President Biden’s reelection campaign is fine-tuning its attack language on immigration, making use of former President Trump’s remarks on the matter.
The campaign Thursday took aim at a Trump speech delivered Monday in which the former president praised U.S. deportation policies of the mid-1950s, days after referring to the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah as “very smart.”
“Donald Trump was widely condemned for his shameful praise of Hezbollah last week, so he’s trying to change the conversation the only way he knows how: by invoking the mass deportations that embodied [former President] Eisenhower’s ‘Operation Wetback,'” said Maca Casado, the Biden campaign’s Hispanic media director.
At his Monday speech, Trump suggested he would also deport Biden administration officials and took a hawkish stance on deporting pro-Palestinian activists after receiving widespread criticism from within the GOP for his comments last week.
Trump praised Eisenhower’s deportation practices and used them as a segue to call for deportations on anyone who empathizes with Hamas, the group that sparked a war with Israel with a series of terrorist attacks earlier this month.
“But [Eisenhower] became president and he was a very big person on deportation. He deported more than anybody else. He said, ‘They cannot be here. You have to come into our country legally,'” said Trump.
The Eisenhower administration’s deportation policies have become infamous among many Hispanics, not just for the operation’s racist name, but for its tactics.
The operation began in Southern California, using military tactics to round up and deport people to Mexico by land, sea and air, often without running identity checks. The indiscriminate dragnet caught about 1.3 million people, including an unknown number of Hispanic U.S. citizens.
The Biden campaign, eager to draw a clear distinction between its vision on immigration and Trump’s, seized on the comments.
“It’s a sad, predictable tactic from a weak leader whose only mission is dividing the American people — this time by vilifying Latinos yet again,” said Casado.
“Invoking the horrors of the mass deportation of Mexican Americans following a deadly terrorist attack in Israel doesn’t make Americans safer, but it does fan the flames of xenophobia toward immigrants and makes people in this country less safe.”
The campaign is bullish on this line of attack, based on consistent polling that shows large majorities of Americans oppose mass deportations.
That’s the logic behind picking apart Trump’s speech: translating a passing mention of Eisenhower’s policies to a direct reference to “Operation Wetback.”
Kristian Ramos, a Democratic strategist, said that tactic should apply to Trump and others in the GOP.
“I think you have to establish what our position is. And we’re a party for an orderly legal process for the southern border, and we want to reform a broken immigration system,” said Ramos.
Ramos mentioned GOP Speaker nominee Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio), a proponent of ending birthright citizenship; House Majority Leader Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), who allegedly once promoted himself as “David Duke without the baggage”; and Trump, who made “a feature of the Republican Party to be as extremist as possible.”
“So yes, you have to establish that baseline fact, that this is a party that wants to limit or outright stop — depending on the member — legal immigration into this country,” said Ramos.
For the Biden campaign, the approach could help blunt the permanent GOP barrage against the administration’s border and immigration policies, at least by segueing back into Trump’s gaffes.
“For Donald Trump, a terrorist attack is a political opportunity; for Joe Biden, it’s about being the commander in chief. That’s a difference that matters to the American people in such a challenging moment,” said Casado.
—Updated at 4:21 p.m.