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Over the last few weeks, Donald Trump has been traveling the country to reinforce the GOP’s divide and distract strategy and campaign for some of the worst anti-immigrant candidates running in 2018. Crafted with the help of Stephen Miller, the divide and distract strategy has been promoting cynical political tactics that scapegoat immigrants in order to distract voters from Republicans’ unpopular policies.
From September 29 to October 10, Trump visited six states: West Virginia, Tennessee, Minnesota, Kansas, and Pennsylvania — and in typical fashion, provoked the crowd into a rage against the ‘other.’ In each speech, Trump devoted a significant amount of time in his speech to fear-mongering against immigrants and encouraging the crowd to vote Republican as a bulwark. During these appearances, Trump often attacked so-called “sanctuary cities”, championed his unnecessary border wall, lavished praise on ICE, exaggerated the progressive call to abolish the agency, and used MS-13 as a boogeyman with which to tar the entire immigrant community.
Though the media has covered the general tenor of Trump’s rallies, an examination of the individual events highlights comments that are hair-raisingly questionable, even for Trump. But just as the divide-and-distract strategy has been shown not to work, Trump’s antics may be running out of steam as well: TV ratings for Trump’s rallies are dropping, leading even Fox News to cut back on coverage.
“A vote for any Democrat in November is a vote to eliminate immigration enforcement, throw open our borders, and set loose vicious predators and violent criminals. They will be all over our communities; they will prey on our communities,” Trump said on September 29, at a campaign rally in West Virginia.
“Democrats want to turn America into one big fat sanctuary city for criminal aliens,” Trump said. “They are more protective of the aliens, the criminal aliens then they are of the people.” He went on to single out Maxine Waters, an African-American Congresswoman from California, saying there was “no worse nightmare” than “Nancy Pelosi with Maxine Waters running the House.”
Trump then falsely characterized the Democratic Party with having a “new platform. . . to abolish ICE.” Repeatedly praising the rogue agency, Trump told the crowd to vote Republican “if you want to save ICE and protect our border patrol. If you want to stop this craziness of sanctuary cities where criminals are protected.” Trump invoked the MS-13 gang and said “they poured in here under Obama”, before politicizing the tragic murder of Mollie Tibbetts, against the express wishes of her father. Trump ominously warned, “a blue wave in November means open borders which means massive crime; red wave means safety and strength.”
Trump also made specific mention of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) pointing out that “Joe opposed the wall and the travel ban,” leading to chants of “build the wall.”
Trump’s visit came on the heels of ads run by super PACs admonishing Manchin for not supporting funding for Trump’s border wall and supporting legislation that would have extended a path to citizenship for some undocumented immigrants.
Trump headed to Tennessee to stump for Senatorial candidate Marsha Blackburn, who is one of the worst anti-immigrant candidates running this year. Trump invited Blackburn on stage, where she stressed her strong support of Trump’s wall. In his speech, he attacked her Democratic opponent, Phil Bredesen, for opposing the border wall and supporting a law that would allow undocumented immigrants to legally drive.
Trump then blamed immigrants and Democrats for crime, calling them the “party of crime.” If Democrats win, Trump said, “crime will flow in the country through these open borders.” Democrats, he said, “will always throw open your borders” and “they are going to flood your streets with criminal aliens.” Trump said that Democrats support “sanctuary cities that unleash violent predators like MS-13 into our communities” and that “everyday, innocent lives are stolen because of Democrat-supported immigrant policies.”
Trump also warned that Democrats want judges “that will rewrite your laws and erase your borders and replace your values” — and that the party wants “to give welfare and health care to illegal aliens.”
Trump continued the campaign trail in Mississippi, where he mocked Christine Blasey Ford and called Brett Kavanaugh a “perfect man.” After a 30-minute opening where Trump said that Democrats “will open our borders to deadly drugs and ruthless gangs,” and “abolish our borders in the service of globalism”, he brought Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith on stage. He attacked her Democrat opponent, Mike Espy, saying a vote for him would be a vote for “legendary low-IQ person Maxine Waters” and for “open borders and radical socialism.” He also criticized Espy for sponsoring a bill that “would have provided taxpayer-funded health care to illegal aliens.”
Trump said Democrats “support strongly sanctuary cities of death” and that “every day, sanctuary cities are releasing vicious predators and bloodthirsty killers.” Trump said ICE would “grab [immigrants] by the neck and throw them the hell out of our country.” He also talked about the border wall and “catch and release”.
In Minnesota, Trump spent a significant chunk of his speech demonizing immigrants. Trump said Democrats want “open our borders to deadly drugs and violent gangs.” He falsely claimed that Democrats want to let “MS-13 near our schools, near our families, and into our communities.” He claimed his Administration “reformed our refugee program to protect American communities … and to protect your families and your taxpayer dollars” (when in reality, our new rock-bottom refugee admissions rate has become a national security concern).
Trump went after gubernatorial candidate Tim Walz claiming he “wants to make Minnesota into a sanctuary for the criminal aliens and for gang members, and they will come flooding up here as soon as you do.”
Trump also took to attacking Sen. Tina Smith for voting against his border wall and for voting in favor of “deadly sanctuary cities.” Trump then solicited a promise from Republican candidate Karin Housley to “vote against sanctuary cities.” According to Trump, “Tina Smith would rather protect violent criminal aliens than protect loyal American citizens.” A vote for her is a vote for “legendary low-IQ Maxine Waters,” in another instance of his often-used attack phrase.
Then Trump went to Kansas to support his early ally Kris Kobach on October 6. Kobach, one of the worst anti-immigrant candidates running for governor this year, has been a frequent but unofficial adviser to Trump on immigration issues. Kobach was partially responsible for the Muslim ban, for adding the anti-immigrant citizenship question to the 2020 census, and for state policies across the country designed to make the lives of immigrants unbearable.
Trump introduced Kobach at the rally by claiming he was disappointed Kobach ran for Governor because he wanted him for his Administration, and that if Kobach loses, Trump will put him in his Administration in “two seconds.” Unsurprising, Kobach spent the majority of his speech railing against both documented and undocumented immigration. Kobach began his speech thanking Trump for working with him to “stop illegal immigration,” leading to a chant of “build the wall.” As Kobach said, “I am so glad America has a President that gets it, illegal means illegal.” He then went on to call for local and state police to act as immigration enforcement, falsely claiming that such a change might have prevented the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Kobach also attacked his Democratic opponent, Laura Kelly, for supporting sanctuary cities and giving “welfare benefits to illegal aliens.”
Trump followed with similar attacks on Kelly and encouraged the audience to vote for his “friend Kris Kobach.” Trump went on to falsely claim that there is such a thing as an “Open Borders Bill,” (there’s not) and claiming Senator Dianne Feinstein was behind it, leading to a chant of “lock her up.” Trump claimed a “tidal wave of drugs and crime would pour into our nation like never ever before,” because of this fictitious bill, before mentioning “deadly sanctuary cities,” “bloodthirsty MS-13,” and his uncritical support of ICE and CBP. Trump went on to claim that ICE is “liberating towns” from a “foreign invader”, and doubled down on his dehumanizing “animals” characterization of immigrants.
On October 10, Trump returned to Pennsylvania to stump for Senatorial candidate Lou Barletta. A notorious anti-immigrant extremist since 2006, Barletta is considered to be one of the members of Congress most loyal to Trump, and he has even defended the Trump Administration’s cruel and failed family separation policy. Trump introduced Barletta at the rally claiming that he asked his “good friend” Barletta to run for Senate. “I got him into this,” said Trump.
In a short speech on stage, Barletta supported an “end illegal immigration,” as well as building the wall.
Then Trump took to attacking Sen. Bob Casey: “Bob Casey is fighting to protect violent criminal aliens,” he said, adding “Casey voted for in favor of deadly sanctuary cities that release thousands upon of thousands of illegal alien criminals and vicious gang members to pray on Pennsylvania streets.” He continued by saying, “Casey defends criminals while attacking our brave ICE agents; he wants to get rid of ICE.” Trump also attacked Casey for voting against the anti-immigrant “Kate’s Law,” and ended by telling the crowd that if they “want to save American lives and American jobs,” they need to vote for Barletta.