What do you have to lose? Texas Data Points for the Week in Politics, August 25, 2016

We close the week out with a final nod to Donald Trump’s visit to Austin and its intersection with politics and public opinion in Texas. Next week, we’ll return to at least some non-Trump related observations. Probably.

If you weren’t there or just want to relive the experience: video of the Donald Trump’s appearance at the Travis County Expo provided below for reference.

Is that a pivot or a pirouette? Donald Trump’s “town hall” meeting with Sean Hannity in Austin’s Moody Theater turned out to one of the episodes in the GOP presidential candidates seeming attempt to walk back his hard line on what to do with undocumented immigrants living in the United States. The political press is covering Trump’s zigzag on the issue relentlessly, so there’s not much point in recapping the twists and turns. By week’s end, Trump seemed to be edging back toward the original hard line. In Texas, the audience in the GOP for promises of mass deportations of undocumented immigration is well-documented in numerous poll results over the last few years, up to and including the June 2016 University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll. It’s also an issue that unites Tea Party and non-Tea Party Republicans. Again: patterns of party identification can be expected to carry the day for Trump, but if supporters think take his to and fro on the issue seriously (which they might not — the impression of dishonesty might actually be helping here), it could drive some anti-immigration stalwarts to stay home or abstain at the top of the ticket (they won’t vote for Clinton). Wherever Trump lands (if he stops spinning), Ted Cruz is already saying “I told you so.” Free advice: get used to that from Texas’ junior Senator, because you’ll be hearing it a lot over the next four years.

I think I know the answers to those questions. In the evening leg of the Austin visit, at his mass rally at the Travis County Exposition Center, there was less emphasis on the pivot and (as at the Town Hall) renewed promises to build a wall, including a demonstration of the call and response with the crowd that is now a familiar set piece of Trump events (“What are we going to build? Who’s going to pay for it?”). Whether people actually expect delivery of the wall is pretty clearly beside the point, though Erica Grieder playing straight woman to Trump’s high concept promise (at the Texas Monthly site) does serve in some way to underline how this is not a serious policy proposal — even if it is very serious politics. It’s necessarily a matter of speculation, but it seems fair to think that the XX% of Texans who supported the wall are expressing support for the underlying spirit of the proposal rather than a concrete policy proposal.

Maybe you didn’t realize that was a rhetorical question. Trump also used his Texas visit to push the Trump campaign’s other storyline of the week, his appeal to black voters — to wit, that they are doing so badly in America and are being taken for granted by Democrats, so they have nothing to lose by trying out Trump. There is plausible speculation that the intent of this charm offensive is really more a bank shot at moderate white Republicans, who need to be persuaded that Trump isn’t as racist as he seems, than a realistic attempt to woo African Americans. This interpretation seems borne out by the hamfistedness of the punch line of the appeal: “What have you got to lose?” It might be a mixture of both. Taken together, reactions among black opinion leaders, the tenor of the media coverage of Trump’s play, and the Clinton campaign ad answering the question (“Everything”, embedded below) suggest that it’s not going to help Trump reverse black voters very dim views of him, which are evident in Texas numbers from June. If he can remain on message, it might help with those nervous Republicans — but that is one huge “if”.

Things we talked about last week, or just don’t want to get into: Rick Perry, guns and you-know-whats on campus at UT, and, especially, Robert Morrow.


Originally published at texaspolitics.utexas.edu on August 26, 2016.