- The Washington Times - Monday, October 22, 2018

President Trump is working hard to make the U.S.-bound migrant caravan into an election issue, but so far it’s not resonating broadly with voters or forcing Democrats to play defense.

Whether on the stump, in tweets or before a microphone, Mr. Trump hammers Democrats for the thousands of migrants marching from Central America toward the U.S. He warns that it’s evidence of an immigration crisis and a threat to national security, with gang members and even potential terrorists hiding amid the marchers.

He said Monday that he has declared it a national emergency and has alerted the Pentagon to be ready to respond.

Mr. Trump blamed leaders from Honduras, whence most of the migrants come, Guatemala, through which they traveled, and Mexico, where thousands broke through the border this weekend.

“Every time you see a caravan, or people illegally coming, or attempting to come, into our country illegally, think of and blame the Democrats for not giving us the votes to change our pathetic immigration laws!” he said on Twitter, drawing a direct link to Election Day. “Remember the midterms!”

So far, Democrats have been able to shrug off the issue. Questions about the caravan have been absent from debates in key Senate races over the past week.

Although cable news channels have given the caravan plenty of airtime and reporters peppered Mr. Trump on Monday with questions about his plans for the caravan, they have been less interested in what Democrats have to say.

CNN held a daylong political forum Monday in New York but did not ask House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, about the caravan. Network anchorman Jake Tapper, though, did prod Sen. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican, to criticize the president for “obviously trying to use this issue for the midterms.”

Democrats in eight key Senate races refused, when asked by The Washington Times, to say how the caravan should be handled if it reaches the border.

In Texas, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz made the caravan an issue in the race with Democratic challenger Rep. Beto O’Rourke. “I’m just waiting to see Beto O’Rourke come down and start leading the caravan,” Mr. Cruz said at a recent campaign rally.

Mr. O’Rourke brushed away concerns about the caravan, saying immigration solutions go beyond that.

“We can try to solve this at our border through walls or separation, or we can make sure that the most powerful country in the world, the most inspiring country in the world, devotes resources — that means time and attention — to those countries in Central America where there is such a level of human misery that people would contemplate a 2,000-mile journey with their kids risking their lives to come here,” Mr. O’Rourke told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Democratic political consultant Jim Manley said Mr. Trump would have a hard time pinning the blame on Democrats.

“His rhetoric is so over the top and so reckless, his base may believe it, but most others will not,” Mr. Manley said. “Most people are just going to see it for exactly what it is: pure demagoguery.”

Polls conducted since the caravan departed Oct. 12 from Honduras show immigration is not a top concern for most voters, ranking below the economy and jobs, and health care.

But it is a high-priority issue for Republican voters, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey last week.

Republican strategist Ford O’Connell said that may be good enough for Mr. Trump heading into November.

“You are essentially talking about a base election,” he said. “The key is: Can you turn out your base better than the Democrats can? And for us, this may not pull in a lot of independent voters given the timing of it, but it is certainly an issue that can fire up even more Republican voters.”

It’s not just Americans who saw politics in Mr. Trump’s focus on the caravan. Many Latin American newspapers have attributed the president’s threat to U.S. foreign assistance as an election-season ploy. They also, however, report that the migrants see their trip as a challenge to Mr. Trump and U.S. election laws.

Estimates of the size of the caravan range from 7,000 to as many as 14,000 people.

They chanted, “Si, se puede,” which translates roughly as “Yes, we can,” after they broke through barricades and swam a river to jump the border between Guatemala and Mexico.

Mexican police, who failed to stop the migrants, now serve as escorts for the caravan as it barrels north, its members clear that they have no intention of staying in Mexico and have eyes only for the U.S.

Mr. Trump lashed out Monday evening, saying the Latin American countries did nothing to stop the migrants.

“We give them hundreds of millions of dollars, they do nothing for us,” the president told reporters just before jetting to a campaign stop in Texas.

He also defended his claim of terrorists, including Islamists, embedded in the caravan.”You’re going to find MS-13, you’re going to find Middle Eastern, you’re going to find everything,” he said.

He offered no evidence, but White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders later said it’s a matter of numbers. “We have 10 individuals — suspected or known terrorists — that try to enter our country every day,” she said.

Those numbers likely refer to a January Justice Department and Homeland Security report that says the government refused entry to seven people a day last year on terrorism grounds. Almost all of those refusals were at airports. Fewer than one per day were encountered crossing a land border.

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