Backlash against border policy grows, but furor could help Trump in midterms

In the blink of an eye, the uproar over immigration has become a major midterm election issue.

And that's precisely the way President Trump wants it.

With some prominent Republicans and conservative media outlets slamming the president's policy of separating migrant families at the border, you might have thought the White House would be looking to quickly defuse the controversy.

That's not happening.

In fact, Politico reports that Stephen Miller and other top administration officials are planning a further crackdown on legal and legal immigration, with the goal, according to a Republican close to the White House, being "to arm Trump with enough data and statistics by early September to show voters that he fulfilled his immigration promises — even without a border wall or any other congressional measure."

The GOP plan had been to run on tax cuts and a booming economy. But the president has apparently decided that he needs to motivate his base voters to show up in what is shaping up as a tough election.

As Corey Lewandowski, who works for Mike Pence's PAC, told The New York Times: "People don't turn out to say thank you. If you want to get people motivated, you've got to give them a reason to vote. Saying 'build the wall and stop illegals from coming in and killing American citizens' gives them an important issue."

And the president stuck to his guns yesterday, saying that the problem is migrants who bring their kids to the border but that Congress can resolve the issue.

Obviously, pounding away at illegal immigration—from the day he came down the Trump Tower escalator—worked well for the president in the last campaign.

But just as obviously, the child separation issue makes the overall issue risky this time around, beyond the impact on the Hispanic vote. You can just imagine the 30-second ads, complete with audio now that ProPublica has put out the sounds of crying children being taken from their parents.

That's not likely to play well with suburban moms. And that's why some Republican lawmakers, including Ted Cruz, are speaking out against the practice. (Trump yesterday rejected Cruz’s bill to hire more immigration judges as a way of keeping detained families together.) GOP congressman Fred Upton said that "it's time for this ugly and inhumane practice to end," according to the Washington Post.

The press is aflame over this issue, which is drawing almost wall-to-wall coverage on cable news. White House reporters hammered Homeland Security chief Kirstjen Nielsen on Monday as she insisted the administration had no choice in the matter and was merely following the law. (A bunch of Democrats are urging her to resign.)

And many on the right are offering harsh criticism. Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, a Trump loyalist, said that family separation could become "the Republicans' new Katrina." A Wall Street Journal editorial decried "The GOP's Immigration Meltdown," saying "restrictionists may cost Republicans their majorities in Congress."

But other conservatives, including Fox’s Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson, are backing the president’s “zero tolerance” approach and saying the media aren’t devoting enough attention to crime and other problems created by some illegal immigrants.

Trump says he hates migrant kids being separated from parents but has no choice. (The media point out that's not true, but it's also true that conditions in the much-criticized warehousing facilities date to the Obama administration.) The president's wife says the administration must govern with "heart."

But while 66 percent in a Quinnipiac poll say they oppose the family separation policy, 55 percent of Republicans are backing Trump's stance. That's why an approach that is poison to a good chunk of the political and media world could be a bracing tonic for the president's supporters in the midterms.

Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m.). He is the author "Media Madness: Donald Trump, The Press and the War Over the Truth." Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.