Republicans Open A Risky New Front In The Immigration Wars

In the epic struggle between President Donald Trump and the Democratic-controlled California state government, a new front is opening that could prove pivotal to the battle for control of the US House of Representatives this fall.

Local officials in Orange County last week threw a twist into the escalating conflict between the nation’s capital in Washington and the state’s capital in Sacramento by moving to join the Trump administration’s lawsuit against the state on the explosive issue of so-called “sanctuary” policies that limit cooperation with federal immigration laws.

The move by the county government to ally with Trump — which also includes a new policy from Orange County’s sheriff intended to undercut the state law — seems likely to spill into California’s critical cluster of congressional races. With Democrats targeting at least seven, and perhaps as many as 10, Republican-held House seats across California, some GOP strategists believe that siding with Trump against the state on the volatile “sanctuary” issue represents the party’s best chance to minimize its losses.

“It’s a winner for Republicans to fight this battle because as of now the conversation is framed as a public safety issue,” says GOP consultant John Thomas, who works with Shawn Nelson, the Republican Orange County Supervisor who led the effort to ally the county with Trump’s lawsuit. “In areas like Orange County where registration is starting to tilt against Republicans, those independent swing voters…lean Republican on law and order issues.”

And yet the decision by Orange County Republicans to back Trump against the state on immigration represents an enormous gamble for the GOP on two distinct fronts. The intervention risks branding the GOP as anti-immigrant even as the burgeoning populations of Latinos and Asian-Americans are helping to transform Orange County’s political complexion from deep Republican red to competitive purple.

It also bonds local Republicans closer to Trump as the most recent public poll shows that almost two-thirds of all California residents disapprove of his job performance. “Moderate Republican leaning independent voters are going to see that these Republicans…are essentially gluing themselves to Donald Trump’s agenda,” says Democratic consultant Dave Jacobson, who is working on several races in the area. “And I think it’s a toxic brand to associate yourself with.”

By Ronald Brownstein for CNN
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