Look closely: ‘Intermestic’ issues are on the midterm ballot

Look closely: ‘Intermestic’ issues are on the midterm ballot

By Luke Vargas   
Published
A midterm web ad by President Trump paints a migrant caravan winding its way through Mexico as a domestic crime threat. Courtesy: Donald J. Trump
A midterm web ad by President Trump paints a migrant caravan winding its way through Mexico as a domestic crime threat. Courtesy: Donald J. Trump

Global issues like immigration and trade have infiltrated the midterm election discourse, repurposed by President Trump as domestic issues.

NEW YORK – As Americans head to the polls, foreign policy appears conspicuously absent from the ballot. On its surface, the 2018 election is not a referendum on overseas nation building, trade deals or the war on terror.

But in another light, global issues have infiltrated the election discourse: repurposed by President Trump as domestic issues.

Consider the migrant caravan winding through Mexico, which Matthew Baum, a professor of global communications at Harvard’s Kennedy School, defines as a quintessentially “intermestic” issue:

“It’s an international issue with clear domestic implications that can be primed by a political entrepreneur, someone like the president, who wants to turn it from a foreign policy issue area to a domestic policy issue because they think it advantages them to do that.”

Trump could have talked about the mass displacement of migrants caused by transnational organized crime as a chance to bolster foreign aid or call for an improved relationship with Mexico to tackle immigration.

Instead, he described caravan migrants as threats to the American labor market and vectors of disease and crime.

Trump made a similar choice on trade, dropping any talk of multilateralism or comparative advantage and arguing instead that his America First mantra proved his willingness to fight for the American worker.

Baum thinks Trump’s habit of making the international domestic is driven by Trump’s belief that voters are motivated by emotion, not policy. And when Trump does bring up policy, Baum said it’s often portrayed as an urgent remedy.

“Every policy is a crisis. It’s always really big and there’s a huge sort of dramatic arc to it, and it always ends with, ‘There’s a big threat and then I fix it and we have a big victory.’ ”

Perhaps unsurprisingly then, Trump’s proclaimed defeat of the Islamic State terror group hasn’t made it into his campaign pitch. By Trump’s own logic, if the battle is over, what use is he?

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