The Media Is Cheering Dems’ Rightward Turn on Immigration

On immigration policy, the Democrats are moving toward Trump and the Republicans. The mainstream media seems to think this is a good idea.

Tom Suozzi speaking at his election night event after winning a special election to replace disgraced former congressman George Santos at the Crest Hollow Country Club in Woodbury, New York, February 13, 2024. (Shawn Inglima for NY Daily News via Getty Images)

The New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal have used the recent Democratic victory in a House of Representatives special election in Long Island as a reason for the Democrats to move to the right on immigration.

With Republican representative George Santos’s ouster midway through his first term, Tom Suozzi, who held the seat before Santos, won the special election for the Long Island congressional seat over Republican Mazi Pilip. The victory helps Democrats close the gap with the Republicans’ slight majority in the House of Representatives.

For many outlets, Suozzi’s victory is a cause for celebration, because it provides the Democrats with a road map to victory in upcoming elections this year — a road map based on moving rightward on immigration.

The New York Times’ Gail Collins kvelled, “It bears repeating that this was a stupendous win for [President Joe] Biden and the Democrats, even though Suozzi frequently seemed reluctant to remind the electorate which party he belonged to.” She said we should “give the man credit” and “a little time to enjoy his victory.” What truly mattered is that “Democrats won another seat in the House,” and that when he is seated, “Republicans will have a squeaky majority of 219 to 213.”

For the Times’ Patrick Healy, Suozzi’s victory was a victory for centrism:

Suozzi and Biden, in their different ways, showed that running up the middle is a winning strategy in American politics today, when so many voters loathe the extremes in both parties and are drawn to trusted voices who are their own person (not beholden to the wings of a party) and are responsive to the core concerns of voters.

Suozzi ran as a bipartisan fighter, pledging support for a tough border security deal and pinning blame on both Democrats and Republicans for the border crisis. He didn’t run away from immigration; he leaned into voter concerns about it.

Times reporters Nicholas Fandos and Katie Glueck also drove home the idea that Suozzi provided a general strategy for Democrats in 2024, saying that they should “challenge Republicans on issues that they usually monopolize, like crime, taxes and, above all, immigration,” while also firing “up the Democratic base with attacks — in this case, nearly $10 million in ads — on the abortion issue and former President Donald J. Trump.”

The reporters highlighted how House Speaker Mike Johnson, a Republican, cited Suozzi’s conservatism: “He sounded like a Republican, talking about the border and immigration,” Johnson was quoted. “Because, everybody knows, that’s the top issue.”

Fandos wrote in a separate piece on the evening of the special elections, saying that “Democrats have struggled for years to mount a defense against Republican attacks when it comes to immigration.” The Long Island Democrat, Fandos wrote, “may have just helped write a playbook for how to do it, especially in a handful of crucial House contests around New York.” Fandos noted that Suozzi “called for Mr. Biden to close the border,” and demanded the “deportation of a group of migrant men charged with assaulting police officers in Times Square.”

And Shane Goldmacher of the Times wrote that Suozzi’s victory “injected Democrats with fresh optimism that the party might have found some of the basic ingredients to neutralize immigration” as a political hot potato, because previously “party officials have privately seen” immigration and border policy as the “deepest areas of vulnerability in 2024.”

Other papers shared the New York Times’ enthusiasm for moving away from a robust defense of immigrant rights and toward cracking down on the border. The Washington Post editorial board said:

With record or near-record numbers of migrants still crossing the US/Mexico border, immigration is a top voter concern nationally: 20% named it as the most important problem facing the country in a Gallup poll conducted in January, ahead of every other concern except “government/poor leadership.” The matter is especially acute in New York City, a sliver of which forms part of the Long Island–centered 3rd Congressional District, and which has seen an influx of more than 100,000 migrants since April 2022. Mr. Suozzi’s victory in a closely contested suburban district suggests there is a market for pragmatism. He argued on the stump that blocking the [recent immigration] bill will only mean “more migrants coming,” while his campaign ads promised that he will “work with both parties to close illegal immigration routes but open paths to citizenship for those who follow the rules.”

And the Wall Street Journal editorial board said that “the GOP lost a special election in suburban New York to a Democrat who supports a bill to do something at the border.” NPR correspondent Domenico Montanaro said of Suozzi’s immigration stance, “This was a real potential road map” for the Democrats, because suburban Democrats see the immigration debate as “something that they were nervous about.” The Atlantic, too, said the victory offered a “road map for rebutting Republicans on immigration this fall.”

One big problem in this reporting is claiming that the result was some kind of upset, when Suozzi previously held the seat before Santos, and would have likely kept it had he chosen to run again in 2022 instead of challenging incumbent Democratic governor Kathy Hochul in the gubernatorial primary rather than running for reelection. His victory over Pilip isn’t one of a Democratic underdog in a Republican district, but of a big-name Long Island politician reclaiming terrain that had long been his.

More importantly, these big outlets are essentially calling on Biden to become a Republican when it comes to immigration. While states like Texas are in a standoff with the federal government over its placement of razor wire at the Mexican border, the Democrats’ most recent immigration bill would have tightened border control. As Sunil Varghese, the policy director at the International Refugee Assistance Project, told Al Jazeera, “What this shows us is that the administration and Democrats seem to be willing to let right-wing Republicans control the narrative.”

Not only is such a lurch a xenophobic move and a human rights disaster, but it cedes the entire discourse around immigration to the Right, which can’t help the Democrats in the long-term to win elections. If you want to win power as well as hearts and minds, you must have the power to set the narratives, not simply following the rhetoric of your political enemy.

And when Suozzi ran against Hochul, a centrist, from the right, he was so conservative on issues like crime that he drew fire from other Democrats when he blamed a racist mass shooting in Buffalo not on racial animus or access to guns, but on criminal justice reform. He ran on a politics of fear, pumping out right-wing talking points that New York City had become unsafe for suburban commuters.

The New York Post’s right-wing editorial board endorsed him in that contest, citing his conservative positions. There were times when he was running against Hochul that he sounded more like a Fox News pundit. At the time, the New York Times reported,

Mr. Suozzi, who is running on a platform of cutting taxes and fighting crime, accused the governor of “irresponsibly” spending federal Covid relief money that has flooded the state, including through direct payments to help cash-strapped New Yorkers make rent.

Ms. Hochul scoffed. “I don’t think that spending money on people who are at risk of losing their homes is irresponsible,” she said. “I would do it any day of the week.”

The sage voices of America’s mainstream media are insisting there is much to learn about politics in America from this one special election. It isn’t clear that the rest of the party can really learn much from this highly particular race, in which a former holder of a House seat is returning to his old seat after George Santos took the country on one of the most bizarre political journeys in recent memory. But one lesson is clear: the Democratic Party leadership is eager and willing to move closer and closer to Trump’s cruel stance on immigration.