Trump’s ‘nationalist’ campaign on the caravan
President Trump returned to fear of illegal immigration as his central theme as he campaigned for Republicans in tightening midterm races, portraying a caravan of more than 7,000 Central American migrants heading toward the U.S. as an invasion force filled with criminals and “unknown Middle Easterners.” The caravan began with 160 migrants setting out together from Honduras last month, their journey publicized by left-wing Honduran politician Bartolo Fuentes to bring attention to the gang violence and lack of jobs in his country. The caravan swelled as word spread on social media that the would-be migrants were seeking asylum in the U.S. The caravan is currently in southern Mexico, more than 1,000 miles from the U.S. border. “That is an assault on our country,” President Trump said at a rally in Houston. “In that caravan you have some very bad people.”
Trump unleashed an escalating barrage of evidence-free attacks on the caravan, although he admitted to reporters that he has “no proof” that the procession includes potential terrorists from the Middle East. The president also falsely claimed that Democrats may have paid for the march, that they want to give illegal immigrants cars, and that Californians were “rioting” in opposition to the state’s sanctuary-city policy. For the first time, Trump declared himself a “nationalist,” despite the term’s historic association with far-right politics and nativism. “Really, we’re not supposed to use that word,” Trump said. “You know what I am? I’m a nationalist, OK? Nationalist! Use that word.”
What the editorials said
“With Republicans struggling to keep their grip on Congress, President Trump is dialing up the demagogy,” said The New York Times. Trump’s policy agenda—including the “much-ballyhooed” tax cut—hasn’t excited voters, so he’s trying to scare his right-wing base to the polls with dark visions of migrant hordes and terrorists pouring over the border. His barrage of lies isn’t limited to immigration. Trump also promised to pass another “very major tax cut”—this one for the middle class instead of the rich—before the election, even though that would be impossible because Congress won’t be in session. Trump is desperate, and it shows.
Voters may disagree, said The Washington Times. President Trump is giving voice to “what many Americans are thinking as they watch news accounts of the advancing throng.” They see the caravan as proof that the U.S. has lost control of its borders. The number of illegal immigrants crossing the border with children has jumped in the months since the White House was forced to end its zero-tolerance policy of separating families at the border. The U.S. Border Patrol arrested 16,658 such people in September, an 80 percent increase from July. President Trump won the White House by promising to let Americans decide who enters their country. Now, the same promise could help him beat back the “blue wave” Democrats are counting on.
What the columnists said
“Trump has quite literally bet the house on anti-immigrant fearmongering,” said León Krauze in Slate.com. But U.S. journalists following the caravan found no Middle Easterners or gang members in the migrants’ ranks—just desperate people “trying to find a way to survive.” This is “a tragic humanitarian crisis with no easy answers, not a mob threatening the stability of the United States.”
Trump is wrong to inflame and exploit fear of immigrants, said Megan McArdle in The Washington Post, but the continued migration of Central Americans toward our border raises valid concerns. There are billions of decent, desperately poor people in the world. “Do all of them have the right to migrate to the U.S. merely because doing so would make them better off?” Any sane immigration policy must recognize that the number of immigrants we can accept is finite. But in response to Trump’s provocations, Democrats are moving to the opposite extreme on immigration, said David Frum in TheAtlantic.com. Liberals increasingly argue that border enforcement “is inherently illegitimate, and usually racist, too.” That attitude only further empowers a budding authoritarian like Trump. “If liberals insist that only fascists will defend borders, then voters will hire fascists to do the job liberals will not do.”
Trump’s “nationalist” fearmongering is taking us to that dark place, said Will Bunch in The Philadelphia Inquirer. In his demagogic demonization of immigrants, political opponents, and the press, and in his shameless lying, Trump has shown he will go to any lengths “to stir up hatred and anxiety” to keep his grip on power. It’s been argued that if tyranny comes to the U.S., it will sneak up on us, like a frog that fails to jump out of a pot of water because the heat is turned up gradually—until it boils. “Is it just me, or is it getting really hot in here?”
The Democrats’ enthusiasm gap for the midterms appears to be narrowing, said Steve Peoples in the Associated Press. Now 72 percent of Democrats say they have high interest in the upcoming election, compared with 68 percent of Republicans. Meanwhile, President Trump’s popularity in aggregate polls has ticked up to about 44 percent. The Democratic margin in many swing House districts is just a few points, and Democrats have fallen behind in Senate races fought in conservative strongholds like Texas, Tennessee, and Arizona. “The question is no longer the size of the Democratic wave. It’s whether there will be a wave at all.” Republicans have seen a “legitimate uptick,” said Aaron Blake in The Washington Post. But Trump is still unpopular overall, which means trouble for the GOP. Of the last 17 presidents, seven have had approval ratings at or below where Trump is going into the midterm elections. All of them suffered “substantial losses.” The Senate map has always favored Republicans. But saving the House “is going to be very difficult.”
Cover illustration by Fred Harper.
Cover photos from Newscom, Media Bakery, Getty ■