LAS VEGAS — President Donald Trump embraced hard line immigration policies as a centerpiece of the Republican Party’s midterm campaign strategy Saturday, a risky move as he stumped for an endangered GOP senator in this rapidly-diversifying swing state.
Defending the work of border patrol agents who have come under scrutiny for taking migrant children away from their families as part of his administration’s family separation policy, Trump said Democrats “just want to use this issue — and I like the issue for (the) election, too.”
“Our issue is strong borders, no crime,” Trump said in an address to the Nevada Republican Party’s state convention. “Their issue is open borders, get MS-13 all over our country. ... We need people to come in, but they have to be people that love this country, can love our country, and can really help us to make America great again.”
The president went on to praise law enforcement for rounding up illegal immigrants suspected as being MS-13 gang members, putting them in “paddywagons” and “get ’em the hell out of our country.”
Sitting just offstage as Trump touted his hard-line policies was Sen. Dean Heller, a relative moderate on immigration and the Senate’s most vulnerable Republican facing re-election this fall. Simply appearing with the polarizing president carries political risks for Heller. Trump lost to Hillary Clinton by 2 percentage points in Nevada, and his policies and incendiary rhetoric about immigration have been toxic with the growing Latino electorate and other groups of voters.
Clearly comfortable making himself the centerpiece of the GOP’s midterm strategy, Trump has begun ratcheting up his campaign activity this month, doling out endorsements and staging rallies and other events. The president is trying to use his star power to galvanize his base voters and stave off what history predicts should be losses for the president’s party in off-year congressional elections.
Trump is centering his pitch on his anti-immigration policies, his contributions to the robust economy and what he touts as achievements on the world stage, including his rapprochement with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
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Trump boasted Friday about a pending “red wave” that he sees lifting Republicans in November, and mused about winning more Senate seats so the GOP can build on its slim 51-49 seat majority and get closer to the filibuster-proof threshold of 60 seats.
The president’s advisers said his optimism is well founded.
“History tells us that the midterm elections for a newly elected president’s party are not kind,” said William Stepien, the White House political director. “That being said, the president is encouraged by the reception across the country among voters to his policies — a stronger economy, a stronger military, more respect abroad. Good policy results in good politics, and that results in the president’s positive outlook.”