Democrat Garcetti, Eyeing 2020, Faults His Party on Immigration

(Bloomberg) -- Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said his fellow Democrats are spending too much time “yelling back” at President Donald Trump over his inflammatory rhetoric on immigration instead of making a case for how immigrants strengthen the country.

Garcetti, who is considering a run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, said Trump’s depiction of Latin American immigrants as outsiders, rapists or murderers amounts to “exclusionary patriotism” that arouses his base but hurts the country.

"Democrats, in particular, have avoided speaking about a vision of the nation," Garcetti, 47, said Thursday at a Bloomberg News breakfast for reporters in Washington. "Immigration is a key part of what that national identity is."

The issue of immigration will pose a challenge for any Democrat seeking to defeat Trump, who has built a large base of primarily white rural and working-class voters by hammering on a portrayal of migration as a peril for the U.S. As much as it motivates many GOP voters, Trump’s approach has also animated a growing base of Democratic-leaning Latino and younger, pro-immigrant voters who helped the party win back control of the U.S. House in this month’s midterm elections.

Fine Line

Garcetti sought to strike a balance on immigration -- denouncing "open borders" as unworkable and a threat to national security, while making clear he views immigrants as vital to economic growth and to the notion of America as a place that welcomes all, as it did his own forebearers, some of whom came from Mexico. 

He also put some distance between himself and Hillary Clinton, the 2016 Democratic nominee, on immigration. In remarks that were attacked by the left, she told the Guardian newspaper that Europe must "get a handle on migration" to quit fueling right-wing populism, and to send a message to potential migrants that it cannot keep providing "refuge and support."

Garcetti said Trump is fanning “fear of migration” and “ethnic fear” that have historically driven right-wing politics. “That’s why it’s incumbent upon us to not avoid that but open up with something else. Are you pro-family, are you pro-economy, are you pro-public safety?” he said. “What actually works?”

The mistake Democrats have made is “people attacked Donald Trump about his weakness, which is that he was perceived as either racist or misogynistic, instead of talking about the strength of our arguments," Garcetti said.

Garcetti, who’s heritage is Mexican, Jewish and Italian, said he’s "thinking hard about" running for president in 2020 and will decide in the first quarter of next year.

If he runs for the Democratic nomination, Garcetti will face towering challenges, including his lack of national name recognition in a field that’s shaping up to be large and diverse, including several potential contenders from his home state of California.

Although he leads the second-biggest U.S. city, one filled with immigrants, no candidate in history has gone straight from city hall to the White House. Garcetti argued that the 2020 election won’t be about where candidates land on an ideological spectrum but rather a "feeling of leadership" that boils down to national unity, winning the future, and "getting s--- done."

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.