From October 16 to November 6 — aka Election Day — President Donald Trump sent 45 tweets mentioning the “border” between the United States and Mexico. Between October 16 and October 31, he sent nine tweets referring to the “caravan” of migrants making their way across Mexico.
Here’s a typical one: “Many Gang Members and some very bad people are mixed into the Caravan heading to our Southern Border. Please go back, you will not be admitted into the United States unless you go through the legal process. This is an invasion of our Country and our Military is waiting for you!”
Since November 6 — 8 days and counting — Trump hasn’t mentioned the so-called caravan once in a tweet. He has used the word “border” a single time — in a tweet on November 9 in which Trump tweeted out a link to a “Presidential Proclamation Addressing Mass Migration Through the Southern Border of the United States” that said, essentially, that he was trying to push people entering the country illegally to specified ports of entry.
That discrepancy between Trump’s rhetoric in the runup to the election and his rhetoric after it exposes, beyond a shadow of a doubt, what most neutral observers initially suspected: That Trump’s decision to seize on the caravan of migrants making their way across Mexico in hopes of entering the United States was 100% a political ploy to rev up his base.
To read Trump’s tweets or listen to one of his speeches at the slew of campaign rallies in the final week of the midterm campaign, you would have thought that the caravan — a horde of pillaging intruders — was on the verge of crossing into the United States, intent on destroying everything in its path.
“If you don’t want America to be overrun by masses of illegal aliens and giant caravans, you’d better vote Republican,” he told a crowd in Missouri on November 2. Time and time again over those final days, Trump repeated this mantra: “This will be the election of Kavanaugh, the caravans, law and order, tax cuts, and common sense.”
And to some extent, Trump’s strategy worked. Roughly 1 in 4 voters said that immigration was the most important issue facing the country, according to the 2018 exit polls; 75% of that group voted for Republicans in the House while just 23% voted for the Democrat. Fear, as Trump learned in the 2016 election, is an extremely powerful political motivator. There were anecdotes from all over the country as the campaign came to a close in which voters said they were very worried about the group of migrants storming into the United States and endangering them and their way of life.
This quote, from Carol Shields, a 75-year-old woman living in northern Minnesota, to The New York Times about the idea of members of the group occupying peoples’ lake houses in the state is indicative of the effectiveness of the fear Trump stoked.
“What’s to stop them? We have a lot of people who live on lakes in the summer and winter someplace else. When they come back in the spring, their house would be occupied.”
(Sidebar: While Trump’s use of immigration to scare his base into voting clearly had some effect on turnout, it wasn’t determinative. Democrats, spurred by their base’s deep distaste for Trump, scored major gains at the House, gubernatorial and state legislative levels while holding their own with a very difficult Senate election map.)
To be clear: There was NEVER any evidence that what Trump was saying about the caravan was true. When Trump began to talk about the migrants — in mid-October — they had just crossed into Mexico and were hundreds of miles from the US border. Trump’s claim that “criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in” with the group lacked any proof. (Pressed later on that idea, Trump admitted “there’s no proof of anything but they could very well be.”)
But now, with the election eight days in our rear-view mirror — and with only a handful of uncalled races remaining — the bald cynicism of Trump’s rhetoric on the migrants, and his decision to send 5,000 US troops to protect the border, is totally revealed.
If the caravan was such a threat to the country in the middle of October — so much so that Trump dispatched troops to the border to deal with the “threat” — then how can they be less of a threat today? They’re closer to the border today than they were three weeks ago, right? Right. In fact, on Tuesday, the leading edge of the caravan — those traveling in buses — reached the border crossing near Tijuana.
And yet, silence from Trump. If this was truly a major threat to our country’s safety and well-being, wouldn’t you expect the President of the United States, who built his entire presidential campaign around his tough stance on illegal immigration, to be speaking out forcefully right about now? Of course you would.
That Trump hasn’t said a word about the caravan since the election is proof positive that this was all a political ploy from beginning to end. Trump was worried that the GOP base wasn’t as fired up as the Democratic one — and, rightly, was worried that such a passion disparity could lead to major losses in the 2018 election. So when he saw the news that a group of migrants was moving toward the United States, he seized on it and wouldn’t let go. Until, that is, the election ended.