Editor's Pick 04-04-2024 00:05 5 Views

Abortion vs. immigration fuels heated Biden-Trump rematch

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Donald Trump planned his campaign schedule this week to spotlight what he calls “Biden’s border bloodbath” — which he recently labeled “the biggest” issue of the election, even more pressing than the economy. When a reporter shouted a question about abortion at Trump’s event here, the audience drowned it out with boos and yelled “fake news!”

But abortion was top-of-mind for President Biden’s campaign and its allies, with a six-week ban newly cleared to take effect in Florida. In a new ad, Biden blitzed battleground states with footage of Trump declaring he was “proud” to have helped overturn Roe v. Wade. In a news conference, Democratic leaders in states with bans said Trump was to blame. Scores of other Democrats added their voice in cable news interviews, social media posts and statements putting it at the heart of their election year case to the country.

“I absolutely think reproductive freedom is still front and center,” said Rep. Hillary J. Scholten (D), who represents Grand Rapids and flipped her battleground seat in 2022 amid backlash to a statewide abortion ban eventually overridden by popular vote.

Democrats and Republicans are battling over the basic terrain that 2024 will be fought on and trying to push their strongest issue to the forefront. Trump is capitalizing on dismal approval ratings for Biden’s handling of the southern border, while Democrats are hammering the issue Trump hardly talks about — hoping to re-create their success in so many elections since a trio of Trump-appointed justices on the Supreme Court helped overturn Roe.

Many voters have said they are focused on other topics, such as inflation, Biden’s age, Trump’s criminal cases and the war in the Middle East. But each side is betting that immigration and abortion — which have sparked impassioned, personal debates like few other issues in recent years — will be especially galvanizing for their supporters.

Immigration has risen in importance for voters in recent months and now ranks as the top issue affecting Americans’ choice for president, according to some public opinion polls. Illegal border crossings have soared since Biden took office and Trump’s campaign has been eager to trumpet the administration’s struggles.

The presumptive Republican nominee fills his rallies with apocalyptic warnings of an “invasion”; descriptions of some migrants as “animals” who are “poisoning the blood” of the country; promises to carry out the largest deportation operation in U.S. history; and detailed accounts of killings attributed to undocumented immigrants — which Democrats like Scholten acknowledge are playing into broad voter concerns, even as they accuse Trump of demonizing migrants at large and exploiting tragic cases.

“When you see someone who is killed in our community and you recognize that there was a person here who did that who shouldn’t have been here, you’re right to question our system of keeping Americans safe,” Scholten said.

The battle played out on the sidewalk outside Trump’s event in Grand Rapids. Across the street from the convention center where Trump spoke, 60-year-old Susan Linker protested with a homemade black-and-orange sign — “Trump for Prison” — and immediately said “women’s reproductive rights” when asked what issues are most important this election.

James Napier, an 80-year-old Trump supporter, walked up as Linker gave a reporter her phone number.

“Do you know how many women are raped at the border?” he asked.

“Do you know how many women in America are raped by American men?” Linker retorted.

Napier accused Biden of “doing nothing” about the border and soon walked off in disgust.

“You women are dumb as posts,” he said.

In an interview later, Napier said he generally opposes abortion bans: “It’s not my body.” State-level referendums affirming abortion rights have passed even in red-leaning states, underscoring that plenty of Republicans have concerns about post-Roe restrictions that elected officials in their party enacted. But Napier, like many Trump backers, is more concerned about the border and the economy than abortion.

Democrats are trying to blunt Trump’s advantage on immigration by attacking his role in tanking a bipartisan border security deal — which led even some Republicans to argue that Trump is more interested in campaigning on the problems at the border than passing a solution. Some have also criticized the dehumanizing language he uses to describe some undocumented immigrants — “I don’t know if you call them people,” he said last month while discussing those accused of crimes — and the hard-line policies he and his allies are talking about implementing in a second term.

But Biden’s success in November could hinge on his ability to elevate another subject where public opinion is on Democrats’ side: abortion.

Abortion consistently boosted Democrats in midterm races and subsequent special elections and could help turn out a coalition that, right now, is hobbled by low enthusiasm. Democrats argued the issue has risen on voters’ radars after a nationally watched court ruling in Alabama that threatened to shut down in vitro fertilization in the state by holding that frozen embryos are people.

When Trump sidestepped a Tuesday question about Florida’s abortion ban — “We will be making a statement next week on abortion,” Trump said — Biden responded on his main X account, noting Trump’s past boasts that “without me, there would be no 6 weeks.”

“You already made your statement, Donald,” Biden wrote.

Republicans are hoping that immigration will not just rally their base but net them swing voters. GOP strategist John Yob this week predicted in a memo that a recent Grand Rapids homicide, which authorities attribute to an undocumented immigrant, will help turn “soccer moms” into “security moms.” Trump designed his border event — in a swing county in hotly contested Michigan — to train national attention on the killing.

Officials say the accused, Brandon Ortiz-Vite, had been arrested previously and was deported in 2020, during Trump’s presidency. He returned to the United States illegally, they say, and fatally shot his girlfriend, 25-year-old Ruby Garcia, last month.

“The suburban housewives actually like Donald Trump. You know why? Because I’m the one that’s going to keep them safe,” Trump said in Grand Rapids with members of law enforcement lined up behind him.

But Trump’s efforts to spotlight the Garcia case backfired when the victim’s sister denied to The Washington Post and other news outlets Trump’s claim that he spoke with the Garcia family.

The sister, Mavi Garcia, also criticized Trump’s framing. “Nobody really speaks about when Americans do heinous crimes, and it’s kind of shocking why he would just bring up illegals,” she told local news station Target 8. “What about Americans who do heinous crimes like that?”

Democrats’ case against Trump encompasses far more than abortion. They are talking up Biden’s economic record and amplifying a wide range of Trump policies and rhetoric that have made him a singularly galvanizing opponent for Democrats since he pulled off an upset against Hillary Clinton in 2016. Biden himself rarely says the word “abortion,” which has disappointed some activists.

But Biden’s campaign and their allies spent much of their energy this week on abortion amid the news of the ban in Florida, where about 1 in 12 abortions in the country take place.

Trump’s campaign released a statement from adviser Brian Hughes that shied away from taking credit for the ban, underscoring its political risks. “President Trump supports preserving life but has also made clear that he supports states’ rights because he supports the voters’ right to make decisions for themselves,” Hughes said.

Trump and Biden are not just fighting each other over the focus of the election. They are also facing voters who, in many cases, see the presidential race as a disappointing choice between two unpopular men rather than a high-stakes policy battle. In interviews at grocery stories and shopping centers, voters in the Grand Rapids area hesitated over Trump’s criminal charges, Biden’s age and a broad disillusionment with politics.

“I’m just upset that it’s between one geriatric man and another geriatric man,” said Anna Kelly, 22.

Some voters who would usually vote easily for Democrats were upset by the Biden administration’s handling of the Israel-Gaza war, which has drawn particular blowback in Michigan due to its significant Arab American population. Lavora Barnes, chair of the Michigan Democratic Party, acknowledged the dismay in Democrats’ traditional coalition. “I know the president’s listening,” she said.

But “in the end, these folks are Democrats,” Barnes said. “These folks understand the issue in front of them and the very simple binary choice they have between Donald Trump and Joe Biden in November.”

This post appeared first on The Washington Post
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