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Tucker Carlson is just taking Trump’s immigration rhetoric to its inevitable next level

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If you know what you’re looking for, it’s trivially easy to spot where Tucker Carlson injects his fear and dishonesty into the political conversation.

© Joel Martinez/AP Immigrants walk to be processed by the Border Patrol after crossing the Rio Grande on May 14, in Roma, Tex.(Joel Martinez/The Monitor via AP)

On Sunday, Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin cautioned Democrats against giving up on winning in Texas, a state that has slowly trended to the left over the past several presidential cycles. In part, that’s because the state has attracted huge numbers of new college-educated residents. In part, it’s because the state, like many others, is less densely White than it used to be. That’s in large part a function of long-term immigration trends, combined with the fact that White birthrates are lower.

“Democratic hopes that demography would deliver Texas have not been wrong, but perhaps just premature,” Rubin wrote. “The 2020 congressional races suggested that while the fight for Hispanic votes remains competitive, the sprawling suburbs around major Texas cities are increasingly moderate.”

Rubin’s point is not a contentious one. That the country has become less densely White over time, as measured by the Census Bureau, has been seen as an indicator that the Democrats for whom non-White Americans more often vote will see an advantage. Rubin’s point is that this assumption is perhaps a bit overstated.

If you’re Carlson, though, this is proof that the political left is trying to sabotage native-born Americans (wink wink wink wink) by dragging Hispanics across the border to cast votes for Democrats.

“The Democratic Party’s immigration policy is to change the population of the United States in a way that guarantees they win every election going forward,” Carlson said on his Fox News program Tuesday. “This is effectively electorate packing. It’s an assault on democracy. Devalues your vote.”

Carlson’s been on this kick for a while, becoming increasingly emboldened in his embrace of the nonsensical theory that the left is trying to undermine the country. It’s an argument that’s deeply intertwined with white nationalist rhetoric and one that Carlson tries to whitewash by pretending it’s simply about politics. But he often lets that facade slip, as when he referred to “non-White DNA” last month.

He then read the excerpt of Rubin’s column quoted above.

“In other words, crows Jen Rubin, the great replacement plan is working!” he said. “It’s helping the Democratic Party! That’s the whole point!”

See that shift? From “demography overlaps with politics” to “this is an intentional use of immigration to affect politics.” It’s not subtle in either its presentation or its implication.

It’s also just stupid. There has been an increase in immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border, but the Biden administration has been energetic in quickly deporting new arrivals — to the consternation of his base. Fox News’s efforts to portray Biden as having “welcomed” new immigrants is refitted into an argument that he wants them to enter the country and become citizens, an argument belied by the actual data on what happens when those migrants arrive at the border. But Carlson then takes that and reworks it into a dog whistle about a changing America.

This isn’t new. It’s what Donald Trump did in 2015 and 2016 to repurpose frustration about the eroding blue-collar economy into anger at immigrants. It’s just more explicit in targeting immigration as a danger.

On Tuesday, the New York Times reported on a new study assessing the ways in which places that relied on manufacturing shifted to the right between Barack Obama’s reelection and 2020. It looked at hundreds of counties in 10 states, determining that counties oriented around manufacturing moved nearly 2.7 million votes from Obama in 2012 to Trump last year. By contrast, Democrats picked up only about a million votes net in cities and suburbs.

This shift varied by state, but it found a consistent erosion of the Democratic advantage, particularly in less-populous manufacturing counties.

The biggest erosion of Democratic support was in Trumbull County, Ohio, just outside Youngstown. Last fall, I spoke with residents of that county (in which I went to high school) and the consensus was simple: Trump told a story about the region’s decline that was uncommon to hear from an elected official.

“His message found an audience in the Mahoning Valley,” one man told me, “specifically because we were all told so many times that some politician was going to save our industries and failed. And he didn’t sound like the rest of them.”

That’s what the study determined, too.

“In plain language over the course of five years,” Richard Martin, the study’s author, writes, “he hammered on unfair trade deals that cost American jobs. He positioned himself standing up to China, both verbally and with punitive tariffs. He also offered up foreigners as easy economic scapegoats.”

Trump, of course, made the dangers of immigration a centerpiece of his campaigns in both 2016 and 2020, often explicitly tying that to job losses. (Democrats want to “maximize and massively expand immigration during this global pandemic, taking jobs from unemployed Americans,” he said in a campaign call in 2020, for example.) For Trump, the real job losses Americans were experiencing, particularly in Midwestern manufacturing towns, became a way to target immigrants. It worked. For Carlson, voting patterns play the same pivoting role.

But you know what moderated the Republican gains in those manufacturing centers? Race. The 154 counties that lost a lot of manufacturing jobs and which were at least 90 percent White shifted away from the Democrats by 11 to 12 percentage points net. The 22 counties that saw a large loss of manufacturing jobs but which were less than 85 percent White saw Democrats gain support between 2012 and 2020 — about a sixth of the total lost in those more-White counties.

America is changing, though the extent of that change is often overstated for rhetorical purposes. Those changes don’t have certain outcomes politically or economically, but they are a spur for obvious frustrations and fear. For Trump, they offered an opportunity to redirect frustrations about the economy into visceral anger at immigrants. For Carlson, they offer a similar opportunity, albeit with a different — and less tangible — root.

But the point is the same. We must, as Trump’s on-again, off-again 2020 slogan put it, Keep America Great. And that, it seems, means a constant insistence that immigrants are putting American greatness at risk.

Unlike the immigrant ancestors of Trump and Carlson, of course.

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