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Trump escalates immigration rhetoric

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally Saturday, March 2, 2024, in Greensboro, N.C. PHOTO: AP

GREENSBORO, NORTH CAROLINA (AP) — Former President Donald Trump on Saturday further escalated his immigration rhetoric and baselessly accused President Joe Biden of waging a “conspiracy to overthrow the United States of America” as he campaigned ahead of Super Tuesday’s primaries.

Trump has a long history of trying to turn attack lines back on his rivals in an attempt to diminish their impact. Biden has cast Trump as a threat to democracy, pointing to the former president’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Those efforts culminated in the attack on the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, as his supporters tried to halt the peaceful transition of power.

Trump, who has responded by calling Biden “the real threat to democracy” and alleged without proof that Biden is responsible for the indictments he faces, turned to Biden’s border policies on Saturday, charging that “every day Joe Biden is giving aid and comfort to foreign enemies of the United States.”

“Biden’s conduct on our border is by any definition a conspiracy to overthrow the United States of America,” he went on to say in Greensboro, North Carolina. “Biden and his accomplices want to collapse the American system, nullify the will of the actual American voters and establish a new base of power that gives them control for generations.”

Similar arguments have long been made by people who allege Democrats are promoting illegal immigration to weaken the power of white voters — part of a racist conspiracy, once confined to the far right, claiming there is an intentional push by the US liberal establishment to systematically diminish the influence of white people.

“Once again Trump is projecting in an attempt to distract the American people from the fact he killed the fairest and toughest border security bill in decades because he believed it would help his campaign. Sad.,” Biden campaign spokesman Ammar Moussa said in a statement.

Trump’s rally came three days before Super Tuesday, with elections in 16 states, including North Carolina and Virginia, where Trump held a rally Saturday evening. The primaries will be the largest day of voting of the year ahead of November’s general election, which is shaping up as a likely rematch of 2020 between Trump and Biden.

Nikki Haley, Trump’s last major rival, also campaigned in North Carolina. Speaking to reporters after her event in Raleigh, about 80 miles away, the former U.N. ambassador demurred on her plans after Super Tuesday.

“We’re going to keep going and we’re going to keep pushing,” she said, arguing a majority of Americans don’t want either Biden or Trump as the nation’s leader.

Much of Trump’s speech early Saturday focused on the slew of criminal charges he faces. While the former president has successfully harnessed his legal woes into a powerful rallying cry in the primaries, it is unclear how that message will resonate with the more moderate voters who will likely decide the general election.

“I stand before you today not only as your past and hopefully future president, but as a proud political dissident and a public enemy of a rogue regime,” Trump said, railing against what he called an “anti-Democratic machine.”

As he focuses on the general election, Trump has painted an apocalyptic vision of the country under Biden, particularly on the topic of immigration, which was the animating issue of his 2016 campaign and which he has once again seized on as the US has experienced a record influx of migrants at the border.

Trump and Biden both visited the US-Mexico border on Thursday to highlight their contrasting approaches to the issue.

On Saturday, Trump conjured images of Biden turning “public schools into migrant camps” and “the USA into a crime-ridden, disease-ridden dumping ground, which is what they’re doing.” He also spoke at length about the murder of Laken Riley, a 22-year-old nursing student whose alleged killer is a Venezuelan man who entered the US illegally and was allowed to stay to pursue his immigration case.

Studies have found native-born US residents are more likely to have been arrested for violent crimes than people in the country illegally, but Trump has seized on several high-profile incidents, including a recent video of a group of migrants brawling with police in Times Square.

“Not one more innocent American life should be lost to migrant crime,” Trump said.

In North Carolina, a festive atmosphere surrounded the Greensboro Coliseum Complex ahead of Trump’s rally. Supporters stood in a line that snaked through a web of metal barricades and extended hundreds of yards from the arena. Licence plates from North Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee filled the parking lot, where Trump flags flew alongside US and Confederate flags on many vehicles.

“We just love Trump,” said Mary Welborn, who lives in nearby Thomasville and expressed that she was frustrated by the criminal prosecutions and civil judgments against the former president. “The way he’s being treated is insane. No other president has been treated this way,” she said.

After the rally, several attendees praised Trump’s hard line on immigration.

“We look like fools around the world with the border just wide open,” said Samuel Welborn of Thomasville.

“My biggest concern is that my kids are not going to have the same country that I grew up in,” added his wife, Mary. “It’s just a different time.”

In Richmond, supporters started lining up Saturday morning for an evening rally at a downtown convention centre. The entry lines stretched several blocks by mid-afternoon, and supporters booed as a vehicle with a Haley campaign ad circled the building. At least a handful of state legislators were among the attendees.

Ken Ballos, a retired police officer from nearby Hanover County who said he voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020, never considered another primary candidate and was eager at the prospect of a Trump-Biden rematch.

“Trump would eat him up,” said Ballos, 72.

David McDaniel of nearby Chester said the country had gone downhill since Trump left office and that he’d personally struggled.

McDaniel, who voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020, said he had to shut down a construction business he owned due to rising costs for materials and gas.

“The fuel prices just ran us out,” said McDaniel, 32. “So we need Trump to get back in so we can open it back up.”

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