COLUMBIA, Mo. — 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.