Ronald J. Hansen
President Donald Trump put Arizona in the center of the political universe, at least for a day, with multiple stops across the Valley. Here are five of the moments that stand out.
1. Immigration remains his focus
From a morning meeting in Scottsdale to a round table with defense company executives to the political rally in Mesa, Trump kept the issue out front. This is what helped put him in the White House in 2016 and he’s trying to use it to build on the Republican majorities in Washington.
He said Friday that the Democratic platform stands for “radical socialism and open borders.”
At Luke Air Force Base, Trump focused on the violent encounters as Central Americans have tried to pass Mexico’s borders, presumably on their way to the United States.
“These are some bad people coming through. These aren’t babies. These aren’t little angels coming into our country and going to work for, you know, Boeing and go to work for Raytheon,” he said, as the top executives of those companies listened.
He ripped the “catch and release” system of allowing undocumented immigrants to remain out of custody while they await legal proceedings.
Trump also said Democrats “will fight to the death because they don’t want us to have the (border) wall. But we’ve started the wall anyway, and we’re going to get it done,” he said in Mesa.
In short, it seemed as if it was all immigration, all the time.
2. Ducey goes MAGA
Gov. Doug Ducey cast aside his traditionally more-reserved support of Trump during the Mesa rally, giving the president credit for the economy and the U.S. Supreme Court’s newly reinforced conservative majority.
For a governor who could say in May 2016 only that he would back his party’s nominee and last year avoided a Trump rally in Phoenix to oversee security, it was a new role.
It surely reflects that Ducey feels secure in his re-election efforts, as polling suggests he’s safely ahead of Democratic opponent David Garcia, and Trump’s unmistakable hold on the GOP.
“Two years ago, families and small businesses were getting crushed,” Ducey said. “Today, under President Trump, our economy is booming, thanks to historic tax reform.”
Ducey appeared to overlook that at this point in 2016 the U.S. economy had added 2.7 million jobs over the previous year, and today it has added 2.5 million in the past 12 months.
Ducey has in recent months warmed up to Trump, attending at least two White House events. Trump endorsed Ducey just ahead of the August primary.
3. Trump on Arizona politicos
Let’s be honest, this visit was all about Trump’s effort to shape Arizona’s political scene. Here are a few of the Arizona-specific moments Trump offered.
He gushed about U.S. Senate candidate Martha McSally. This was the whole point of the rally, but he also did it at Luke Air Force Base before leading the political rally in Mesa.
“She is very special, a person that has taken the whole country by storm,” he said at the base. “They’re talking about you all over the country.”
He called her “a nonpolitician who is brilliant and brave and became a politician and became very successful. Her district loved her.”
Maybe Trump missed her falling poll numbers last year in the 2nd Congressional District, which she is leaving in her bid for the Senate.
In the next breath, Trump began his attacks on Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, whom he described as “a very, very strange opponent” for McSally.
“While Martha was bravely fighting the Taliban, Kyrsten Sinema said she had no problem with Americans defecting from our country to join the Taliban,” he said in Mesa.
At least Sinema seems to have escaped without a new nickname.
Trump praised U.S. Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz., who joined him at the round table with defense executives at Luke Air Force Base. He said she has “done a great job. … Your district loves you.”
Lesko, who is locked in a tight re-election campaign with Democrat Hiral Tipirneni, replied, “I hope so.”
Perhaps most curiously, Trump was charitable to U.S. Rep. Tom O’Halleran, D-Ariz. They were friendly inside a hangar at Luke, and, when Trump convened his meeting with defense executives, he invited O’Halleran to move from the side of the room to sit at the table “even though you’re a Democrat.”
Trump said he could work with O’Halleran.
O’Halleran faces a tight race in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District against Republican Wendy Rogers, who was not included at the Mesa rally. Trump won that district by 1 percentage point in 2016 and O’Halleran has supported Trump 54 percent of the time where the administration’s legislative preference is known, according to figures tracked by the website FiveThirtyEight.
Rogers has been a vocal Trump supporter and made her loyalty to him and his agenda the centerpiece of her campaign. Her absence was notable in a race where it could make a difference.
4. Odd takes on Arizona
Near the end of his Mesa remarks, Trump let loose with some odd comments on Arizona, rhetorically connecting the state’s beautiful women and … Wyatt Earp?
Trump started with a shout-out to the state’s cities, noting the residents there are helping him Make America Great Again™. Then it just turned, well, odd.
“From Phoenix to Flagstaff, from Mesa to Yuma, to the red rocks of Sedona, this great state was settled by some of the toughest men and toughest — and most beautiful — women ever to walk the face of the earth.
“Now,” Trump continued, pointing to the media, “they’re going to say tomorrow, ‘He called women beautiful. Isn’t that terrible?’ It will be ‘Trump calls women beautiful.’ You’re beautiful. You are beautiful, beautiful. You always were and you always will be.
“That is funny. I’m just watching this,” he said, again pointing to the media. ” ‘I think we got him. I think we got him. I think we got him.’
“Arizona is where Wyatt Earp became a legend, where the American West became the American Dream and where generations of farmers, ranchers, pioneers and soldiers used their own two hands to build a life and to build a home.
“They didn’t have a lot of money. They didn’t have a lot of luxury, but they all had one thing in common: They loved their families, they loved their country and they loved their God.”
5. Mobs versus jobs
Apart from the laugh lines and local crowd-pleasers, Trump also rolled out what may be his new catchphrase for the election:
“Democrats produce mobs, Republicans produce jobs,” he said, eliciting a roaring applause from the crowd and chants of “USA, USA.”
“So, this November, when you’re voting, vote for the jobs, not the mobs,” he said.
This comes after some Democrats, notably U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., urged people to “create a crowd” around members of the Trump Administration.
Condemning the administration’s unpopular family-separation policy, Waters called for serious push back.
“Let’s make sure we show up wherever we have to show up. And if you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd,” she said. “And you push back on them. And you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere. We’ve got to get the children connected to their parents.”
Trump’s “mobs” line seems sure to please law-and-order Republicans, troubled by football players kneeling during the national anthem and the many protesters who have demonstrated against Trump’s policies, ranging from opting out of international carbon-emission targets to his controversial nomination of now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.