Poll: GOP is losing the messaging war over DHS funding

The countdown clock to a “shutdown” of the Department of Homeland Security is ticking relentlessly toward zero. Meanwhile, the political press is not doing Republicans any favors amid the party’s effort to use their newfound political leverage to force the president to reverse his executive orders on immigration.

Sure, there is the occasional press report that critically examines exactly what a DHS “shutdown” would look like if that undesirable eventuality came to pass (and it would look nothing like an agency shutdown). For the majority of reporters and media outlets, however, most seem content to disseminate the Democratic Party’s contradictory messaging.

Obama’s immigration orders cannot be reversed or even stalled as a result of a DHS shutdown because that agency is funded through fees and multiyear appropriations, Democrats and reporters insist. In the next breath, however, they will impugn Republicans for putting American national security at risk. This self-contradicting message does not seem to bother the press all that much.

Perhaps it is attributable to the media’s reporting, or maybe the public associates all talk of “shutdowns” with the unpopular government shutdown of 2013. In either case, a new poll suggests that the GOP is losing the messaging war over DHS funding.

“The survey finds 53% of Americans would blame the Republicans in Congress if the department must shut down, while 30% would blame President Barack Obama,” read a CNN report on its latest poll of the public. “Another 13% say both deserve the blame.”

A majority says a shutdown at DHS, even if it’s just for a few days, would be a crisis or a major problem. Republicans are less likely to see a shutdown as a big problem, 46% say so compared with 66% among Democrats. Among all adults, slightly fewer see a DHS shutdown as a problem or crisis than said so in November when asked about a possible shutdown of the whole government, 55% now vs. 59% in that poll.

Given the increasingly unstable international security environment, and the proliferation of attacks attributable to ISIS-inspired militants in the West, it’s understandable that the public would be apprehensive about a DHS “shutdown.” Again, it is incumbent on the press to correct the public’s apparent misapprehension that national security is, in the near-term, jeopardized as a result of an impasse over DHS funding. But few in the media appear inclined to correct the record.

This poll’s finding is even more inexplicable when considering that it found that the public strongly disapproves of the president’s handling of issues related to illegal immigration. Though it has been lower in the past, only 40 percent of the public approves of Obama’s handling of immigration issues. 59 percent of respondents disapprove. Those results are worse for the president on this issue than they were in late November when anxiety over last summer’s border crisis had largely abated.

What this poll indicates clearly is that the GOP is losing this fight over DHS funding in the court of public opinion. Republican attempts to talk over the media’s heads on this matter have failed. The GOP should not abandon the course they have set, but they should be fully aware of the risks as they proceed. Merely asserting confidently that it will be Democrats, and specifically President Barack Obama, who will shut down the Department of Homeland Security if they fail to approve a measure that de-funds executive actions on immigration is not convincing the public. It’s time to try a new approach.