What does “extraordinarily” mean? My colleague at George Washington University, Chris Warshaw, put together a graph of support for the family separation policy alongside support for many major pieces of legislation, including the recent GOP tax bill. Here are the percentages that support or supported these different policies:
The average of these polls suggests that only 25 percent of Americans support this separation policy. If you calculate the “net support” — percent support minus percent oppose — the average is even lower:
In fact, the family separation policy is less popular than even the GOP tax plan and health-care bill back in 2017 — and those were two of the least popular pieces of legislation in recent memory.
The family separation plan is also less popular than other Trump initiatives on immigration. In a May CBS News poll, 38 percent favored “building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border to try to stop illegal immigration,” while 59 percent opposed the idea. In the May 2018 GW Politics Poll, 43 percent supported “temporarily banning Muslims from other countries from entering the United States,” while 46 percent opposed. Neither of these policies is particularly popular, but each one is more popular than the family separation policy.
The political impact of this may not be felt — at least not immediately — in President Trump’s approval rating. But that’s not the only way to think about its impact. Another way comes from the Republican consultant Patrick Ruffini:
.@realDonaldTrump's ability to pivot from the most popular parts of his agenda to the least popular will never cease to amaze— Patrick Ruffini (@PatrickRuffini) June 18, 2018
So an important question to ask is this: What could Trump be doing or accomplishing if we weren’t debating family separation? Here’s a president who is historically unpopular given the state of the economy. But instead of pushing policies that are popular, he chooses the opposite. And instead of pushing policies that, if not overwhelmingly popular, can at least unify prominent Republicans, he chooses the opposite. The cost to Trump, as has been the case throughout his presidency, is in missed opportunities.
Meanwhile, in the minds of most Americans, the cost of this policy to immigrants and their families is far too large.