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In this edition: Trump’s immigration jujitsu, a quick guide to today’s primaries, and a coming abort͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
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April 2, 2024


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David Weigel

Donald Trump’s journey from ‘American Carnage’ to ‘Biden Border Bloodbath’

Rebecca Cook/REUTERS


Donald Trump arrived in Grand Rapids shortly after 2 p.m. today, sitting at a table covered in photos of the dead. All of them, he explained, had been killed by “illegals” — all of them were victims of a “Biden Border Bloodbath,” the crisis he was there to talk about. The word had completed its unusual journey, from an off-the-cuff remark to a campaign talking point.

“They tried to use that term incorrectly on me two weeks ago,” Trump said at his next stop, flanked by local sheriffs and political supporters behind a sign: STOP BIDEN’S BORDER BLOODBATH. “Joe Biden has brought the carnage, chaos, and killing from all over the world and dumped it straight into our backyards.”

Trump had warned of a “bloodbath for the country” if he lost the election on March 16, at a rally in Dayton, Ohio, while discussing trade policies around automobiles. Democrats seized on the line immediately, the Biden campaign insisting that the “bloodbath” riff, ostensibly about the economic damage from a second Biden term, was Trump “doubl[ing] down on his threats of political violence.”

But the Trump campaign saw an opportunity. Forty-eight hours after the speech, it released a video about “Biden’s Border Bloodbath,” compiling horror stories from local news — “immigrants face sexual battery charges,” “fatal car crash by an illegal immigrant” — and adding movie trailer music.

“When you read local headlines every day about Americans being raped, assaulted, and killed by illegals, and when you meet the grieving families of those who were brutally murdered by illegals, like Laken Riley’s, bloodbath is a very appropriate word to describe what’s going on,” Trump spokeswoman Karoline Leavitt told Semafor.

In the days following the first bloodbath reference, multiple Republican members of Congress used the same language to highlight crime connected to migrants. “Dead Americans. Dead migrants. Biden’s border bloodbath,” posted Texas Rep. Chip Roy, one of the few GOP members of the House who backed Gov. Ron DeSantis over Trump in the primary.

Pro-Trump media like OANN quickly adopted the slogan, too. And on Tuesday, in sync with the Trump trip, the Republican National Committee launched a “Biden Bloodbath” microsite, collecting stories of “illegal alien crime” across the country.

According to the Trump campaign, if re-elected this year, the former president would bring back the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement office (VOICE), a tip line where Americans could report offenses by people who might be deportable, which Biden had closed down.

The Democratic response was a shudder.

“It’s shameful that the former president would use our community in mourning as the backdrop for his political theater,” said Michigan Rep. Hillary Scholten, an immigration attorney elected to represent Grand Rapids in 2022, in a statement.


Trump has been warning about migrant crime and telling gruesome murder stories since he entered the 2016 presidential campaign. What’s new this year, as seen in the “bloodbath” messaging reboot, is the confidence that doing this will cost him nothing with non-white voters. To understate things a bit: Democrats are skeptical.

“I believe that this rhetoric deeply offends a lot more people than they think,” said Julián Castro, a 2020 presidential challenger to Biden who now leads the Latino Community Foundation. “It’s going to turn off a lot of folks who believe that we should be better than that as a country.”

The Democratic theory is that the truth will out: that violent crime is falling, and that immigrants commit fewer crimes than American citizens. Trump mangles data to make it sound worse, telling reporters in Grand Rapids that crime in Venezuela had fallen “67% from what it was a year and a half ago,” implying that the country had solved its domestic problems by exporting them to the Rio Grande. (Venezuelan crime is down 67% from what it was in 2016, not 2022, according to the Venezuelan Violence Observatory.)

Democrats talk about Trump like they have since he launched his first campaign with a warning about illegal immigrants “bringing drugs” and “bringing crime” across the border — as a racist exploiting human suffering to win votes. In “Change,” an ad the Biden campaign put into rotation late last month, Democrats went after Trump for the 2015 launch speech and his December comment on illegal immigrants “poisoning the blood” of the country.

“What the hell is he talking about?” Biden says in the ad. “The reason we’re as good as we are is because we’re the most diverse country in the world.”

But in 2016, Trump won just 21% of non-white voters; in 2020, after doing exactly what he said he’d do about illegal immigration, he won 26%. He is running better than that right now with Black, Latino, and Asian voters in polls, with no evidence of a backlash for the way he talks about immigration.

That’s popularized his approach across the GOP. In New Hampshire, former Sen. Kelly Ayotte has run for governor with a relentless focus on migration to Massachusetts, a “sanctuary state” that has been taking arrivals from Texas. “Illegal immigrants are overwhelming these communities, severely draining local resources, driving crime, and destroying once-great American cities,” Ayotte wrote last month, adopting the language of a president she’d once rejected as a “matter of principle.”

In Texas, ground zero for Republicans moving right on immigration and winning handily, Rep. Tony Gonzales was forced into a runoff after local conservatives protested his vote for a gun control bill and his squeamishness about detaining asylum-seekers in jails. He had transformed his own rhetoric about immigration, but too late to satisfy MAGA conservatives.

“Never forget that Tony Gonzales called the Chip Roy legislation to secure the border UNCHRISTIAN,” Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz posted on X last week, after rallying with the congressman’s runoff opponent Brandon Herrera. (Roy had written the asylum-seeker bill, which Gonzales ended up supporting after it was amended.) “Tony is an amnesty Republican.”

Trump’s approach hasn’t changed, but the party has. In 2015, Trump’s campaign began working with the Texas-based Remembrance Project to connect with “angel families” — people whose sons or daughters were killed by people in the country illegally. Other Republicans were wary of being seen as tarring immigrants with such a broad brush. Some thought it was offensive.

Trump’s presidency, and his improved performance with non-white voters, quieted any internal opposition to the strategy. “Biden’s Border Bloodbath” is now basic Republican messaging.

“The migrants, in many cases, are murderers and drug dealers,” Trump told podcaster Justin Barclay on Monday, previewing the Michigan trip in language that echoed his 2015 speech. Citing TV reports he’d watched, Trump said foreign leaders were emptying out their jails to send criminals to the United States — a longtime fact-free accusation which made sense for them, if true.

“I’d do the same thing,” Trump explained. “I’d empty out every prison, I’d empty out every mental institution, and that’s what the countries are doing.”


Vanessa Cárdenas, the executive director of the pro-immigration reform group America’s Voice, said voters might have “collective amnesia” about what immigration policy under Trump was like. While she thought the Senate’s bipartisan immigration bill “missed the mark” by not including pathways to citizenship, Republicans who sunk it had shown that they didn’t care about public safety.

“Trump kind of opened up the floodgates in 2016, but he’s now full-on anti-immigrant,” she said. “Eight years ago it would have been unheard of for a politician to speak in the dehumanizing way he speaks about immigrants. The entire GOP is amplifying this narrative of invasion and great replacement.”

Castro, who in 2020 ran on decriminalizing illegal border crossings, said that “the Overton window has moved to the right under Trump,” and “too many Democrats have been afraid of pushing back on the immigration issue” under Biden by telling a positive story about immigration while enforcing the law.

“There’s been very little of that from the President and the administration over these last few years,” said Castro. “That was a mistake. Basically, we’ve been put in a corner. That kind of dynamic does not build up in one day, or one week, or one month, or even one year. It builds up over time in politics. And that’s what we’re watching now.”


  • In The Associated Press, Will Weissert and Jill Colvin look at how Trump’s immigration messaging “appears to be resonating with key elements of the Democratic coalition that Biden will need to win over this November.”
  • In their Politix podcast, Matthew Yglesias and Brian Beutler argue over whether Democrats should have picked a fight over “bloodbath,” or whether they’re better off ignoring Trump’s rhetoric in favor of his conservative tax policies.
  • In the Detroit News, Chad Livengood explains how Michigan Republicans, coming off a difficult year, are “banking on immigrant crime as the issue that will motivate so-called security moms this fall to come back to the GOP.”
State of Play

Four states are holding presidential primaries today, and Wisconsin is holding simultaneous municipal elections — plus, two votes on whether to amend the state’s constitution. A quick rundown:

Connecticut and Rhode Island. Polls close at 8 p.m. Eastern in each state, and in each, “uncommitted” is an option on the Democratic ballot. The Connecticut Palestine Solidarity Coalition has been organizing a protest campaign for weeks; the Rhode Island “uncommitted” effort, organized by local Democratic Socialists of America chapters, launched officially on Friday. There’s no official organization for Republicans casting protest votes for Nikki Haley, but she’s on the ballot, and in Rhode Island, any candidate who wins at least 10% of the vote is entitled to a delegate. Haley’s defunct campaign has been hitting that mark in most states.

New York. Polls close at 9 p.m. Eastern, and while “uncommitted” isn’t an option here, the anti-war movement has pulled together a “Leave It Blank” campaign, urging critics of the Biden administration’s Israel stance to turn in a ballot but choose no candidate. The state board of elections doesn’t typically tabulate blank votes; last week, Leave It Blank NY urged the board to do so this time, arguing that “an accurate picture of total votes cast is a form of election result unto itself.” The state will report all ballots, regardless of markings, in two weeks. Haley is still on the GOP ballot, along with Chris Christie and Vivek Ramaswamy.

Wisconsin. Polls close at 8 p.m. local time, 9 p.m. Eastern, in the state where the “uncommitted” movement has focused most of its energy over the past few weeks. On Monday morning, the Vote Uninstructed campaign (the local name for the not-Biden option on the ballot) released a survey it paid Poll Progressive Strategies to conduct, finding that one in four potential primary voters supported their protest, and that a supermajority of them wanted a Gaza ceasefire. Republicans have another contest between Trump and four candidates who’ve quit the race, Haley included, but their main mission for the day is passing Questions 1 and 2, amendments that would ban the use of private grants for election activities and limit who can help with election work itself.

Florida. No election today, but on Monday the conservative state supreme court approved a November ballot measure that would write a 24-week abortion limit into the Constitution. The state’s six-week ban, affirmed the same day, would be overturned if at least 60% of voters vote “yes.” Florida Attorney Gen. Ashley Moody had sued to keep it off the ballot, with Gov. Ron DeSantis’s support. The Florida GOP has endorsed a “no” vote, but Trump has not weighed in, and has tried to avoid taking positions on abortion throughout the campaign. In Grand Rapids, when a reporter asked Trump about the six-week ban, his audience booed, and Trump said he’d have an answer next week.

Biden for President

Miller for Governor, “Wrong for West Virginia.” In 2012, Patrick Morrisey left a D.C. lobbying career to run for West Virginia attorney general, and he won. His background in an industry voters hate was a point of attack in 2018, when he narrowly lost as the GOP’s nominee against Sen. Joe Manchin. Christopher Miller, a car dealer running against Morrisey for the GOP’s gubernatorial nomination, cites that background to accuse Morrisey of advancing the “trans agenda” by lobbying for an Albany medical center that wanted gender-affirming care to be eligible for Medicaid coverage. “His pronoun: Money-grubbing liberal.”

Bob Casey for Senate, “Stench.” The incumbent Senate Democrats are on the air with very similar ads — zoom-ins on specific legislation, with ordinary people thanking them for being so bipartisan. Chad Baer, a veteran who campaigned for Sen. John Fetterman last cycle, thanks Casey for his role in passing the PACT Act, which included new benefits for service members injured by burn pits.

Biden for President, “Trust.” In January, to mark the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Biden campaign released an ad about red state abortion bans, telling the story of a Texan who had to cross state lines to end a nonviable pregnancy. Its second national abortion ad is all about Trump, using a clip from a January 2024 Fox News town hall when he said he was “proud” to have ended Roe. Biden, who’s narrating more of the campaign’s ads this year, promises to “make Roe the law of the land.”


The electorate keeps moving in Trump’s direction on immigration questions, a problem that Democrats tried and failed to fix by backing the Senate’s border compromise. Why didn’t they get more brushback from their base? Some of the answers are here: 54% of self-identified Democrats support hiring more border agents (the compromise would have hired 1,500) and 65% favor hiring more immigration judges (the bill would have funded 100 more). They reject ideas more closely associated with Trump and MAGA conservatives, like the border wall (12% support) and shrinking the pool of migrants who’d qualify for asylum (35%).

Democrats keep trailing Larry Hogan in early polls of this race, and, unusually for Democrats, keep not panicking about it. These results are closer than last month’s Washington Post poll, but they show the same thing — Hogan is competitive in a deep blue state because Democratic voters like him personally, and don’t have strong opinions of their own candidates. A quarter of Democratic voters back Hogan in each potential match-up, even though a majority of them say that partisan control of the Senate is a “major” factor in their vote. The Democratic plan: Get through the primary, then bring down Hogan’s numbers by warning them about a MAGA Senate.

On the Trail
Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

White House. Biden will sit for an interview with Univision this week, ending a five-month drama over the Spanish-language network’s changing treatment of presidential candidates — and its friendlier coverage of Trump. His campaign manager, Julie Chávez Rodríguez, participated in a Washington Post profile in which she contradicted some of the president’s immigration messaging. “The president doesn’t talk about shutting down the border,” she said, though Biden had used that phrase (“shut down”) to describe the power he could use if the bipartisan Senate immigration deal passed.

The independent ticket of Robert F. Kennedy and Nicole Shanahan wrapped up its first week without a joint interview. On Tuesday morning, Fox News promoted an upcoming joint interview with the environmental lawyer and his running mate; according to Kennedy’s campaign, that was the network’s error. (Since joining the ticket, Shanahan has only spoken to Newsweek and on Rick Rubin’s podcast.) In the Fox interview, Kennedy repeated a critique he’d made on CNN the night before – that Biden might be a bigger threat to democracy than Trump, because Democrats supported online censorship.

“What President Trump said about questioning the election, and to the extent that he engaged in an effort to overthrow that; of course, that’s a threat to democracy,” he told Fox. “But it’s not the worst, right?”

House. Last week, Trump urged “great MAGA Republicans” to challenge Florida Rep. Laurel Lee, the only member of the state delegation who endorsed Gov. Ron DeSantis for president. MAGA Republicans weren’t the only people listening. Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp announced her bid for the Democratic nomination on Saturday, after social media activist Rogan O’Handley hinted that he might run against Lee. Both explained that Trump’s intervention against Lee, who in 2022 won the suburban Tampa seat by 17 points, might make it winnable; Trump carried it by just 3 points in 2020.

Global Growth

Lael Brainard, Director of the White House National Economic Council; Christian Lindner, German Minister of Finance; Richard Lesser, Global Chair, Boston Consulting Group; Valdis Dombrovskis, European Commission EVP and Commissioner for Trade; Suzanne Clark, CEO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Steve Rattner, Chairman & CEO, Willett Advisors LLC will join the Global Growth Session at the 2024 World Economy Summit to discuss shifts from global to regional trade, impacts on capital allocation and market efficiencies, as well as strategies for navigating the ever-changing economic landscape.

April 17 | 9 a.m.-12 p.m. ET | Washington, D.C.

Register for this session. →

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