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Trump rails against ‘border bloodbath’ as Democrats bash him on abortion

In World
April 03, 2024

GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan — Donald Trump found refuge from the abortion wars in an old standby on Tuesday, railing against “Biden’s border bloodbath” in a swing county some 1,283 miles from the southern border.

In his first pair of visits to battleground states in 24 days, Trump declared “every state a border state and every town a border town” at an event in Michigan, before jetting to Wisconsin for a rally in Green Bay.

Before splayed photographs of what he said were victims of “migrant crime” at a roundtable with local and state law enforcement in Grand Rapids, Trump got the kind of campaign-ready visuals he wanted when he celebrated tanking a bipartisan border deal earlier this year.

Attendees in a convention center ballroom booed and drowned out a reporter who asked about abortion following Trump’s remarks. The presumptive GOP nominee dodged questions about whether he supported Florida’s six-week abortion ban, telling reporters he’d make additional comments on abortion “next week.”

His visit coincided with a barrage of criticism from Democrats over a Florida state Supreme Court ruling that will allow the six-week ban to come into effect in the state. The dueling broadsides on abortion and immigration offered the most vivid glimpse yet of two major policy fronts opening in the early stages of the general election campaign.

“In many ways, today is the kickoff of the general election,” said John Yob, a Republican strategist in Michigan. “And Grand Rapids, Michigan, is ground zero in the national election, because if President Trump can over-perform relative to his 2016 and 2020 numbers in West Michigan, then that puts Michigan out of reach for President Biden, which means the country is out of reach for President Biden.”

It was no coincidence that Trump chose Grand Rapids as his setting for remarks on illegal immigration. His appearance came on the heels of the killing of 25-year-old Ruby Garcia, allegedly at the hands of a man who had entered the country illegally after being deported to Mexico in 2020. But the city is also the seat of swingy Kent County, which Trump won in 2016 and Biden won back in 2020.

“You win Michigan,” Trump said, “you win the election.”

In a memo last week about the Garcia killing’s effect on the general election, Yob wrote that “the immigration crisis is likely to move historically centrist Republicans in West Michigan who were torn in recent Presidential elections firmly into President Trump’s corner.”

“People are pretty much picking their issue base,” said Stu Sandler, a Michigan Republican strategist and former National Republican Senatorial Committee political director. “The challenge for Democrats is immigration is more impacting independent voters through the economic and crime aspects than abortion does in everyday life.”

Before Trump spoke, a short video featuring grisly clips of news reports documenting crimes allegedly committed by immigrants played over dramatic music. Trump referred to immigrants who entered the country illegally as “animals” nearly half a dozen times. “Democrats say, ‘Please don’t call them animals, they’re humans,’ Trump said. “I said, ‘No, they’re not humans, they’re animals.’”

For Trump, the emphasis on immigration represented an attempt to pivot away from the state Supreme Court ruling in Florida on Monday on abortion, a far more toxic issue for him — and one on which he has yet to articulate a clear position.

Pressed on the ruling in Florida, his campaign said in a statement that Trump “supports preserving life but has also made clear that he supports states’ rights because he supports the voters’ right to make decisions for themselves.”

The statement did nothing to deflect an onslaught from Democrats, who spent the day pounding him on abortion.

In a press call, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, Rep. Nikema Williams (D-Ga.) and Fentrice Driskell, the Florida state House Democratic leader, all linked Trump to what Williams described as having “effectively ushered in a de facto abortion ban across the entire southeast of the United States.”

Driskell cited Democratic victories in state House races over the last two years, including in Alabama last week, as evidence that “when faced with the choice of supporting a candidate who would restrict women’s health care freedom versus one who would protect it, voters overwhelmingly supported the candidates who promised to resist government overreach into personal health decisions.”

In Michigan, Trump mapped out what he said could bolster his standing with the kind of suburban voters who populate Kent County.

“The suburban housewives actually like Donald Trump. You know why? Because I am the one that’s going to keep them safe,” Trump said.

He also said that he had spoken with Garcia’s family, but a representative for the family told a local Fox affiliate Tuesday that was untrue. A spokesperson for Trump did not respond to a POLITICO request for comment.

Michigan Republicans said the focus on abortion was meant to distract from Trump’s strengths.

“You can tell they don’t want to talk about the economy, they don’t want to talk about the border here and it’s interesting they bring abortion up in Michigan,” Michigan GOP Chair Pete Hoekstra told POLITICO in an interview after Trump’s remarks. “Not that I liked the policy, but Michigan voters two years ago enshrined some of the most liberal abortion policies in the country.”

He added, “we have the greatest assets you can have: the issues.”

The Democratic National Committee bracketed Trump’s visit to Grand Rapids with four billboards in the area that attacked him for leading the charge to defeat a bipartisan border security deal in Congress: “Donald Trump broke the border,” the billboards read. “Donald Trump just wants chaos, not solutions.”

“The top cultural issues in the 2024 campaign will center on immigration and abortion,” said Doug Herman, a Democratic strategist. “In a typical year, these two issues would probably cancel each other out with neither side having an advantage in the end.”

However, he said, “This year is different. Republicans are stopping immigration and border reform, while abortion rights are at greater risk than ever before. Swing voters are looking for action on these issues, and Democrats are going to have the upper hand when they make that decision.”

Alex Isenstadt contributed to this report.

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