President Donald Trump wants to be a provocateur again. Why else would he bring up his specious and repeatedly disproven claim that millions voted illegally in California, where he was walloped by Hillary Clinton?
And why would he intentionally recall and brag about one of the single most controversial things he’s ever said (a distinction not thrown around lightly)?
Trump was speaking in West Virginia on Thursday, talking about how he prefers a merit-based immigration system like Canada’s to a lottery-based system like the one in the US.
“With us, it’s a lottery system — pick them out — a lottery system. You can imagine what those countries put into the system. They’re not putting their good ones.
“And remember my opening remarks at Trump Tower, when I opened. Everybody said, ‘Oh, he was so tough,’ and I used the word ‘rape.’ And yesterday, it came out where, this journey coming up, women are raped at levels that nobody has ever seen before. They don’t want to mention that.
“So we have to change our laws. And the Democrats, what they’re doing is just — it’s insanity. I don’t — nobody understands what’s going on.”
Nobody is arguing that the trip from Central America to the US is easy or that women are not attacked or exploited on it. That is a well-documented problem, one that Trump brought up to bolster his own case for tougher immigration laws. CNN, however, has been following the caravan that so concerned Trump and did not witness widespread raping. In fact, CNN has found that many of those participating in the group feel that the caravan, organized by activists, will actually protect against violence and exploitation.
The President did not provide a scintilla of evidence to back up his claim. And what’s truly troubling is that Trump continues to generalize such allegations against a large group of people.
Trump is correct that he mentioned rape when he announced his campaign at Trump Tower in June 2015. But it’s not true that people called him tough. In fact, a lot of people – even Republicans – called him racist at the time.
In case you’ve forgotten, here’s the portion of that Trump Tower announcement speech:
The US has become a dumping ground for everybody else’s problems. Thank you. It’s true, and these are the best and the finest. When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.
Those comments were probably the most notorious thing to emerge from that speech. The backlash lasted for weeks and Trump refused to back down. In particular, during an interview with CNN’s Don Lemon, in which he argued his info came from a Fusion article. And he was making a connection that immigrants must be raping women.
“Well, somebody’s doing the raping, Don! I mean somebody’s doing it! Who’s doing the raping? Who’s doing the raping?” he asked.
The “rapist” comment was why Macy’s dumped his branded merchandise. It’s why the PGA pulled tournaments from his golf courses. Republicans up and down the line split with his comments at the time.
None of that ended up mattering. Trump went on to win the primary and, obviously, the general election. But he has not been as quick to publicly besmirched an entire swath of people in the same way (although behind closed doors, he did refer to African countries sending refugees to the US as “shithole countries”). Fast forward a little less than two years to Trump in West Virginia and it’s clear he still very seriously believes what he said back in Trump Tower.
In June 2015, he said “they’re not sending their best.” In April 2018, he said, “they’re not putting their good ones.”
And in both cases he brought up rape.
It’s clear he feels vindicated in that original claim despite the backlash at the time. Once he has said something vile like Mexican immigrants are rapists or something specious like millions of Californians voting illegally, he won’t be dissuaded from bringing it back up in the future.