EL PASO, Texas — It was altogether fitting that President Trump’s rally Monday night in El Paso was something of a circus. After all, it was the first official campaign event of his 2020 reelection bid.
The rally had all the trappings of any other Trump rally: itinerant Trump vendors hawking their wares outside the venue, supporters decked out in MAGA gear who traveled from several states away, a handful of angry protesters who managed to sneak signs into the stadium and disrupt things for a minute or two.
But it also had something extra. There were the theatrics of being right on the U.S.-Mexico border while another government shutdown looms over funding for Trump’s border wall. There was also the spectacle of a protest march and counter-rally a few hundred yards away featuring none other than Beto O’Rourke, a likely 2020 Democratic contender.
It was a perfect setting for Trump to draw out the contrasts between his GOP and the Democratic Party heading into the 2020 cycle. On everything from the border wall to abortion to the Mueller investigation to the booming economy and the Democrats’ Green New Deal, Trump presented himself as reasonable and Democrats as extreme.
O’Rourke Played Right Into Trump’s Frame
Trump mainly drove this point home on the wall issue. He declared, in familiar style, that “walls save lives,” that “walls are not immoral, human trafficking is immoral, drug peddling is immoral.” He boasted, “Today we started a big beautiful wall right on the Rio Grande, right smack on the Rio Grande,” and accused Democrats of opposing walls and being for open borders.
Whether he meant to or not, O’Rourke played right into Trump’s drama. “Walls do not make us safer,” he said. “We know that walls do not save lives, wall end lives.” He cited the number of people who have died trying to enter the United States since 650 miles of fencing went up along the southern border over the past decade. O’Rourke thinks this fencing is not only unnecessary but harmful, because it makes it more difficult for people from Mexico and Central America to enter the United States. He doesn’t think it should be so difficult. In fact, he has a completely different idea about the border than Trump. As he put it, “We stand for America and against walls.”
It’s hard to interpret O’Rourke’s comments as anything but advocating for open borders. Or at the very least, that we should have less security along the border than we currently do—indeed, that some or all of those 650 miles of border fencing should be torn down. There is quite simply no other way to parse what he said.
This is exactly what Trump wanted O’Rourke to say, because it confirms his supporters’ worst fears about the Democratic Party. Somewhere in his rambling remarks Monday night, Trump said, “The biggest proponents of open borders are rich liberals and wealthy donors,” and called them hypocrites who oppose security for ordinary Americans while living their entire lives protected and secure.
On a gut level, many Americans know this is true. They know that when Democratic leaders like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer say they are for strong border security, they don’t really mean it. O’Rourke is either smart enough or guileless enough to actually just come out and say what he really thinks, that we should have less border security, not more.
Democrats ‘Outside The Mainstream’
As 2020 approaches, it does not matter so much that Trump is wrong on some details about the border. Here in Texas, much was made of a few lines in Trump’s recent state of the union address in which he claimed that border fencing in El Paso reduced crime here (in fact, crime peaked in El Paso in 1993, long before border fencing went up beginning in 2008).
What matters more is that Trump is right about where Democrats now stand. As the president shifts into campaign gear—clearly a more comfortable speed for him than governing—he sees that his opponents are increasingly in thrall to extreme positions on everything from immigration to abortion to federal regulation of the economy. “The Democrat Party has never been more outside of the mainstream,” he said. “They’re becoming the party of socialism, open borders, late-term abortion, and crime.”
The rally in El Paso made clear that Trump intends to exploit these things in 2020. The counter-rally made clear that Democrats intend to make it easy for him to do so.