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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Analyzing the Texas Senate Race

Dr. Richard Pineda, Associate Professor, University of Texas at El Paso
Washington, DC
October 29, 2018




Date: 10/29/2018 Location: Telephone briefing Description: Photo of Dr. Pineda  - State Dept ImageFOREIGN PRESS CENTER BRIEFING WITH DR. RICHARD PINEDA, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT EL PASO

TOPIC: ANALYZING THE TEXAS SENATE RACE

MONDAY, OCTOBER 29, 2018, 11:00 A.M. EDT

THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much. Good morning, everybody. Thank you for joining us for our telephone briefing on the Texas Senate race. I’d like to introduce our briefer, who is joining us from El Paso, Texas. Dr. Richard Pineda is an associate professor in the department of communication and currently serves as director of the Sam Donaldson Center for Communication Studies.

Dr. Pineda’s research and teaching interests focus on politics, leadership, media, popular culture, and latinidad. Dr. Pineda holds a B.A. in political science from Baylor University and an M.A. in communication from the University of El Paso – I’m sorry, the University of Texas, El Paso (UTEP).

His research has appeared in a number of communication journals including Text and Performance Quarterly, Argumentation and Advocacy, and The Free Speech Yearbook. Dr. Pineda serves on the editorial boards for the journals Argumentation and Advocacy and Contemporary Argumentation and Debate, the two preeminent argumentation journals in the country. Dr. Pineda has served the El Paso community as a member of the City of El Paso Ethics Review Board and the Capital Improvement Advisory Committee. Dr. Pineda grew up in El Paso, Texas and is a proud graduate of Eastwood High School.

With that, I’d like to introduce our speaker, Dr. Pineda. Please, go ahead.

MR PINEDA: Good morning, everyone. I am so pleased to be here with you this morning. I’ve got essentially four points to start the brief with, and then would be happy to take questions. This is a race obviously, of local impact that I’ve followed very closely, but then for purposes of the research that I do and my interest, this has become an incredibly important race, I think, in a bigger fashion. So let me start with my points, and then I can move into any of the questions that you all might have.

The first point is clearly about money. And this has become a race that’s gotten a lot of attention nationally and internationally, just for the sheer amount of money that has now come in. The – by the end of last week, that threshold had crossed more than $100 million – that’s a combined total. O’Rourke, 70 million give or take, with the remainder being raised by Ted Cruz. Those are record-setting numbers, and it is a little bit of an indication of the time that we’re living in, in terms of the amount of money that a race like this will – would generate. I think that it’s probably been one of the factors that has gotten people excited about the potential of this race. If people thought that O’Rourke didn’t stand a chance, there’s a sense that this wouldn’t have been the amount of money that would have been raised.

O’Rourke’s claim thus far is this – that these have been grassroots donations, that these are individual donations, that they have not taken PAC money, which is true. There are some super PACs that have already become involved on both sides, but as you may or may not know, under federal election law those super PACs cannot coordinate with the candidates. So it is still feasible for O’Rourke to say that that isn’t money that they’re controlling or that they’re getting.

The numbers are significant also because they represent fundraising from around the country. And I think that’s one of the other things that’s gotten some attention nationally, that fundraising is definitely coming from potential voters in the state of Texas, but there has been money that has been coming in from donors in other parts of the United States. And O’Rourke has done fundraising trips to other states in preparation for this run. That’s become a talking point, by the way, for the Cruz campaign, as an argument against O’Rourke, that these are non-Texans that are trying to have an influence, and that it is, quote-unquote, “liberal money” that is flooding into the state. And so that’s slowly become a talking point.

But I think just in terms of sheer numbers, for your audiences, I mean, the amount of money that’s been raised for what is technically a state race even though the representative goes on to the U.S. Senate is remarkable, and I do think this is probably a sign of the times. It’s likely to be the way that fundraising happens in the future, and I think that this is certainly something that – from that aspect, people will be interested to know.

My second point is that this is really a race to try to convince moderate white Republican voters in the state of Texas that they should swing allegiance from the Republican Party and Ted Cruz to vote for a Democrat like O’Rourke. Texas is overwhelmingly red, and what that means is that we have a huge number of Republicans. They generally outpace, based on previous data, the number of Democrats, I think almost 2-to-1 in the last of the data.

But what’s interesting – and again, something that may be interesting to your audiences – is that while the state is largely considered conservative – and we obviously have had fairly consistent conservative representation across most elected offices – if you look at the urban counties, if you look at Travis County, which is the home to Austin, Texas; if you look at Harris County, which is home to Houston, Texas; if you look at Bexar County, which is the home to San Antonio; if you look at El Paso County, the home to El Paso, you’ll see that those are actually Democratic – they’re fairly strong Democratic bases. I mean, El Paso definitely sticks out as one of the most Democratic in the state, surrounded essentially by red.

But what’s remarkable is that for O’Rourke to win, two things need to happen. There needs to be a surge in voters that are new, that have registered, which data indicates that there’s been a lot of registered voters this time around, record numbers as a matter of fact that matches record voting up through the first couple of days of early voting. But the problem is that the numbers in Texas still favor Republican voters that are in the suburbs, so that means that for every one of those counties that I was talking about, there is a suburban influence that is largely conservative, and that’s also true in the rural areas of Texas. And so you’ve got these kind of factors that are hard to push back. It’s one of the reasons that O’Rourke has taken pride in talking about visiting the 254 counties in Texas because there’s an attempt to sort of say we’ve gone to each and every one of these places.

My sense is, though, that these moderate white Republican voters are the secret sauce, and what I mean by that is that you’re going to need – or O’Rourke is going to need those voters to either be disenfranchised with the President, not particularly care for Senator Cruz, and both of those things do seem to be true in some of the polling that we’ve seen so far. And they’ve got to be convinced to vote against their ideological base in the election. It’s hard to say from my vantage point that that’s actually happening. I know that there’s a lot of excitement. There’s certainly some sense that these early voting numbers across the state are likely to support the thesis that people are coming out for O’Rourke, but again, we’re still talking about this unique cluster of voters.

The counter to that, by the way, or the other point as part of this that I wanted to raise is that Latino voters are important in how both campaigns talk about them, but there’s – the issues still remain that it’s hard to mobilize Latino voters, and even though there are a lot of registered Latino voters and a large Latino population in Texas, it’s really hard to see that there’s consistency in how that group of folks vote.

My third point, and I think that this has become really true since the visit of President Trump, I think that in some ways this midterm – this particular midterm race has become somewhat of a litmus test for the President. There is, I think, from the Republican side a growing concern that they would lose probably one of the crown jewels of elected positions, which is a U.S. Senate seat from Texas. I mean, we’re talking about the reddest state, a state that still seems to support the President, still seems to have his interests in mind. And so this has become, I think, an important litmus test. It’s being framed that way to a certain point, although O’Rourke, I think, has tried to avoid personalizing the race. He’s taken a tack that essentially looks to shoot back towards the middle to talk about why Texas isn’t Democrat or Republican; that people are Texans with echoes of what I think then-Senator Obama did in his campaign running for the White House.

But this is certainly a big issue because the President has come, there were quite a few people that came out to rally, and of course it speaks to a unique relationship between Senator Cruz and the President. Their hostility during the presidential primary is really pretty amazing, and the relationship that they had which seemed to be pretty awful, all things are now back into a very solid relationship.

And so it is interesting, but I do think this is going to be a crucial test, and I think the reason that it’s crucial, the reason that your audiences might find this interesting as well, is we have a fairly Republican state with fairly conservative values, and so I think if voters vote against Ted Cruz, they are voting against a personality – that is, the personality they don’t like in Ted Cruz – and they are voting against the President and the direction that he may be moving the country into. And that’s a remarkable thing because it means the Republicans in a fairly – fairly conservative ideological state may be on the move in terms of their particular perspective.

Now, again, I can’t tell you if that’s going to happen. My best guess is that it's going to be very hard for those voters to move over, and the explanation that I would offer you is this: If I am a conservative voter, I'm a Republican, but I'm moderate. I may be concerned about the President. I may not like Ted Cruz. My alternative is a very articulate, very handsome Beto O'Rourke, but somebody who's advocating things like universal healthcare, some liberalization of immigration policy, a conversation about drug legalization. And so my thought studying this race is that if I'm that Republican voter, those maybe ideological issues or they may be value issues that are too hard to move on, but I may say, well, I don't really like these two guys, but I'm not sure that I'm ready to move entirely on a lot of these other issues, these other propositions. And so I think that's why the – this has become this crucial test, not only for the President, but also, again, as I mentioned earlier, the moderate white Republican.

And my last point is one which I think is probably just interesting or may be interesting, especially for international audiences, this race has taken on elements of popular culture that I don’t think I've seen in a race at least at this level in quite some time. And so you have this rallying effect of music and television and film artists that have really rallied around the O'Rourke campaign. A couple of weeks ago, Willie Nelson hosted a concert that apparently brought in the largest number of people for an event like this, which is close to 60,000 people in Austin, Texas for a concert. Willie Nelson alongside Leon Bridges, both supporting Beto, and allowing Beto to use that as a platform to address a great number of people.

Of course, Congressman O'Rourke has been on the Ellen Show. He has been on the Colbert – the Colbert late night show. Last weekend it pushed down into the Valley, which is the southernmost part of the state of Texas. So these are McAllen, Edinburg, the towns that are on the U.S.-Mexico border. Beto appeared with Los Tigres del Norte, which is a wildly popular Norteño band that has a tremendous amount of cache along the U.S.-Mexico border and certainly with folks in the Valley.

These things are remarkable because they're an outpouring of support and an outpouring of visual connection that I think is important. So there's a certain pop cache that's there, but I also think that these efforts are also well thought out in terms of the strategy. So Willie Nelson is, in some ways, kind of the perfect outlaw figure in Texas, and he has caught some flack for doing this concert and the previous event with O'Rourke, but he's very vocal about his support. The Tigres, in the same way, especially on some of the issues related to immigration, they've been very vocal previously, so having them empowers Beto.

There's also a number of television and film personalities. Sarah Jessica Parker was wearing a Beto button some months ago. That was captured. I think there's a picture of LeBron James from this weekend that – he was wearing a Beto hat as he was walking in to the arena. There is this transference of that kind of appeal, and it's interesting because some of it is tied to issues. I mean, I think for figures in sports, O'Rourke's comments about why kneeling during the national anthem was the sort of most American way to protest, that really caught a lot of people's attention. But in general, there really is this sort of appeal.

I mean, just anecdotally, two things that I wanted to leave with you, and then I would open myself to your questions. I was in Chicago this weekend, and obviously that's a pretty good distance from El Paso. I saw three different Beto t-shirts when I was in Chicago in different parts of the city, and that to me is remarkable. So people are following this race, or maybe they've got some Texas roots, or maybe this is just something that they saw as kitschy at the moment.

And the other thing that I think, again, is sort of anecdotal but I do think that this is indicative of where this particular race is at in terms of attention and feel is a picture that I saw this weekend on Facebook, and this was put on by the campaign, I think, but it's a picture of a couple – a husband and wife – and the husband is dressed as Beto O'Rourke. He's wearing a blue t-shirt. Congressman O'Rourke sweats pretty heavily, and so the costume has these, like, big sweat rings. And the wife is dressed like Willie Nelson. And this is a couple not in Texas either. And again, these two observations are anecdotal, but I mean, I think you'll take my point that this has really taken a life of its own and certainly has a level of cache that's very different.

In El Paso, I will say this: There is a tremendous amount of excitement. There is a tremendous sense of hope that O'Rourke can beat Cruz. I am still uncertain that this is possible given just the demographics of the state, but there are some indicators already that potentially suggest that there is a shift afoot.

And so with that, those sort of four observation points, I would turn it over to you all and see if there are questions that you have for me.

OPERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen on the phone lines, if you wish to ask a question, please press * followed by the 1. You’ll hear a tone indicating you have been placed in queue. You may remove yourself from que at any time by pressing the # key. Again, for questions, please press *1 at this time.

Our first question comes from the line of Maren Hennemuth with the GPA. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks for doing this. I’m with the German Press Agency. I was wondering if you can speak a little bit more about the high turnout that we see in early voting, what that might mean for the polls that are out there, if that is already within the model of the polls we see or if we actually could end up with a big surprise because the turnout is so high and the polls are not accurate.

MR PINEDA: That’s a great question. Let me put the big caveat, which is that really after the Trump-Clinton race, the polls I guess have really left a lot of people like me kind of up in the air, not just in terms of methodology, but just in terms of what the end results suggest.

Let me offer you two perspectives on this. One, I think the high turnout is exciting because it means that voters are more invested in this election than they have been. In a place like El Paso, where early voting is – I mean, voting in general is incredibly low, to have this number of people come out – I think we’re almost at double or double and a half the rate of early voters – I think that it bodes well in Democratic counties. So in a place like El Paso County, in a place like Bayer County, San Antonio, Harris County, Houston – I mean, that’s where Congressman O'Rourke was on the first day of early voting – those numbers I think bode incredibly well for Democrats because I think that there’s a sense of excitement and wanting to get done with it so they’re not having to try to schedule when they’re going to vote down the road.

I do think – and this is the story that’s probably not being told as much – is that there is equally high turnout in some of the more Republican counties in the state, so I think that that speaks to an energized Republican base as well. So I think it’s very hard to split the difference on this. I feel like the high turnout is a good indicator because it probably also speaks to new voters that are coming out, so they’re feeling really empowered about showing up on day one and they want to be able to make their commitment as early as possible. In El Paso, the O’Rourke campaign has done excellent in terms of organizing voter registration and getting people prepped for the race. I think that’s been true in other parts of the state.

The concern is – and I think this is always true in any election, but Texas actually has some history with this – the concern is getting people registered to vote doesn’t translate into getting them out to vote. So voter education is an area that I’ve been a little bit concerned about, that there hasn’t been as much to explain to people what this process is going to be like and what actually happens when they vote and if they can get to vote or if they need to be mobilized.

So, in short, I think the high turnout is a great sign of where we’re at – where people are at in terms of support for this particular election and that this has clearly supercharged the state’s interest, but I do think that it’s – at this point, in Democratic counties that’s great for O’Rourke. In Republican counties that’s going to be great for Cruz.

QUESTION: Okay, thanks.

MR PINEDA: You’re welcome.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from the line of Philippe Geilie with Figaro. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes, with Figaro. Hi. Thank you for doing this. My question is that – I’ve seen a study from the University of Texas showing that the numbers are very much against any Democratic candidate. I think in every past midterm election, there was a reservoir of 900,000 more Republican voters than Democratic voters. So my question is, how do you explain that Beto O’Rourke got so much money? Is it considerable that it is already something of a presidential campaign on his part? Thank you.

MR PINEDA: That’s a great question, and one that has certainly been buzzing I think for some time. Let me sort of break that question down for you. First, I do think – and this has been certainly my concern thinking about the O’Rourke campaign from the very beginning, which is that the numbers in Texas are just against a Democratic candidate. And so just by the existing size and scope of the voting population, it’s incredibly hard to see how a Democrat can weave together enough votes. And in addition to – I think this is an important part of your question – not only do Republicans have a higher number of voters on the voter rolls, but they also have a better history of showing up. And that’s really important, and I think back to the question from your colleague from GPA, I think that the idea that these voters are getting engaged and are willing to come out early might be an indication that there’s a little bit of pushback to that idea of the – of this 900,000 vote reservoirs, as you described it. I think that that might be a way to counter that.

But I think the other thing that’s true is – and back to the point that I had with the brief – I think that’s why the campaign is working hard to strategize around these moderate white Republican voters, because I think they have to peel off votes from the Cruz side. They have to have voters decide not to want to come out for Cruz, whether that’s a protest against him or the President. They have to pull some of those voters that are being – that would be willing to jump races in that particular – on that particular ballot. And that’s really important.

And then the second part of your question, I mean, I think the congressman has already gotten this enormous profile, and people like him. I mean, there is a inherently likable element to O’Rourke. And this just became, again as a pop culture point, became the basis of a skit on Saturday Night Live a couple of weeks ago, where they don’t talk about Beto but they talk about Cruz and the whole idea that Cruz just can’t be cool to save his life, which is – has been sort of an interesting turn of events.

There’s one ad the campaign – the Cruz campaign ran. Beto, Congressman O’Rourke, likes to drop the f-bomb, and so they put together a quick 30-second commercial about him doing that. And quite frankly, the commercial – they could take the Cruz for Texas and put Beto or put O’Rourke for Texas, and he would look cool. I mean, the commercial is sort of a missed shot.

But to the point about running for president or having the campaign structure for president, I mean, I think that this – there is a strong indication that a campaign like this would work well for a national race. The congressman has said that that’s not his interest.

I think the other issue – and this is part of the reason I think that he was successful in the House of Representatives. So he essentially term-limited himself out and he said that he would essentially run for a limited number of terms, for I think four years is what he said – or I’m sorry, four terms is what he said would be his max. I suspect that he would say something similar if elected to the Senate. I think that he is very much stuck to that idea, so I don’t think that he would – if he won, would then transition into running for the presidency.

And I think on the flip side of that – and this is much harder. Right now there’s a lot of excitement, and so people say well, look, even if he loses he could take a run at the White House. I don’t think that’s true. I think that if he loses he’s lost, and I think that it’s very hard to resurrect another level campaign. So I think it’s easy to talk about it now, but I think on both ends a presidential run is seemingly unlikely. Anything could happen. I mean, the amount of money they’re raising is certainly presidential level-like. And I think having to run a campaign that’s looking at county-by-county movements is indicative of the same style of race that would be run at the presidential level. But I don’t think based on those factors that a presidential run is likely.

MODERATOR: Our next question comes from the line of Bas Blokker with the NRC. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, thank you. Thank you so much, Dr. Pineda, for your analysis. Because of – yeah, I was wondering, in a lot of states’ races there’s been charges of voter suppression, and I understood that also in Texas, Democrats specifically have been making a lot of talking points about gerrymandering and the strict ID law. How strongly should we believe those charges? How credible are they? Is it a factor?

MR PINEDA: That’s a great question. Let me handle your questions in reverse order.

I think that Texas is incredibly gerrymandered, and strategically I think where Democrats both nationally and in the state of Texas have made a mistake is that as the districts were starting to be readjusted and shifted going back probably 30 if not more years, the Democrats did not stop or actively work to limit that gerrymandering. And so the reason that that’s significant is because you can look at areas across the state where there have been these unusual districts that are cut. And in fact, one of those districts is right next door to kind of one of the people who have gotten a little bit of attention from the Beto race as well is Congressman Will Hurd, who represents the Texas 23rd.

If you look at a map, the Texas 23rd runs from the edge of El Paso county in kind of this weird long line all the way to San Antonio. Now, keep in mind that that’s a – probably an eight-hour – it’s a six-hour drive between those places, and yet that’s a congressional district. And so I think gerrymandering has been a huge issue in the state of Texas. I think by the time the Democrats and third parties have tried to leverage the courts to make those changes, I think it was almost too late. And in fact, in my mind that’s actually one of the strategic advantages the Republican Party has had in Texas for quite some time, is they were able to gerrymander districts and create these really unusual spaces that are very, very hard to run in or run against.

Now, the voter suppression question I think is one that is very, very concerning to me, but it’s also hard to be able to point to specific cases. And so on the flip side – I mean, there’s essentially two stories, right. On the conservative side, there’s always a narrative of voter fraud, that there are all these people that are coming in to vote that are not citizens or are not registered, or maybe they’re voting multiple times. The data on that indicates that this is not true, that voter fraud has happened but it happens in these incredibly small numbers. Voter suppression, on the other hand, there is a little bit of data that voter rolls have been purged or the names have been pulled unfairly.

There’s an interesting case that – or an interesting scenario that happened I think within the last week or so in the – Prairie View, Texas which is the home of Texas Prairie View A&M. And there was an issue with how voters or how voter registration was being processed, and so – Prairie View is a historically black college, an HBC, and apparently there were a number of additional barriers or a number of additional forms that required to be filled out by the voter registrar for that county. And that was complicated because they were told to register, use one address, but then they would have to have a change of address before they could actually vote. I mean, it just got really, really ugly and sort of complicated, but then made worse by the fact that a Democratic staffer, who went in to I guess deliver a letter to the county judge or the election official in that county, was then arrested and largely because of the – well, I mean, the sense was that it was because this person was trying to challenge these voter suppression issues.

So I think that there are – it’s a little bit harder to point to them with consistency, but certainly this thing that happened at Prairie View is good indication of potentially disenfranchisement, that because these students lived in one place, were told to vote some place else. And again, I mean the heart of this question is how easy do we make it to vote in Texas, and every once in a while there will be complications about this that certainly make it harder. And I think that’s also true with the voter ID, and at some point the idea that you can only have a specific identification. And even now, there’s questions that come up in terms of challenges at individual precincts.

The other interesting thing that’s happened, and this has been – it’s not reported very much, but for some reason – and I don’t know if it’s this election or maybe it’s just more of an interesting story – there’ve been a number of stories of people that have shown up to the polls wearing tee shirts for either President Trump or tee shirts for Cruz and O’Rourke, and under Texas law you cannot what’s called “politic.” You cannot politic inside the actual precinct. And so people have been turned away but this has created these huge scenes where people have said, “This is my right. I should be able to do that.” And they say, well no, this is the law, it’s always been the law. So you’ve seen some things like that as well.

But I think the bigger issue, quite frankly, is gerrymandering, and I think that Texas is – Texas Democrats have just never put up a strong enough defense to that. And even with national intervention in the courts, it’s incredibly hard to get the state to make those kinds of changes, and that’s going to be I think the bigger issue. In a case like this, gerrymandering is less important since it’s a race that’s on everybody’s ballot across the state. And I do think there’s some question of voter suppression, but it’s much harder to, I think, to point to that. And I think those are stories that will be interesting to see once the race is complete, to see if there are more stories of that. I mean, the number of voting machines in areas is already starting to be a question, like how many machines are put into certain kinds of neighborhoods and if that’s indicative of what they expect in terms of flow. There’s always, I think, a story about the reliability of the machines. There’s been some of that already with the machines not – the machines turning straight-ticket voting, if you’re going to vote straight-ticket Democrat that somehow it still says you’re going to vote for Cruz.

I find a lot of those stories hard to believe unless there’s hard evidence, because I think that they’ve become kind of – they’re like voting urban legend now, which doesn’t mean that they’re not true, but I do think that it’s much harder to substantiate those claims. And so I am – my bigger concern, I think, is gerrymandering.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

OPERATOR: And our next question comes from the line of Jana Ciglerova with Novy Dneik. Please, go ahead, and for additional questions, please press *1.

QUESTION: Hello, Dr. Pineda. Thank you for doing this. I was wondering if the migrant caravan possibly coming to the Texas border is going to play any role in the results in your opinion. Thank you.

MR PINEDA: Yeah, that’s a great question. Boy, that is really kind of the million-dollar question. In American politics, we have a phrase referred to as the October surprise. It references things that happened between the Carter administration and the Reagan administration with the hostages in Iran and whether or not that played into politics and if it was organized, et cetera, et cetera.

Listen, I think that being on the border, especially being in El Paso, what we’ve seen over the course of the last several years, but in the last year in particular, is a rise of immigrants that are coming from Central America. So I don’t think that the caravan itself has the kind of impact that has been talked about by the more conservative media. However, I do think that the coverage of the migrant caravan in particular by conservative media – the timing for that probably could not be better. So it kind of portrays both the threat of immigration, the idea of a kind of invading force, at least in the metaphors that I’ve seen through some of that coverage.

And I do think that while the people that are making these moves, I think, are driven by the same things that have moved immigrants for decades – I mean that they want to avoid conflict, that they’re looking for a chance at prosperity – I don’t think any of those things have changed. But I do think that it makes it convenient as a talking point and certainly as a campaign point to be able to say – for Senator Cruz, these are things that we are concerned about, this is why we want a border wall, this is why we want this deeper militarization. I mean, the President, I think, has mobilized or started mobilizing the military to a certain extent to come down to the border to be used in that capacity.

I think that all of that from an optics standpoint plays an important part of the conversation. And you’ll recall from the very beginning that I was saying that I think if you are a moderate white Republican voter, immigration is a big deal for you. I think you – especially if you don’t live on the border, if you don’t see the day-to-day effects of what the border looks like, I think the idea of immigration is something that’s a point of concern, that it represents a threat to the economy and represents a threat to safety. It’s framed that way, and I think that even for moderate, white Republican voters, they see that, they recognize that.

So if you’ve got something like the migrant caravan and it’s getting a lot of attention on conservative media, and the Democrat who’s running in this race is saying we need to make sure that the DREAMers stay here, that’s what we’re going to fight for, that we’re going to fight for better immigration policy to bring people in to live the promise of America, that sounds great. I mean, I think from a rhetorical standpoint that sounds great.

I think if I’m that moderate, white Republican voter, those two things conflict with each other immediately. And so, again, if I’m pressed with that question of can I sacrifice an issue that I believe in, can I sacrifice my position on immigration to vote for somebody who may in fact want a better, more liberalized immigration policy, then the migrant caravan essentially gives me the visual optic to say no, no I don’t, I would much rather go with the devil that I know than the devil I don’t know. And so in that sense, I think that’s why the migrant caravan is problematic.

I happened to, again, sort of anecdotally, watch a great bit of Fox News this weekend when I was in this hotel in Chicago, and it was almost always the lead story. They’ve embedded reporters. And I don’t know if this is true of the other networks. I mean, again, I’m just sharing this anecdotally, but watching the coverage and watching the way that they have embedded the reporters essentially is building this threat narrative, and I think that it’s the right timing in terms of making this optics issue a much bigger deal.

So yeah, I do think that it will have some impact. It’ll be hard to say what ends up happening, but I do think that it’s just one more point for this potentially important voting bloc to say, well, I don’t like Cruz, I’m not – I’m concerned about the direction the President’s taking the country, but I cannot run the risk that a group like this shows up and we just say, hey, welcome and let this happen.

But I will say – kind of one last point, sorry – one point of emphasis which is that these – the movement of these South American – I’m sorry, the Central American refugees has been pretty consistent, and in fact, this actually led to part of this renewed crisis several months ago. While the tent city stories-– I think a lot of you covered and had picked up on – this is the unaccompanied minors that had been put into a facility outside of El Paso in Tornillo, Texas. The other story that didn’t get as much attention was that CBP had been ordered – this is Customs and Border Protection – had been ordered to stand at the top of the bridges in El Paso, and so – and this is a violation of rule of law – essentially stop anyone that they thought looked like they might be Central American and ask for papers which they could not provide and then send them back so they couldn’t cross into the United States. Previous to this, our rule has always been that if you’re what we refer to as "feet dry," as long as you’re in the physical part of the United States, you can always ask for asylum. This is essentially contravening that order.

This has been going on for a while. I think that the visuals of sort of this massive group of people, I think, has only sped up some of the reaction to what’s going on.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PINEDA: You’re welcome.

OPERATOR: And there are no further questions queued up at this time.

MODERATOR: All right. This is Olga Bashbush again from the Washington Foreign Press Center. I would like to thank Dr. Pineda for joining us today and giving us this briefing. I’d like to remind our participants that nongovernment guests and our experts invited to address the FPC offer their views in a personal capacity and do not represent the official policy views of the U.S. Government.

After this briefing, I will be sending you all the transcript as well as Dr. Pineda’s contact information. He is also available for any Skype or interviews or conferences. Again, thank you to our speaker and thank you to our participants. Have a good day.

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