Less than five months ago, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, promising a bold progressive agenda — including calls to abolish ICE — won a stunning upset in a House Democratic primary. Days later, fellow New York Democrats Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Mayor Bill de Blasio joined her, demanding an end to the federal agency tasked with immigration enforcement. Others quickly linked themselves to the movement.
But now? With just days to go before the midterm elections, the "Abolish ICE" issue has all but vanished from the radar.
The topic, which had initially been forecast by some politicos as a hot new issue for Democrats, and a possible litmus test for candidates seeking support from the progressive wing of the party for 2020, is largely gone from rallies and speeches. That's due to what experts say is its failure to resonate with mainstream Democratic voters, a misplacing of blame for the nation's immigration crisis and a successful counter-attack from Republicans, including President Donald Trump.
"It let off the hook those who are truly responsible for the nation's immigration policies: President Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen," Rodell Mollineau, a Democratic strategist at Rokk Solutions, told NBC News. "A lot of voters just kind of understand that ICE officers are following new orders."
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Matt Angle, director of the progressive PAC the Lone Star Project, said: "Democratic voters realized that ICE itself was not the problem. The problem was the policy and the officials behind it."
Even Ocasio-Cortez, despite making "Abolish ICE" a major part of her campaign over the summer, has tweeted about the topic just twice since Sept. 1. A campaign spokesman told NBC News she was unavailable for comment about the issue.
Politics watchers said they weren't shocked to see most Democrats step back on the issue and noted that it was, perhaps, always a doomed message for any candidate not representing an exceedingly liberal district or state.
"It got attention initially because Democrats are not that often so blunt in their messaging and I think that stood out," Basil Smikle, the former executive director of the New York state Democratic Party, told NBC News. "But it doesn't translate to a winning general election message in most parts of the country."