Before the midterm elections, President Trump crossed the nation warning those attending his rallies of the oncoming threat of about 7,000 Central American migrants who are traveling through Mexico to seek asylum in the United States.
While campaigning in Chattanooga, Tenn., for Republican Senate candidate Marsha Blackburn last Sunday, Trump suggested that the migrants were looking to come in and disrupt Americans' lives.
“That’s an invasion. I don’t care what they say. I don’t care what the fake media says. That’s an invasion of our country,” he said before rally attendees began chanting “Build the wall.”
“I am telling the caravans, the criminals, the smugglers, the trespassers marching toward our border, turn back now, because you are not getting in. Turn back,” Trump added.
It was also a frequent Twitter theme of his in late October.
But since Tuesday, the president has been mostly quiet on the No. 1 rallying issue for Republican voters, outside when asked about reporters by it in his Wednesday news conference. He became agitated when CNN’s Jim Acosta pressed him on it then, and that testy exchange resulted in Acosta’s White House media credentials being suspended.
Trump hasn’t tweeted about the caravan in days. His unwillingness to bring it up himself since the election has led critics to suggest that even the president knew that his level of attention to the issue was overblown.
Voters went to the polls mindful of many issues, from health care to the economy to sexual assault. But according to Gallup, immigration was one of the top issues for Republican voters heading into the election. That’s likely in part because of how often the topic had been mentioned by the president and Fox News.
Trump has also been criticized for his dishonest characterization of the caravans, which are largely made up of women and children — not terrorists supposedly infiltrating the groups from the Middle East. The migrants were thousands of miles away at the time of Trump’s campaign appearances, and they remain hundreds of miles away.
Republican voters far from the border have been fearful about the potential impact of the migrants getting asylum.
Carol Shields, a 75-year-old Republican in northern Minnesota, shared with the New York Times her fears that migrant gangs could take over people’s summer lake homes in the state. “What’s to stop them?” she asked. “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.”
Trump is well aware of this anxiety — in part because it worked so well for him when he tapped into it in 2016. Trump launched his campaign painting Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists after years of stoking fears about the changing demographics of the United States during his regular appearances on “Fox & Friends.”
He hoped that narrative about immigrants would be fruitful during the midterms, and to a large degree it seems to have been. The GOP will keep its Senate majority. Democrats did make big gains in governor’s mansions and won control of the House, but the strength of the “blue wave” was not as mighty as Republicans once feared.
The day after the election, the Pentagon directed U.S. military commanders to stop referring to the deployment of active-duty troops to the southern border as “Operation Faithful Patriot.” Critics had called the name overtly political. But even though he has been mum about the caravans specifically, Trump is apparently moving forward with plans to change the rules about how immigrants can legally request asylum.
Now forced to work with a Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, Trump likely will not to be able to move forward legislatively on the hard-line immigration proposals that got him elected. The president’s characterization of the migrant caravan was never one that was deeply rooted in facts, and he may be leaving it behind for now. But he feels this is a winning issue for him, so it’s likely we’ll see it in some form again soon.
This post has been updated.