President Donald Trump hammered his hard line on immigration again on Thursday, but some Republicans wish he would shift focus to the economy, lest he drive away suburban voters and mobilize Latino communities against the GOP.
Several Republican operatives and officials described a growing sense of fear within the party over Trump’s hard-line rhetoric on border security, which he has repeated nearly every day for the past three weeks.
“You’re playing at the margins with Republicans on the issue of immigration, but there are very many more Democrats that might be mobilized by his rhetoric,” said conservative radio host and The Resurgent editor Erick Erickson, who called Trump’s immigration-heavy closing pitch “not smart politically” in a tweet earlier Thursday.
Operating under the assumption that talking tough on immigration can energize enough Republicans to stymie a “blue wave” of Democratic midterm voters, Trump has spent the past week unveiling restrictive immigration policies at a dizzying pace and making erroneous declarations about a caravan of Central American migrants.
Because such language worked for Trump in his bid for the presidency two years ago, he firmly believes it carries the same weight with conservatives and right-leaning independents this election season, according to two sources close to the White House.
“This isn’t an innocent group of people,” Trump said of the thousands-strong caravan in a rambling speech from the Roosevelt Room on Thursday, warning that it contained men who had injured Mexican security officers in clashes in that country.
Trump’s remarks loosely described an impending executive order, which he said would bar asylum claims from immigrants who cross into the U.S. illegally, and urged them to “turn back now because they’re wasting their time.”
Restating his vow to deploy thousands more troops to the southwest border, Trump fumed over border-crossers and said he had instructed U.S. military personnel to “consider it a rifle” if incoming migrants hurl stones at them: “Anybody throwing stones, rocks … we will consider that a firearm because there’s not much difference when you get hit in the face with a rock.”
The speech came on a day when he tweeted a dramatic campaign ad featuring an undocumented immigrant from Mexico who murdered two California sheriff’s deputies in 2014 and laughed about it in a courtroom. “Democrats let him into our country,” the ad declares.
Democrats slammed the ad as exploiting stereotypes about immigrants, and even some Republicans condemned it.
“This is a sickening ad. Republicans everywhere should denounce it,” tweeted Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), a frequent Trump critic.