Less than a month after Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump declared that many Mexican immigrants are criminals and rapists who bring drugs into America, the billionaire real estate mogul spoke to a large crowd of women with blond blowouts and men in pastel polo shirts at the Phoenix Convention Center this weekend, promising he has what it takes to “make this country so great again” if elected.
Trump's 70-minute speech, while slated to to be about the problems of illegal immigration, actually covered a wide swath of domestic and foreign policy issues. And though the Convention Center audience cheered at some of his more unconventional policy proposals — charging the Mexican government $100,000 for every undocumented migrant who crosses the border, for instance — his critics say his speech was full of provocative and generally baseless assertions. Many called on other members of the GOP to distance themselves from Trump.
In fact, earlier in the week, Arizona politicians ranging from Republican Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake to Democratic Mayor Greg Stanton publicly criticized Trump.
“Phoenix is an incredibly diverse and welcoming city — and I’m proud of that. Donald Trump’s ignorant, deplorable and racist rhetoric does not represent our values, and I could not disagree with him more,” Stanton said in a statement. But still, most acknowledged that they couldn't prevent him from speaking in town.
A sizable protest was staged outside of the Convention Center, and more than 100 protesters marched with signs explaining "Trump's hate does not reflect our state." Many said they were personally insulted by Trump's immigration statements — "I just couldn't stand by with all the rhetoric that's being put out there [by Trump]. I had to do something," one man with a sign told New Times.
Hours before the rally began, protesters argued with the thousands of Trump supporters standing in the lines that snaked around the Convention Center. Both groups hurled insults at one another while police stood by and vendors walked up and down the lines selling “Trump for president” buttons and other paraphernalia.
At 1:15, the doors to the center opened, and Trump's supporters poured into a room decorated with American flags and “The Stolen Lives Quilt,” a series of posters by the Arizona Remembrance Project memorializing “the innocent Americans who have lost their lives” at the hand of illegal immigrants. (Despite a tweet from @realDonaldTrump stating there were 12,000 to 15,000 people there, by most accounts there were 3,000 to 4,000 people at the height of the rally.)
“We have no control over what comes across the border; we lose American lives every day to illegals,” local resident Doug Miller tells New Times while explaining why he came out to day. "I have personally seen pregnant women [in labor] come across the border so they can give birth here.”
“We need to go back to the basis of what America was founded on because we’ve turned our back on [these values], and now America is suffering,” said Bogdan Dudziak, who emigrated from Poland 20 years ago, first to Canada and then to the U.S. “We need to protect the border. Security is a problem here; everyone wants to kill Americans.”
Dudziak went on to describe the myriad problems stemming from a porous border with Mexico, citing the North Korea-South Korea border as an example of an international boundary that actually works to keep people from crossing illegally. (Dudziak declined to answer whether he thinks the U.S. should model its border control system after the North Koreans, saying only, “We should consider everything.”)
While much of Trump’s Phoenix fan base, which appears to be disproportionately white and over 35, passed the time until the speeches began by talking to reporters, others danced to the country music blasting from speakers. (Oddly, for an event this big and well planned, there seemed to be only a handful of songs about America on the play list, which looped for hours.)
Shortly after 2 p.m., the festivities began. Tyler Bowyer, Chairman of the Republican Party in Maricopa County, was given the honor of introducing the keynote speaker: “I’m proud to present the greatest lawman on earth, the sheriff of Maricopa County, Joe Arpaio.” He asked everyone to please welcome “our trusted sheriff, our blessed sheriff," and the crowd went wild — "We love you, Joe!"
Arpaio spoke for a few minutes, cracking jokes and laughing with the crowd, and ended his speech by comparing Donald Trump to a line in a Frank Sinatra song — I will take the blows and do it my way. “This personifies Trump,” Arpaio stated. “He will never surrender.”
“That’s ‘cause he’s got balls,” one man in the crowd yelled, prompting a few to whoop loudly in agreement.
At 2:23, the audience was told that Mr. Trump was running late, but that they should “please enjoy this music in the meantime.” (The playlist began looping again.) When Trump finally arrived about an hour later, he walked on stage in front of a sea of blue iPhone screens; people raised their phones and selfie sticks as high as they could to film his entrance.
Trump basked in the glory of an applauding audience for a few moments, before announcing that “the word is getting out that we have to stop illegal immigration.” While some cheered at this statement, others began chanting “U-S-A, U-S-A.” The audience was energized, excited to hear Trump’s words of wisdom and his plan to stop the northward flow of migrants.
Yet for all the immigration hype and hyperbole leading up to this weekend, Trump spent relatively little time discussing how he would “secure and take back our borders.” Instead, between cheap jabs at the president and self-congratulating, narcissistic quips about his own infinite wealth, Trump actually laid the groundwork for a loose campaign platform.
Of course it’s still early in the campaign cycle, and candidates have months and months to finalize and finesse their political agendas and stump speeches, but this past weekend, the world got a small taste of the Trump Doctrine.
Here are a few things we learned:
Trump doesn’t just support legal immigration, “[he loves] it” and believes “we should make it an easier and faster process.” (Fair enough. But absent any specific details, it’s hard to know what he intends to change, let alone judge the likelihood of legislation passing in Congress.)
Trump believes “we gotta get rid of Obamacare” because “our premiums are going through the roof” and the whole experiment has failed. (Instead, he advocated “taking care of everybody,” and described the foundation for a universal healthcare system that sounded remarkably similar to the plan many liberals have been talking about for decades.)
Trump loves military might and believes in the power of deterrence—“I’m the most militaristic person in the room. [Under me], we’d have the largest military that no one would dare mess with us.” (An interesting shift in strategy for a country that has just spent more than a decade fighting a “global war on terrorism” against a borderless enemy that doesn’t care for the rules of traditional warfare and relies on an asymmetric power balance.)
Trump subscribes to a theory of international diplomacy that includes both intimidating the world with military might and using the power of his charming personality to make people like America again. He called Hillary Clinton the “worst secretary of state in the history of the country,” made fun of John Kerry for falling off a bike, and accused Obama of being spineless. If elected president, Trump promised to “take out ISIS so fast,” and to “be friends with everyone,” including “[Vladimir] Putin and China.” (He did not mention whether he would reach out to the leaders of Iran, Syria, and Venezuela, and we look forward to hearing his stance on political relations with those nations later in the campaign season.)
Trump believes that the best way to stop the Mexican government from purposefully sending its unwanted citizens into the U.S. is to charge $100,000 for every person they send over. "You’ll see it will start to add up,” he said, thus forcing our southern neighbors to curb the flow of people. (Perhaps at a later date he will explain how he intends to enforce this strategy, and whether the same policy will apply to the home government of other foreign nationals.)
Overall, Trump summarized his platform as “stronger borders, better trade deals.” This approach, he said, will keep innocent Americans safe and stop Mexicans from “taking our jobs, our manufacturing [industry], and our money.” (Unfortunately he did not go into much detail about the specific types of trade deals he intends on drafting, but given the high import tariffs he told the audience he would impose on an American company that wanted to move a manufacturing plant abroad, and the cap on Japanese goods he plans to instate as retaliation for devaluing the yen, we can assume he’s generally supportive of strong protectionist measures that artificially inflate the price of goods and services and disrupt the free market. Again, an interesting policy shift for a man who made billions in international real estate development.)
Alluding to the “silent majority” that elected Richard Nixon president in 1969, Trump ended his speech by declaring that “the silent majority is back, and we’re going to take this country back!”
Immediately following Saturday afternoon’s rally, Alfonso Aguilar — executive director of the Washington-based advocacy group the American Principles Project's Latino Partnership and former chief of the U.S. Office of Citizenship under President George W. Bush — held a press conference in which he accused Trump of “playing with Americans…He is no conservative; this is all about political expediency and getting attention,” he said.
Aguilar added that he is particularly frustrated that “nobody challenges Trump” on the ridiculous and baseless things he says, allowing him instead to “get away with [mis-representating data] and making things up…He’s making a mockery out of [immigration policy] and a joke out of this [Republican primary] process.”
Phoenix-based Reverend Eve Nunez, who also serves as President of the National Latina-Latino Commission and regularly consults with political leaders in Washington, joined Aguilar at the press conference. She accused Trump of “literally trying to hijack the Republican party,” and “playing politics on the back of hardworking immigrants.”
Nunez and Aguilar called on their fellow Hispanic Republicans to speak up and let Trump and every other politician out there know that this type of hateful, baseless commentary will not be accepted. “I don’t think the Republican party expected [the conversation to get so specific] this early, but this could be an opportunity for the party” to distance itself from this type of rhetoric, Aguilar said. “The only way Trump can actually hurt the GOP is if the GOP remains silent.”
“I want secure borders too,” Nunez stated. “But I don’t want it at the expense of the political party.”
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Whether Trump stands a chance of winning the Republican nomination, let alone the presidency, with his provocative agenda, is certainly up for debate. And so far, most of his co-candidates have openly criticized his stance on illegal immigration — Rick Perry, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie. As of now, it looks like Rick Santorum might be the only candidate who agrees that the Mexican government is conspiring against the U.S. by sending “criminals” across the northern border.
“Who in his right mind would say that the Mexican government has a policy of expelling all the criminals to the U.S.?” Aguilar said. “They’re coming here to work. He says the most outrageous, wild things to get attention, [which just goes to show] that he doesn’t have the executive temperament to be president.” The top American political leader, he adds, can’t go around saying “offensive and baseless” things “without evidence.”
Editor's note: This article has been updated