Donald Trump And The Incredible Disappearing Caravan
Now that the election is over, President Trump and his sycophants in the right-wing media seem to have completely forgotten about the "invading" "caravan" of Central American asylum seekers.
During the months prior to the midterm election, President Trump and other members of the Administration were speaking constantly regarding the alleged dangers of a “caravan” of Central American refugees heading north through Mexico to the United States in much the same way that previous groups of asylum seekers had made their way to the United States in the past. To listen to the rhetoric of the President and those supporters this “caravan” consisted largely of gang members and criminals and may or may not have included Middle Eastern terrorists hidden among the migrants. Now that the elections are over, talk about the caravan has mysteriously disappeared:
For weeks before the midterm elections, President Trump warned ominously about the threat from a caravan of migrants streaming from Central America toward Mexico’s border with the United States. It was a fearsome mix of criminals and “unknown Middle Easterners,” Mr. Trump claimed darkly, one that constituted a genuine national emergency.
But since the election last week, Mr. Trump has tweeted about the caravan exactly once — to issue a proclamation preventing those who cross the border illegally from applying for asylum in the United States. Fox News, which faithfully amplified Mr. Trump’s warnings about the migrants, has gone similarly quiet on the subject.
There was little dispute, even before Election Day, that Mr. Trump was exploiting the caravan for political purposes. But analysts, historians and veterans of previous administrations said there were few comparable instances of a commander in chief warning about what he called a looming threat, only to drop it as soon as people voted.
While the caravan has faded from television screens, the costs of Mr. Trump’s response to it have not. Nearly 6,000 active-duty troops remain deployed from the Gulf Coast to Southern California, where they are putting up tents and stringing concertina wire to face a ragtag band that is still not near the border.
“Now that the political utility of troops on the southern border to face a fictitious caravan invasion threat is over,” said Adm. James G. Stavridis, a former commander of the military’s Southern Command, “let’s hope the president will stand down the troops so they can be with their families — especially over the holidays.”
But some officials in the Defense Department worry that Mr. Trump could do the opposite — seek an exception to the Posse Comitatus Act, the 1878 law that prohibits the government from using active-duty troops to enforce laws inside the country’s borders.
As pure political calculation, analysts from both parties said that seizing on the caravan mobilized Republican voters, dramatizing immigration in a way that resonated with Mr. Trump’s political base. But it is far less clear that the dire warnings helped Republican candidates with independents or other late-deciding voters.
In some places like Arizona, where the Democratic Senate candidate, Kyrsten Sinema, narrowly beat her Republican opponent, Martha McSally, analysts said the caravan might actually have backfired. Ms. McSally echoed Mr. Trump’s language about the coming wave of migrants, calling it a “public safety and national security issue.”
In exit polls, voters who made up their minds in the last three days before the election said they voted for Democrats over Republicans 53 percent to 41 percent. That coincides with the period in which Mr. Trump redoubled his focus on the caravan, rejecting the advice of aides who wanted to air a commercial promoting the healthy economy.
Exit polls did not contain a specific question about the caravan. But they did show that voters who made up their minds in the final week of the campaign, before Mr. Trump’s last-minute push, chose Democrats over Republicans by a narrower tally: 49 percent to 48 percent.
Privately, Republican pollsters pointed to the fact that their party had picked up just three of 10 Senate seats held by Democrats as evidence of the ambiguous effect the caravan crusade had on Republicans.
At one campaign rally after another, Mr. Trump said the election came down to “the caravan, law and order, and common sense.” In Mesa, Ariz., on Oct. 19, he said: “You got some bad people in those groups. You got some tough people in those groups. And I’ll tell you what — this country doesn’t want them. O.K.? We don’t want them.”
A day earlier, he tweeted about the “assault on our country at our Southern Border, including the Criminal elements and DRUGS pouring in.”
CNN’s Chris Cillizza also makes note of the disappearance of the alleged danger posed by this caravan from the President’s rhetoric and White House statements:
From October 16 to November 6 — aka Election Day — President Donald Trump sent 45 tweets mentioning the “border” between the United States and Mexico. Between October 16 and October 31, he sent nine tweets referring to the “caravan” of migrants making their way across Mexico.
Here’s a typical one: “Many Gang Members and some very bad people are mixed into the Caravan heading to our Southern Border. Please go back, you will not be admitted into the United States unless you go through the legal process. This is an invasion of our Country and our Military is waiting for you!”
Since November 6 — 8 days and counting — Trump hasn’t mentioned the so-called caravan once in a tweet. He has used the word “border” a single time — in a tweet on November 9 in which Trump tweeted out a link to a “Presidential Proclamation Addressing Mass Migration Through the Southern Border of the United States” that said, essentially, that he was trying to push people entering the country illegally to specified ports of entry.
That discrepancy between Trump’s rhetoric in the runup to the election and his rhetoric after it exposes, beyond a shadow of a doubt, what most neutral observers initially suspected: That Trump’s decision to seize on the caravan of migrants making their way across Mexico in hopes of entering the United States was 100% a political ploy to rev up his base.
To read Trump’s tweets or listen to one of his speeches at the slew of campaign rallies in the final week of the midterm campaign, you would have thought that the caravan — a horde of pillaging intruders — was on the verge of crossing into the United States, intent on destroying everything in its path.
“If you don’t want America to be overrun by masses of illegal aliens and giant caravans, you’d better vote Republican,” he told a crowd in Missouri on November 2. Time and time again over those final days, Trump repeated this mantra: “This will be the election of Kavanaugh, the caravans, law and order, tax cuts, and common sense.”
And to some extent, Trump’s strategy worked. Roughly 1 in 4 voters said that immigration was the most important issue facing the country, according to the 2018 exit polls; 75% of that group voted for Republicans in the House while just 23% voted for the Democrat. Fear, as Trump learned in the 2016 election, is an extremely powerful political motivator. There were anecdotes from all over the country as the campaign came to a close in which voters said they were very worried about the group of migrants storming into the United States and endangering them and their way of life.
This quote, from Carol Shields, a 75-year-old woman living in northern Minnesota, to The New York Times about the idea of members of the group occupying peoples’ lake houses in the state is indicative of the effectiveness of the fear Trump stoked.
“What’s to stop them? We have a lot of people who live on lakes in the summer and winter someplace else. When they come back in the spring, their house would be occupied.”
But now, with the election eight days in our rear-view mirror — and with only a handful of uncalled races remaining — the bald cynicism of Trump’s rhetoric on the migrants, and his decision to send 5,000 US troops to protect the border, is totally revealed.
If the caravan was such a threat to the country in the middle of October — so much so that Trump dispatched troops to the border to deal with the “threat” — then how can they be less of a threat today? They’re closer to the border today than they were three weeks ago, right? Right. In fact, on Tuesday, the leading edge of the caravan — those traveling in buses – reached the border crossing near Tijuana.
And yet, silence from Trump. If this was truly a major threat to our country’s safety and well-being, wouldn’t you expect the President of the United States, who built his entire presidential campaign around his tough stance on illegal immigration, to be speaking out forcefully right about now? Of course you would.
That Trump hasn’t said a word about the caravan since the election is proof positive that this was all a political ploy from beginning to end.
Trump was worried that the GOP base wasn’t as fired up as the Democratic one — and, rightly, was worried that such a passion disparity could lead to major losses in the 2018 election. So when he saw the news that a group of migrants was moving toward the United States, he seized on it and wouldn’t let go. Until, that is, the election ended.
The fact that the President has essentially stopped talking about the so-called “caravan,” and that it has simultaneously also disappeared from Fox News Channel where it was the subject of coverage both on the network’s morning show Fox & Friends and during its primetime bloc of programming, both of which the President is known to be a regular viewer, is perhaps the best indication there can be that there can be that this entire controversy was cooked up to scare Republican voters prior to the election. By the time people voted last Tuesday, the so-called “caravan” was nearly 1,000 miles away from the U.S.-Mexican border. To put things in perspective for the woman from northern Minnesota quoted above, this means that the group was roughly 3,000 miles away from her home. Trump and his Fox News stooges, though, had so scared the Republican base on this issue that they believed that we were only days away from an “invasion” by a “caravan” that consists mainly of families with children who are simply seeking asylum and protection from the hellholes that they left in Central America, something they are entitled to do under both U.S. law and under international treaties to which the United States is a signatory.
If all this sounds familiar, that’s because it should. There have been similar “caravans” over the past several years and they have typically amounted to much ado about nothing. Contrary to the claims of Trump and his Fox News propagandists, for example, these are not people seeking to cross into the United States illegally, largely because doing that would defeat the purpose for which they are seeking entry into the United States. Instead, their purpose has been to arrive at one of the many designated border crossing points where they would present themselves and claim asylum as permitted by law. A march similar to this one occurred earlier this year in the Spring and basically made it to Mexico City where it effectively ended, although small handfuls of groups continued northward to the border with the United States where they claimed asylum. Many of these people, of course, were the ones impacted by the Trump Administration’s controversial and indeed barbaric family separation policy.
Additionally, it’s worth noting that notwithstanding the fear-mongering that Trump and his supporters have engaged in, which doesn’t even deserve to be linked to because it is so utterly absurd, this caravan does not pose nearly the level of threat that they are claiming. (As one example, there’s a Fox News commentator said that the caravan will bring leprosy and smallpox to the United States. Smallpox was eradicated nearly forty years ago.) To put it simply, there was never evidence to support what the President was saying about the caravan. His supporters didn’t care about that, of course, because everything he was saying reinforced their general views about immigrants, and because what he was saying was specifically intended to play to their fears for themselves and their families. It was cynical, disgusting, untruthful rhetoric that was specifically designed to play into the xenophobia and fears of the masses. In other words, it was vintage Donald Trump.
This is hardly a new phenomenon in politics, of course. Four years ago, the weeks before the election saw the headlines and many political races dominated by talk about the so-called Ebola Crisis. While it was true, that there was at least some risk posed by the pandemic that was taking place in western Africa at the time, the manner in which the media and politicians reacted to the story was not justified by the actual facts on the ground, and in many cases was clearly intended to scare the public. Once the election had passed, though, the story basically disappeared from the headlines and from the minds of the very politicians who had been using the crisis as an election issue. To a large extent, then, the caravan was an example of the adage that has been ascribed to Rahm Emanuel to “never let a crisis go to waste.” Even viewed at that level, though, the amount of cynicism and racism that was behind the President’s rhetoric over the past two months or so was astounding, as is the extent to which the alleged threat of this caravan was used for political purposes was, in a word, disgusting.