Donald Trump thrust a caravan of migrants heading toward the US border into the midterm election campaign, saying at a rally on Thursday night that the race will be “an election of the caravan”.
A group that now numbers about 3,000 people has left Honduras and has reached Guatemala’s border with Mexico, with the ultimate goal of reaching the US – infuriating Trump.
“It’s going to be an election of the caravan. You know what I’m talking about,” Trump told supporters at a rally in Missoula, Montana, declaring his intention to use the migrants’ journey as a bludgeon against Democratic candidates.
There is evidence that Trump’s use of the caravan as a campaign issue may be effective among the Republican base. A recent poll by the Pew Research Center found that 75% of voters who intend to vote for a Republican congressional candidate consider illegal immigration a “very big” problem for the country.
That makes it the top-rated issue for Republican leaning voters. By contrast, only 19% of voters supporting a Democrat called illegal immigration a very big problem. Democratic voters instead called gun violence, the affordability of healthcare and college education, government ethics, the gap between the rich and poor, and a host of other issues very big problems.
Trump claimed, without any supporting evidence, that Democrats were behind the caravan, and raised conspiracy theories that the Central Americans had been paid to come to the United States for political reasons.
“Now we’re starting to find out – and I won’t say it 100%, I’ll put a little tiny question mark at the end. But we’re probably not going to need it, but we have the fake news back there,” he told the crowd, adding a familiar jab at news reporterscovering his campaign appearances.
“A lot of money’s been passing through people to come up and try to get to the border by election day, because they think that’s a negative for us. Number one, they’re being stopped. And number two, regardless, that’s our issue.”
Trump appeared to be referring to a video postedby the Florida representative Matt Gaetz, which he claimed showed women and children being given cash to “storm the US border @ election time”. He suggested without evidence that the source could be “Soros? US-backed NGOs?” referring to George Soros, an American billionaire who is the frequent subject of rightwing conspiracy theories.
A journalist who interviewed people on the ground where the video was taken reported that local merchants had collected money and given it out as aid to migrants. He located the site in Guatemala, not Honduras as the congressman had claimed.
Gaetz later posted a tacit correction, saying he had believed the video was taken in Honduras because it was sent to him by a Honduran official.
Speaking of Democrats, Trump said: “They wanted that caravan. And there are those who say that caravan didn’t just happen. It didn’t just happen.”
Trump threatened on Thursday to close the US-Mexico border and deploy the military if caravan members approach the frontier.
The Mexican government said it was in touch with members of the caravan, some of whom have arrived at the country’s southern border seeking refuge, and will process any legitimate claims for entry in an orderly manner. Mexican officials have said that anyone who enters illegally will be subject to deportation.
Despite the extremist campaign trail rhetoric, the Trump administration has supported a Mexican government plan to work with the United Nations refugee agency to deal with the caravan, USA Today reported.