As Midterms Near, Trump And The GOP Turn To Fear And Demonization Of Immigrants

As the midterm campaign draws to a close, Donald Trump is returning to the message of xenophobia and fear that dominated his Presidential campaign.

As we enter the last weekend of the midterm election campaign, Donald Trump and his supporters in the Republican Party are using fear, xenophobia, and outright lies to motivate their base as it becomes clearer that next Tuesday is looking to be a very bad night:

WASHINGTON — President Trump’s closing argument is now clear: Build tent cities for migrants. End birthright citizenship. Fear the caravan. Send active-duty troops to the border. Refuse asylum.

Immigration has been the animating issue of the Trump presidency, and now — with the possibility that Republicans could face significant losses in the midterm elections on Tuesday — the president has fully embraced a dark, anti-immigrant message in the hope that stoking fear will motivate voters to reject Democrats.

In a rambling speech on Thursday afternoon that was riddled with falsehoods and vague promises to confront a “crisis” at the border, Mr. Trump used the official backdrop of the White House to step up his efforts to demonize a caravan of Central Americans that has been making its way through Mexico, assail Democrats, and promote a vision of a United States that would be better off with fewer immigrants.

The president said he had ordered troops to respond to any migrants in the caravan who throw rocks as if they were brandishing firearms, saying, “I told them: Consider it a rifle.” He said his government had already begun to construct “massive cities of tents” to imprison legal and illegal immigrants who try to enter the United States.

“This is a defense of our country,” Mr. Trump declared from a lectern in the Roosevelt Room before leaving the White House to attend a campaign rally in Missouri. “We have no choice. We will defend our borders. We will defend our country.”

The president also played fast and loose with the truth. At one point, he said that 97 percent of immigrants apprehended at the border and released into the United States do not show up for their trials; the number is closer to 28 percent. He also said the government is no longer releasing immigrants while they await trial. Meanwhile, migrants are being caught and released at the border regularly, as has happened for decades.

He repeated his oft-stated, misleading description of the situation south of the border, saying that “large, organized caravans” are heading toward the United States, filled with “tough people, in many cases.”

“A lot of young men, strong men,” he continued, “and a lot of men we maybe don’t want in our country.”

“They have injured; they have attacked,” he added.

In recent weeks, Mr. Trump has promised a number of actions to demonstrate a renewed crackdown on immigrants. While he has followed through on one of them — ordering an increase in military units on the border — there was no mention in the speech of the presidential proclamation on asylum and the new policy on family separation that he has promised.

As Philip Rucker and Felicia Sommers note at The Washington Post note,

President Trump, joined by many Republican candidates, is dramatically escalating his efforts to take advantage of racial divisions and cultural fears in the final days of the midterm campaign, part of an overt attempt to rally white supporters to the polls and preserve the GOP’s congressional majorities.

On Thursday, Trump ratcheted up the anti-immigrant rhetoric that has been the centerpiece of his midterm push by portraying a slow-moving migrant caravan, consisting mostly of families traveling on foot through Mexico, as a dangerous “invasion” and suggesting that if any migrants throw rocks they could be shot by the troops that he has deployed at the border. The president also vowed to take action next week to construct “massive tent cities” aimed at holding migrants indefinitely and making it more difficult for them to remain in the country.

“If you don’t want America to be overrun by masses of illegal aliens and giant caravans, you better vote Republican,” Trump said at a rally here Thursday evening.

The remarks capped weeks of incendiary rhetoric from Trump, and they come just five days after a gunman reportedly steeped in ­anti-Jewish conspiracy theories about the migrant caravan slaughtered 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue in what is believed to be the worst anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history.

Trump has repeatedly cast the migrants as “bad thugs” and criminals while asserting without evidence that the caravan contains “unknown Middle Easterners” — apparently meant to suggest there are terrorists mixed in with the families fleeing violence in Honduras and other Central American nations and seeking asylum in the United States. The president also said Wednesday that he “wouldn’t be surprised” if liberal donor George Soros had funded the migrant groups — echoing the conspiracy theory that is thought to have influenced the accused Pittsburgh shooter.

Trump questioned again at Thursday night’s rally whether it was really “just by accident” that the caravans were forming.

“Somebody was involved, not on our side of the ledger,” Trump told the crowd. “Somebody was involved, and then somebody else told him, ‘You made a big mistake.’ ”

He also called birthright citizenship a “crazy, lunatic policy,” warning that it could allow people such as “a dictator who we hate and who’s against us” to have a baby on American soil, and “congratulations, your son or daughter is now an American citizen.”

Many of Trump’s Republican acolytes, from Connecticut to California, have followed his lead in the use of inflammatory messages, including an ad branding a minority Democratic candidate as a national security threat and a mailer visually depicting a Jewish Democrat as a crazed person with a wad of money in his hand.

Trump and his supporters argue that the media and the president’s political opponents call racism or anti-Semitism where none exists as a way to demean him and divide Americans. At a campaign rally Wednesday night in Estero, Fla., Trump sought to link his supporters to the accusations.

“We have forcefully condemned hatred, bigotry, racism and prejudice in all of its ugly forms, but the media doesn’t want you to hear your story,” Trump said. “It’s not my story. It’s your story. And that’s why 33 percent of the people in this country believe the fake news is, in fact — and I hate to say this — in fact, the enemy of the people.”

Meanwhile, an online campaign video personally promoted by Trump this week was denounced by Democrats and some Republicans on Thursday as toxic or even racist.

The footage focuses on Luis Bracamontes, a twice-deported Mexican immigrant who was given a death sentence in April for killing two California law enforcement officers in 2014. The recording portrays him as the face of the current migrant caravan, when in fact he has been in prison for four years.

The 53-second video is filled with audible expletives and shows Bracamontes smiling as he declares, “I killed f—— cops.” With a shaved head, a mustache and long chin hair, Bracamontes shows no remorse for his crimes and vows, “I’m going to kill more cops soon.”

Trump shared the video Wednesday afternoon with his 55.5 million followers on Twitter, and it remained pinned atop his Twitter page the next day. As of late Thursday afternoon, the video had been viewed 3.5 million times.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), a potential 2020 challenger to the president, said Trump crossed a new Rubicon by posting the video.

“We all go through periods where we’re in a tough race and we’ve got to figure out what we should do, but at some point there’s just an ethical line that you should not cross, and I think it’s been crossed here,” Kasich said in an interview. “This latest ad is an all-time low. It’s a terrible ad, it’s designed to frighten people and it’s wrong.”

Here’s the video in question:

Many critics have compared this video, which clearly seeks to draw upon fear of immigrants, xenophobia, and falsehoods about the caravan of migrants that is still, at least, weeks away from reaching the U.S./Mexican border, to the infamous “Willie Horton” ad that was released during the 1988 Presidential campaign. The difference, of course, is that the Willie Horton ad was not released by George H.W. Bush’s campaign, but by a third-party organization independent of the campaign, although the issue of the weekend furlough program mentioned in the ad is something that had been brought up both by Dukakis’s opponent for the nomination former Vice-President and then-Senator Al Gore and by the Bush campaign in speeches. In this case, the ad is coming straight from the President himself, was produced specifically for the Trump campaign by Republican consulting firm Jamestown Associates, and is attempting to draw a false equivalence between an apparently undocumented immigrant who killed two police officers and the migrant caravan currently making its way from Central America even though there is no evidence that the person profiled in the video has any connection to either this current caravan or to any of the previous migrant caravans that have made. That hardly matters, of course, because the purpose of the video is not to state facts, but to stoke fears among his base voters regarding immigrants, foreigners, and pretty much anyone with brown skin. It’s cynical, xenophobic, and, yes, it is racist.

Even worse for Trump, it turns out that the illegal immigrant featured in the ad was released from jail by Trump friend former Sheriff Joe Arpaio and had sneaked back into the country during George W. Bush’s Administration:

Trump posted this video just a day before he gave a rambling speech in the Roosevelt Room of the White House that Administration spokespersons had said would be a significant speech on immigrant policy. Instead, it turned out to be just another version of the same fear-mongering nonsense that he’s tossed out at campaign rallies for the past week, and which he will no doubt return to between now and Election Day. There were, for example, no concrete policy proposals in the speech beyond the promise of an Executive Order sometime “soon” regarding asylum seekers and more lies and misrepresentations. As it was, MSNBC declined to carry the entire speech and CNN stopped carrying it and switched to Jake Tapper fact-checking the President in nearly real-time regarding the misrepresentations that were contained in the speech. To the extent that there was anything substantive, it was if anything even more concerning than what we’ve heard already. Specifically, I’m referring to Trump’s seeming warning that he might authorize military authorities being sent to the border to open fire on migrants:

President Donald Trump on Thursday claimed he would sign an executive order “next week” aimed at restricting US asylum rules, as he seeks to use a group of Central American migrants heading for the US border as part of his midterm election closing argument.

He also suggested that the US troops he dispatched to the US-Mexico border could fire on someone in the migrant caravan if the person threw rocks or stones at them.

In a meandering speech at the White House about immigration, Trump recycled many of the talking points he touts on the campaign trail — but offered little in the way of concrete ways to address the problems he embellished.

Trump said his administration is finalizing an executive action that would limit asylum claims to legal ports of entry, claiming migrants frequently abuse the system by fabricating their need for asylum.

But he declined to specify how a change he described as a forthcoming executive order would work, or why he was convening a presidential address for a policy shift that is still in the preliminary stages.

Asked if he envisions US troops firing on anyone in the groups of migrants, Trump told reporters at the White House: “I hope not. I hope not — but it’s the military.”

“I hope there won’t be that,” Trump said, but added that anybody throwing rocks or stones at the military service members will be considered to be using a firearm, “because there’s not much difference when you get hit in the face with a rock.”

A US defense official told CNN that the troops deployed to the border will be operating under the standard rules on the use of force and will only use such force in self-defense.

Official Department of Defense regulations say “deadly force is justified only when there is a reasonable belief that the subject of such force poses an imminent threat of death or serious bodily harm to a person.”

Lt. Col. Jamie Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said following Trump’s remarks that the Defense Department “will not discuss hypothetical situations or specific measures within our rules on the use of force, but our forces are trained professionals who always have the inherent right of self-defense.”

“I would also emphasize that our forces are in support of DHS/CBP, who are performing law enforcement activities,” Davis said.
Defense officials have repeatedly emphasized the troops at the border are there to support civil authorities and that they are not expected to come into any contact with migrants.

The top general overseeing US Northern Command said on Tuesday that “CBP (Customs and Border Protection) personnel are … absolutely the primary and principal members that will be handling, specifically, the migrants.”

“There could be incidental interaction between our military members and migrants or other personnel that might be in that area. And so we are making that our soldiers, our Marines are going to be fully trained in how to do that interaction,” Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy said.

The general added, “They’re going to understand the rules for that interaction, and they’ll be consistent with CBP.”

These military forces, of course, are the same ones that the President said he would be sending to the border in the coming weeks to stave off the alleged threat of a caravan made up mostly of women, children, and poor families fleeing poverty, gang warfare, and government oppression in Central American nations such as El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Originally, the reports had the number of troops being sent to the border pegged at roughly 5,200, which is more than we have in Iraq and Syria combined at the moment. On Wednesday, he tripled down on that and said he could send as many as 15,000 troops to the border, which is more than are currently stationed in Afghanistan. While these statements raise the specter of armed infantrymen standing along the border across from this alleged “invasion” of poor, tired, hungry refugees, the reality is that the vast majority of the troops being sent consist of people such as engineers and support personnel that would be acting in support of Border Patrol operations and that, furthermore, it would be the civilians in the Border Patrol who would have primary responsibility for controlling the border and dealing with the migrants. Additionally, it is clear that any use of force by the military against these migrants would be illegal unless it was clearly in self-defense, and the statements released late yesterday from the Defense Department seem to make clear that the military could refuse to carry out a Presidential order that was deemed to be illegal under domestic or international law.

The President’s motives here are not difficult to figure out. As the midterm campaign draws to a close, he is returning to the rhetoric that he began his campaign for President with in June 2015, and after he became President. During that time, he has repeatedly attacked Mexicans, Muslimsdisabled people, a Federal District Court Judge who happened to be Mexican-American and a Gold Star Family who happened to be Muslim.  In response to N.F.L. players who were peacefully kneeling to protest racially biased police violence, he responded by calling the largely African-American players “sons of bitches,” and, of course, he has repeatedly attacked political opponents in the vilest manner. Despite the outrage that these comments have elicited, it’s obvious that this rhetoric plays well with his Republican base, and it’s clearly those people to whom he is appealing now. It is cynical, outrageous, and, yes, it is racist, but at least in terms of riling up the Trumpidian base of the GOP, it works. And that’s just sad.

FILED UNDER: 2018 Election, Afghanistan War, Borders and Immigration, Congress, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Hal_10000 says:

    Many critics have compared this video, which clearly seeks to draw upon fear of immigrants, xenophobia, and falsehoods about the caravan of migrants that is still, at least, weeks away from reaching the U.S./Mexican border, to the infamous “Willie Horton” ad that was released during the 1988 Presidential campaign.

    As noted in the other post by Steven, there’s another problem with the comparison. Dukakis bore blame for Horton’s rampage, having vetoed a bill that would have banned furlough for first degree murderers. We were also in the midst of a giant crime wave. Bracamontes has a long history with the law, went through Arpaio’s tent cities and was last release by the Bush Administration. There’s also zero evidence of an illegal immigrant crime wave (or indeed a wave of illegal immigrants at all). This is one of the vilest bits of propaganda I’ve seen.

  2. Argon says:

    As if this isn’t the SSDD…

  3. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Reposted from Steven’s thread: Two charts demolish the notion that immigrants here illegally commit more crime

    Graph 1: Undocumented immigrants commit less crime than native born citizens

    Graph 2: More undocumented immigrants, less violent crime

  4. Kit says:

    While I pretty much agree with all of this, the word to describe it is certainly not sad. Let’s try: Ugly. Hateful. Shameful. Repugnant.

  5. JohnK says:

    Everyone on my block and in the office is voting Republican, really surprised how many have left the Democrats.

  6. gVOR08 says:

    What would you have Republicans do, Doug? Run on policy?

    The arithmetic is simple. They have a better shot turning out racists and irredeemable country club Republicans than they do running honestly on, ‘Give the Kochs and Mercers all your money.’

  7. Gustopher says:

    As Midterms Near, Trump And The GOP Turn To Fear And Demonization Of Immigrants

    Minor nit: if you are just pressing the accelerator to the floor, you aren’t turning.

  8. Tyrell says:

    I am supportive of immigration and a positive policy of immigration. Most immigrants come here seeking freedom, a job, and a better life. I have been associated with a church that has sponsored and helped immigrants from different countries over the years. These people are productive, behave well, and are faithful people. Most are looking for an opportunity, not a handout. I have seen them become good, productive citizens. They are an asset to this country. So I support positive immigration policies.
    I am concerned and bothered by those who advocate “open borders” and no security. We can’t just let anyone in without thorough background checks and proper processing. This so – called “caravan” is made up of people from various countries. If they are seeking refuge then they shoujd go through the system of legal immigration that has been set up legally by the Congress. If there is a problem with the program, it is up for Congress to change it. There could be terrorists, robbers, dope dealers, smugglers, and serial killers mixed into to these groups.
    “No borders” “No nations” is not going to cut it with the American people.
    I hope everyone had a nice Halloween.
    “I met him fifteen years ago” Dr. Loomis; John Carpenter’s amazing classic “Halloween”

  9. Jake says:

    “The simple truth is that these shrill demands for unity are really demands for our surrender. The elitists who are howling that we have to come together have no intention of coming together with us. Rather, they want us to come together around them and the very same policies, initiatives, and weird taboos that we’ve spent the last few election cycles repudiating.

    What, exactly, do these people propose to give up to help close America’s divide? Their campaigns against our free speech? Our religions? Our guns? Our desire for people to use the right bathroom?

    Nothing, nada, zip. They intend to give up nothing. We’re supposed to give up what’s ours. Why? We just are.

    We can have unity, all right. We just need to do everything they want and we’ll have unity. Like ants have unity. Like the Red Chinese have unity. Like liberal college campuses have unity. Sweet, warm, huggy unity, under the benevolent guidance and iron rule of our elite betters.

    Hard pass.”

  10. Surreal Norm says:


    Oh look, a Clownhall column by noted nutjob Kurt Schlichter.

    Hard pass indeed.