CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. — President Donald Trump delivered a dark and sometimes fact-challenged message on immigration Monday as he zigzagged through a trio of Midwestern states that propelled him to the White House, digging deep into the tactics he used two years ago in hopes of unseating Democrats and retaining GOP control of the Senate.
As he stumped for a handful of Republican senatorial and gubernatorial candidates on the eve of the midterms, his remarks were a potpourri of 2016 nostalgia, campaign and White House cameos on stage, boasts about the economy, and taunts for many of his political foes. Trump touted the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, decrying the judge’s accusers and Democrats who voted against him, and highlighted rising jobs numbers while bragging about the tax cut bill his administration passed.
But the president’s speeches — to packed arenas in Indiana, Ohio and here in Missouri — were dominated by incendiary language about immigration, untrue attacks on his Democratic foes and apocalyptic-sounding threats designed to drive voters to the polls. White House aides have all but given up on keeping control of the House, and the speeches were meant to shore up challenging races in states where Trump won overwhelmingly.
“If you want more caravans, if you want more crime, vote Democrat tomorrow,” Trump told thousands of raucous supporters in Indiana, the second of three stops he made on behalf of Republican candidates on the last day before the polls open Tuesday.
Trump claimed that there is a “Democrat-led assault on America’s sovereignty” and argued that the “Democrat agenda will deliver a socialist nightmare.”
He said, again without offering proof, that Democrats want undocumented immigrants to come into the country so they can vote for Democrats and secure an array of free services, like education and safety net benefits.
“They want America to be a giant sanctuary city for drug dealers, predators and bloodthirsty MS-13 killers,” he said, again offering no evidence.
He frequently brought up the migrant caravan travelling through Mexico; he has sent thousands of troops to stop the deteriorating group that is still hundreds of miles from the border. Trump has sought to make illegal immigration a vital part of his midterm pitch, even against the advice of some aides and Hill leadership.
The president told his supporters that “we’re building the wall, don’t worry,” while arguing that “barbed wire looks like it’s going to be very effective, too,” referring to his deployment of troops to the southern border.
Before leaving Washington for Monday’s spate of rallies, Trump announced in a tweet that “Law Enforcement has been strongly notified to watch closely for any ILLEGAL VOTING which may take place in Tuesday’s Election (or Early Voting). Anyone caught will be subject to the Maximum Criminal Penalties allowed by law.”
Shortly before Trump’s tweet, the Justice Department announced that it would deploy personnel to 35 jurisdictions in 19 states to “monitor compliance with voting rights laws” — a move that prompted suspicion and some alarm from voting rights advocates.
Trump, whose own voter fraud commission was abandoned with little to show for it, did not provide any proof of voting irregularities.
“Just take a look. All you have to do is go around, take a look at what’s happened over the years, and you’ll see,” he told reporters before boarding Air Force One in Washington, D.C. “There are a lot of people, a lot of people — my opinion, and based on proof — that try and get in illegally and actually vote illegally. So we just want to let them know that there will be prosecutions at the highest level.”
Trump also defended an immigration-themed ad from his campaign after Facebook and several television networks — including his favourite, Fox News — decided not to run it because it was deemed racist.
“We have a lot of ads. And they certainly are effective, based on the numbers that we’re seeing,” the president said, asked if the ad was “too racist.” When told that many found the ad offensive, he retorted: “Well, a lot of things are offensive. Your questions are offensive a lot of times.”
At times Monday, he personalized his attacks, mocking Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., as “Sleeping Joe,” who wakes only to take orders from Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the Senate minority leader. He offered no proof for his caustic insults.
Of Richard Cordray, the Democratic nominee for governor in Ohio and a former director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Trump said that he was “crushing people, crushing community banks, destroying small business, destroying jobs,” and he mocked Cordray’s close ally, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.
He invoked a number of Democratic bogeyman-like figures to urge voters to go Republican: “The legendary Maxine Waters, a real genius,” he said of the black congresswoman from California he often attacks.
Trump said in an interview with Sinclair Broadcast Group on Monday that “I would like to have a much softer tone. I feel to a certain extent I have no choice, but maybe I do.” But he showed little desire to tone down his words on the trail.
He took an explicitly personal tone in a conference call with more than 200,000 supporters and then later at the rally in Cleveland, telling his backers that he was effectively up for reelection as a way to implore his base to turn out and vote Tuesday.
“In a certain way, I am on the ballot,” Trump said in the call, organized by his reelection campaign. “Whether we consider it or not, the press is very much considering it a referendum on me and us as a movement.”
He also signaled that his Cabinet could be poised for a shake-up come Wednesday, noting that “administrations make changes, usually after midterms, and probably we’ll be right in that category, too.
The rallies, loud, raucous affairs, evoked the final days of his 2016 campaign — packed houses, though no snaking lines outside as Trump claimed. Early in the day, the president said that people once didn’t care about the “boring” midterm elections. “Now it’s like the hottest thing,” he said.
He brought several White House advisers, including press secretary Sarah Sanders, senior adviser and daughter Ivanka Trump, and counselor Kellyanne Conway, to the stage at two rallies — an unusual arrangement. Rush Limbaugh offered a lengthy soliloquy to Trump in Missouri.
In Ohio, Trump told the crowd that he would never call a woman beautiful again because it is now “politically incorrect” — an apparent dig at the #MeToo movement — while introducing Ivanka Trump to the stage.
“You’re not allowed to use the word ‘beautiful’ anymore when you talk about women. It’s politically incorrect,” Trump said. He then asked the men in the crowd to raise their hands and vow to never call women beautiful.
“I’m not allowed to say it because — because it’s my daughter Ivanka, but she’s really smart and she’s here,” Trump continued. “Should I bring her up? . . . Come on up, Ivanka.”
“Wow, wow. Hi, Ohio,” Ivanka Trump said. “That was some introduction.”
After she left the microphone, her father said, “I never said she was beautiful, but she was smart.”
The nexus between the Trump administration and Fox News was on vivid display Monday. At the president’s final rally, Fox hosts Sean Hannity and Jeanine Pirro came onstage. Hannity said earlier in the day that he wouldn’t be campaigning with Trump but ended up giving him a bear hug onstage after interviewing him offstage.
Pirro seemed to get a promotion, with Trump calling her “Justice Jeanine” and bragging about her ratings.
— Kim reported from Washington. The Washington Post’s William Wan and John Wagner contributed to this report
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