As the overused saying from former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel goes, you never let a crisis go to waste.
In this case, if you’re Rep. Bradley Byrne, Baldwin County Commissioners Tucker Dorsey and Chris Elliott, and Baldwin County Sheriff Huey “Hoss” Mack, if you don’t have a crisis not to let go to waste, make one up.
Last month, Time magazine reported the Trump administration was considering “remote bases in California, Alabama and Arizona” to house the potential tens of thousands of illegal immigrants detained as a result of its zero-tolerance illegal immigration policy.
There is no indication the Trump administration was actually going to follow through with this leaked proposal. Yet a political hot-button for a couple of local Baldwin County races was born. I mean, the campaign flyers practically wrote themselves.
“Baldwin County is bursting with growth,” one of Elliott’s latest mailers reads. “Our schools are already crowded and I can’t imagine dealing with the crime which could come as a result of this facility. Who thinks a tent city with no sewer, no water and no power in the Deep South along hurricane alley is a good idea? This is ridiculous and I promise you this will NOT happen on my watch!”
Imagine that arriving in your mailbox one day. You might think these illegal immigrants would escape from a detention center and immediately rob a bank, but not before enrolling for classes at Foley Intermediate School.
This Baldwin County delegation successfully batted down an alleged effort by the Obama administration to implement a similar plan when an influx of underage illegal immigrants was underway years earlier. I suppose we’re to believe a Trump administration, one that would perceivably be friendly to the county’s local power structure led by the Republican Party, would finish the job Obama couldn’t?
Nonetheless, last week this group of Baldwin County politicians took a trip to Washington, D.C., and reportedly told members of Alabama’s congressional delegation, “Not in our backyard!” There were also a few photo-ops.
I think we can figure out what is going on here. Step one: Get people riled up over something. Step two: Swoop in and pretend to be a hero. Step three: Use this faux heroism to supercharge your political chances.
In the cases of Elliott and Dorsey, both of these fine public servants face tough runoff contests in a few weeks. For Byrne, it’s the worst-kept secret in Alabama that he has visions of taking on Doug Jones for his United States Senate seat, which is up for grabs in 2020.
What a county commissioner and an Alabama state senator can do to stop the federal government from doing anything, other than perhaps lobbying federal elected officials, isn’t clear.
As for Byrne, this type of gimmick politics is a little early. Perhaps if he were 10 points down a week out from a Republican primary, rather than two years out in the U.S. Senate election cycle, a Hail Mary pass of stirring up illegal immigrant fears 860 miles from the nearest U.S.-Mexico border crossing would be in order.
This type of demagogic politics has some consequences. Even if candidate x, y and z get a bump from the illegal immigrant detention facility scare, it validates criticisms from opponents of conservative ideology and Republican Party politics in Alabama.
John Archibald, Roy Johnson, Kyle Whitmire and J.D. Crowe are licking their chops looking for something like this to bash over the heads of Republicans.
“See, guys, we told you they were nothing but racist brown-people haters! You don’t want to be a racist brown-people hater, do you? Don’t be a racist brown-people hater. Be like us! Support insane left-of-center public policy and you won’t be a racist brown-people hater.”
It’s not that what those guys say moves the needle in Alabama, at least for right now. However, outside of Alabama, it allows them to portray themselves as rational purveyors of political discussion.
Furthermore, it may even allow some of our economic competitors seeking to land that next big auto manufacturing facility to make the case that our state’s opposition to illegal immigration isn’t born out of opposing the expansion of the social welfare state, the strain on our infrastructure and schools or the impact it has on employment and wages.
Instead, they’ll say, “Look at how racist Alabama is. They weren’t going to house those illegal immigrants in Baldwin County anyway. But those politicians sure stirred them up to think as much. And that’s Baldwin County, one of Alabama’s more affluent counties. Imagine what it would be like to locate your multibillion-dollar manufacturing facility in a more rural part of that state.”
Why risk being branded as such for a couple of insignificant local elections and a head start on the race for the 2020 U.S. Senate Republican nomination?
This is just a bad look, guys. It may work on a few people, but the people that pay attention to stuff, that are engaged with it on a daily basis – they can spot phony alarmism miles away.