emotions matter. Podcaster and columnist Ben Shapiro is fond of saying, “facts don’t care about your feelings.” He’s right. But the reverse is also true: feelings don’t care about facts. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; none of us would prefer to be more like Star Trek’s emotionless Spock character, would we?
This isn’t to say that facts are unimportant. Conservatives should not abandon their reliance on objective data. However, they should also respect the role of emotion in decision making. The left inundated the American public with pictures of children to play on our emotions. They also played a tape of crying babies when confronting Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. It was insidious but brilliantly effective.
President Trump did well when he put the angel families front and center at the White House, but it might have been better to do it sooner, if possible. Not only should Americans see these families, but they should also see the children and adults who are victimized by human traffickers when they enter the country illegally. Maybe it’s time for the public to hear from people who have lost children to gangs like MS-13. These people are suffering far more than the detainees at the border, and conservatives should constantly be hammering this point home.
We Haven’t Lost Yet
As stated previously, the majority of the American public agrees more with conservatives than leftists on immigration policy. Nevertheless, Republicans cannot afford to lose battles like the one on border separations. There are practical weapons of persuasion we can use to promote our agenda when it comes to illegal immigration.
Americans are losing loved ones to violence committed by illegal immigrants who should never have been allowed to remain in the country. Illegal immigrants themselves are also likely to become victims of human trafficking. They are conned into entering the country with promises of earning a better income; then they are subject to sex slavery, forced labor, and physical and mental abuse. The families being temporarily separated at the border are not suffering nearly as much as the true victims of illegal immigration.
The hypocrisy of the Democrats on this issue should certainly be highlighted. Their deceptive practices must be condemned. But these points are not as essential to the argument as the fate of people whose lives are being ruined. Conservatives can win this debate by focusing their compassion on those whose lives are being threatened, not on just the people whose plight makes for incendiary headlines. Indeed, conservatives should be vigorously calling out the left for ignoring the victims of illegal immigration in favor of promoting their open borders agenda.
Conservatives can and should do something about the border separations, but we must also ensure that we are not allowing illegal immigration to claim more lives. When we are attacking the left’s positions, let’s hit them where it hurts instead of fixating on less important issues.