Polls: No, of course Americans don't want to abolish ICE

“Abolish ICE” isn’t a solution, argues my colleague Ed Morrissey at the Daily Beast today, it’s a slogan. Indeed, and that’s being generous. It started as a Twitter hashtag, per HuffPost. As the phrase started showing up more online, desperate opportunists like Kirsten Gillibrand who are looking for an angle to shore up their left flank in the 2020 primaries glommed onto it. Just like that, the hashtag #AbolishICE had become the slogan “Abolish ICE,” which had in turn become a semi-serious policy proposed by a semi-serious U.S. senator. And once it did, other supposedly serious 2020 contenders had to keep pace with Gillibrand by proposing it too.

Suddenly Democrats have a problem. No one to the right of the DSA thinks “abolish ICE” will help claw back Rust Belt voters who flipped from Obama to Trump in the last election, but because it’s gone from zero to “litmus test” overnight with Gillibrand’s and Warren’s help, the party leadership can only run so far from the idea without getting into trouble. Progressive open-borders shills are excited at having made inroads into the U.S. Senate with their idea; at a minimum, lip service will need to be paid to it for the next two years. How many swing voters will that alienate? Dem leaders are thinking about it:

“I think the focus should be on President Trump’s hard-line immigration policies, and not on ICE,” Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar, a relatively moderate Democrat, told BuzzFeed News on Monday. He noted the agency is just in charge of enforcing the administration’s policies, and said the calls to abolish ICE are “dangerously misguided.”…

“We need border security, OK? I’ve heard there’s some people out there saying we should get rid of ICE. That’s kind of like Republicans saying we should get rid of the IRS,” Washington Rep. Adam Smith, the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, told reporters after last week’s elections. “We need immigration enforcement, though not like this. ICE does not have to do what President Trump is telling them to do.”

If there was any chance of putting the genie back in the bottle, it evaporated when Joe Crowley lost his primary to socialist wunderkind Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who’s also called for abolishing ICE. Progressives have spent two years grumbling that “Bernie would have won,” their rebuke to the centrist Dems who warned them during the 2016 primaries that Sanders couldn’t get elected only to find that, ah, Hillary couldn’t get elected either. The left is done being told that their ideas can’t succeed electorally. Ocasio-Cortez’s win reinforces that belief. How can “abolish ICE” be an electoral loser when she just shocked the world?

Reality check: Outside deep-blue districts, it’s a loser. Via HuffPost and YouGov:

Overall, across the total population, “abolish ICE” sits at 21/44 — and that’s the more encouraging of the two recent polls for progressives. The other outfit to poll this question, Harvard-Harris, found trainwreck numbers for liberals when it asked if ICE should be disbanded:

Three-quarters of Republicans and a solid majority of Democrats oppose disbanding the agency. How we reconcile that with the far more tepid numbers in HuffPost’s poll, I don’t know. The questions asked by the two pollsters are similar enough that the wording shouldn’t affect the result dramatically. It’s tempting to wonder whether the recent push on the left to abolish ICE has begun to soften opposition among Democrats and that’s now showing up in the HuffPost data, but there’s a logical problem there — the Harvard-Harris poll was conducted a few days after HuffPost’s was. If anything, opposition to the idea is growing, even among Dems. Maybe the spotlight on “abolish ICE” has already begun to backfire.

Progressives won’t give up, though. There’s no reason to. Their best-case scenario is that “abolish ICE” continues to catch on among 2020 contenders, eventually becoming orthodoxy among prospective nominees, in which case slowly but surely it’ll become orthodoxy among Democratic voters too. If the HuffPost numbers above are accurate, there are already a plurality of Democrats in favor of the idea. The worst-case scenario is that Gillibrand, Warren, and the rest start to inch away from it when the polling doesn’t soften, although even then something useful will have come out of it for lefties. The “abolish ICE” fad will have reminded the party’s next leaders that they have no room to move right on immigration in the general election. With constant leftward pressure towards open borders, the eventual nominee will either have to move left as well or, at most, stand firm on the very amnesty-friendly ground that the party currently occupies. Republicans should be familiar with this dynamic: By demanding smaller government when you have no expectation of getting it, you at least make it more politically painful for congressional GOPers to *expand* government. In theory. Emphasis on “in theory.”

Here are Amy Klobuchar and Tammy Duckworth from this past weekend, each trying to tamp down the “abolish ICE” flames before the party’s 2018 and 2020 hopes start catching on fire. A question asked by Ed and many others this past week: Why not just overhaul ICE? If you don’t like the agency’s mandate or its tactics, write some new rules for how it should operate. The answer is that that wouldn’t adequately capture the left’s contempt for immigration enforcement and, really, wouldn’t achieve what it wants to achieve. It may be that there are moderate Dems who really do want immigration enforcement but nonetheless support abolishing ICE because they believe the agency’s culture will make it impossible for it to change how it operates. But most of the “abolish ICE” vanguard doesn’t want enforcement at all, I think, certainly not against illegals with no history of violent crime. (If that sounds radical to you, recall that it was essentially Hillary Clinton’s position.) “Abolish ICE” is a catchier version of “abolish enforcement” and most Americans seem to recognize it as such. That’s why the polling is what it is.