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How Trump Effectively Marginalized Progressives in the Immigration Debate

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Last week, I noted that President Trump won the shutdown because he instinctively understood the strategic situation far better than Senate Democrats, establishment Republicans, and his other beltway critics. He knew he had a stronger position than the Democrats and used that understanding to his advantage.

This week, in his State of the Union Address, the president showed that he intends to press that advantage in ways that will help Republicans on Election Day. That was especially clear in his most memorable line, "Americans are Dreamers, too."

In just four words, a president not known for his eloquence turned years of Democratic branding and messaging against them. Trump brazenly and succinctly re-defined the public imagery surrounding the term Dreamers in a way that infuriated the political left. Topher Spiro of the liberal Center for American Progress, called it "intentionally divisive." CNN reported that others thought the line "marginalized immigrants."

A more accurate description is that the president has effectively marginalized progressives in the immigration debate.

He did so in a couple of ways. First, as Newt Gingrich noted, the president's phrase "shifted the focus from a small group to the entire nation." Politically, that's a very astute move.

Second, and more importantly, the president tapped into the nation's deeply held belief in America as the land of opportunity. We see ourselves as a country where people are free to pursue their own dreams and make their own life choices. Most believe that Americans have the opportunity to work hard and create a better life for their children and grandchildren.

We know it's not perfect, but we want to make it better by creating more opportunities for everyone.

In fact, it is this deeply held belief that makes us sympathetic towards those who were brought here illegally by their parents. We understand why parents would want to give their children the chance to live the American Dream and grow up in the land of opportunity. Many of us, myself included, are proud of the fact that so many millions of people from all around the world think our country is the place to pursue their dreams.

But for that to work, we need to ensure that our nation is truly a land of opportunity for all.

Seen in this context, the issue is not a technical question of how to address the legal status of the so-called Dreamers. The real question is how can we ensure that the American Dream is alive and well for all?

For that question, border security must be part of the answer. Many Americans find it inconceivable that we don't have better border security to protect our nation against terrorists and criminals. They can't understand a political class that refuses to acknowledge the importance of such a basic value.

This is the reality that President Trump grasped and acknowledged with his "Americans Are Dreamers, Too" line. He may not present the details as well as the wonks who pore over position papers all day, but he gets the big picture. In that, he's behaving like a real estate developer who understands that the most important value of any property is the location. And, on the issue of immigration, the location of his position is squarely in line with the American people.

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