Trump’s words don’t just reshape Republican attitudes. Just as often they empower and radicalize his critics. One could say that, despite his fondness for gilded touches, Trump evinces not a Midas touch, but a Moses touch—an extraordinary talent for planting a stake in the ground and dividing the landscape before him.
This Moses effect is most evident when it comes to Russia and immigration. In mid-2016, 20 percent of both Republicans and Democrats considered Russia an “ally” or “friendly.” One year later, Republicans were more than twice as likely as Democrats to say the same. Immigration had for years been a marginal political topic, especially when compared with issues like jobs and terrorism. But Trump effectively recast immigration as a question of American identity and national security. The construction of a wall along the Mexican border, once a fringey scheme, became the centerpiece of the GOP presidential candidate’s agenda. Today, three-quarters of Trump supporters say that “building the wall” should be the highest priority of his presidency. And yet, because Democrats have become more pro-immigrant under Trump, a record-high share of Americans now say “immigrants strengthen the country.” Essentially, Trump has popularized the liberal position on immigration while radicalizing the right’s.