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Trump's rhetoric in midterm rallies reminiscent of 2016 campaign

Migrant caravan's impact on midterm elections
Migrant caravan's impact on midterm elections... 02:55

As President Trump has taken to the campaign trail to stump for Republican candidates across the country -- primarily in red states -- he seems to be easing back into his original political state: the unconventional candidate, the spokesman for the aggrieved, the anti-politician who can fix the country's problems.

Although he ostensibly headlines rallies to support congressional Republicans, most of his speeches only make passing references to the candidate of the hour. He will bring a candidate to the stage for a brief speech -- and then retake the podium to tout his administration's accomplishments. His rhetoric in recent campaign appearances is reminiscent of that before the 2016 election: strategically targeting Democrats as corrupt and anti-American, assuring wary Republicans that he would appoint conservative Supreme Court justices, and warning of dangerous illegal immigrants pouring into the country. 

In the past month, Mr. Trump has unveiled a new argument in his rally speeches: "This will be an election of Kavanaugh, the caravan, law-and-order and common sense." The phrase first appeared at a rally in Montana for Republican Senate candidate Matt Rosendale, but has been repeated in subsequent campaign stops.

"Kavanaugh" refers to Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was narrowly confirmed by the Senate earlier this month. Kavanaugh was accused of sexual misconduct by multiple women, including Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in September. Mr. Trump has said repeatedly in rallies that the allegations against Kavanaugh were part of a Democratic smear campaign.

The president has ratcheted up his attacks on Democrats in recent weeks, referring to them as an "unhinged mob" unfit to lead. Mr. Trump has now appointed two conservative justices to the Supreme Court, fulfilling a promise to Republicans. His attacks on Democrats, and his emphasis on judicial appointments, are reminiscent of the 2016 campaign. 

In that election, Mr. Trump famously called his opponent "Crooked Hillary," and inspired the "Lock Her Up" chant which associated Democrats with corruption. He also released a list of potential Supreme Court picks he said he would consider if he was elected. 

The "caravan" refers to a caravan of migrants from Honduras on their way to the American border. Mr. Trump tweeted on Monday that the United States will begin slashing foreign aid to Central American countries including Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, after they were "not able to do the job of stopping people from leaving their country" and joining the caravan.

Mr. Trump has been using inflammatory rhetoric about immigrants since he descended down the elevator at Trump Tower in 2015 to declare his candidacy for president and referred to Mexican immigrants as "murderers" and "rapists." Mr. Trump warned of dangerous illegal immigrants pouring into the country in his campaign, and made the iconic promise to build a wall on the border between the U.S. and Mexico. 

In his present-day campaign speeches, Mr. Trump often refers to the wall, and says that construction is already underway. He also has said that Democrats will never vote to fund the border wall, while Republicans will.

Mr. Trump has also accused all Democrats of wanting to abolish U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, position embraced by a few progressive Democrats, but not the entire party. He has also repeatedly and incorrectly said that Democrats support "open borders."

The president has also repeatedly said that the Democratic Party is "the party of crime," while the Republicans are focused on "law and order." At a rally in West Virginia at the end of September, Mr. Trump said said Democrats would "open our nation's borders, starve our law enforcement officers."

The campaign rhetoric of 2018 is essentially that of 2016, updated for the current political context. Now, Mr. Trump has accomplishments he can tout, such as negotiations over foreign trade and a tax overhaul. He can also again call for repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, which Republicans failed to accomplish in 2017.

Making the 2016 election about the Supreme Court, immigration, and crime worked for Mr. Trump. He is betting that this strategy can work again in the 2018 midterms, even if his name isn't on the ballot.

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