Opinion | Ron DeSantis thinks Donald Trump was too soft on Mexico

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Ron DeSantis on Monday released his “No Excuses” immigration enforcement platform, which officially classifies stopping migration as a military operation and endorses the use of “deadly force” against migrants suspected of running drugs. With that, the competition to determine which Republican presidential candidate wants most to invade Mexico has just intensified. Republican candidates Tim Scott, Vivek Ramaswamy and Nikki Haley had echoed Donald Trump’s language that the U.S. needs to carry out some kind of military mission in Mexico.

The competition to determine which Republican presidential candidate wants most to invade Mexico has just intensified.

As NBC News reports, DeSantis, who made a visit to the border Sunday to tease his campaign points, is going further than even Trump has gone on immigration. He has claimed that Trump is just “a different guy than 2015, 2016.” DeSantis’ 2024 strategy appears to be to take the Trump rhetoric that equated Mexicans to rapists and make it even more extreme. He calls his plan “No Excuses” to argue that Trump didn’t follow through on his anti-immigrant rhetoric.

“It is hard to overstate the dangerous implications of Ron DeSantis’ approach to immigration,” Zachary Mueller, political director of the immigrant rights group America’s Voice, said Tuesday. “From ‘invasion’ to ‘deadly force’ to ‘stone cold dead’ to ‘act of war’ to ‘a duty to protect the country,’ he is relying on and mainstreaming a collection of phrases and ideas that are flat-out incitements to violence and have been linked to domestic terror attacks by white nationalists.” Mueller also said DeSantis’ “dangerous language and ideas should be viewed through the lens of public safety more than political positioning and horse race maneuvering. We cannot become numb to this stuff.”

He’s right. Words have power. They have even more power when they’re wielded by presidential candidates or presidents themselves. Even deadly power.

Around the same time in 2018 that people on the right were trying to whip up fear over a caravan of migrants moving toward the U.S., a gunman in Pittsburgh attacked the Tree of Life synagogue because it was one of the synagogues participating in an event sponsored by the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, which was open about assisting asylum-seekers from Central America. The gunman, who was found guilty of 63 federal counts this month, claimed in social media posts that HIAS was bringing in migrants to do violence in the U.S.

In remarks to reporters on Nov. 1, 2018, days before the midterm elections, then-President Trump said: “At this very moment, large, well-organized caravans of migrants are marching towards our southern border. Some people call it an ‘invasion.’ It’s like an invasion. They have violently overrun the Mexican border.

America

In August 2019, a 21-year-old white man killed 23 people inside a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, a city on the border with Mexico. Shortly before that, he posted an online screed claiming that the attack would be “a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.”

Multiple Democrats drew a line between Trump’s rhetoric and what happened in El Paso. Mick Mulvaney, then his acting White House chief of staff, decried the suggestion that there was any connection and said, “We have to figure out a way to fix the problem, not figure out a way to lay blame.”

But, to Mueller’s point, there’s no reason we shouldn’t call out the danger of Republicans’ whipping up anti-Latino sentiment.

Given the brief history mentioned above and the shocking hate crimes committed against Latinos and other marginalized communities, what DeSantis said and did should be summarily condemned, not just treated like a normal campaign platform.

There’s no reason we shouldn’t call out the danger of Republicans’ whipping up anti-Latino sentiment.

Even so, DeSantis is a candidate for president of the United States. So the politics matters, too. Fortunately, the kind of political game he and Republicans are playing hasn’t led to many recent wins.

Cries of an immigrant invasion and the so-called great replacement theory didn’t lead to the results Republicans hoped for in 2018, 2020 or 2022. Even so, as DeSantis’ new plan illustrates, the immigration red meat appears too tempting for Republicans to pass up.

According to an NBC News poll released Sunday, 86% of GOP primary voters, and 55% of voters overall, say they’d be more likely to vote for a candidate who promises to send troops to the border to stop drugs from coming in. While the answer provided by GOP primary voters tracks, the idea that more than half of voters would want a president who sends troops to the border doesn’t line up with the way America has been voting.

We’ve seen more evidence that Republicans are disconnected from American voters on this issue and that Americans hold more moderate immigration positions.

Arizona

Contrary to Republican predictions of mayhem, nothing ominous occurred after the end of Title 42. That’s why it makes even less sense that Republicans are tripling down on a Trump strategy that keeps getting more extreme, more ridiculous and more out of touch with the electorate.

DeSantis’ focus on Mexico, smugglers and cartels makes for great headlines in 2023, but it ignores the historical, economic, environmental and political factors that contribute to migration from the Global South. As for drugs, Americans never really want to discuss and explore how our country’s consumption of drugs created this problem in the first place. 

Nor do Americans generally want to acknowledge that Mexico, with its own history of political corruption in the failed war on drugs, is still a sovereign nation, a strong economic neighbor with deep connections to the U.S. because of lost wars, exploited labor and racist migration. DeSantis’ framing doesn’t prompt his listeners to think of people crossing the border as those who are fleeing violence; it mostly prompts them to think of people crossing the border as folks running drugs and defiling this country.

DeSantis’ framing doesn’t prompt his listeners to think of people crossing the border as those fleeing violence; it mostly prompts them to think of people crossing the border running drugs and defiling this country.

The Republican playbook is all about invading Mexico now. Scott, referring to “cartels,” promises that he would allow “the world’s greatest military to fight these terrorists.” Haley: “We are not going to let all of this lawlessness continue to happen. And we can do that by putting special ops in there, by doing cyber, by really being strategic — just like we dealt with ISIS, you do the same thing with the cartels.” Ramaswamy wants something “Osama bin Laden–style, Soleimani-style.”

Not only is this idea preposterous, but it would only ultimately lead to failure. The Republican Party’s old, white electorate is getting even older, while Democrats tend to have a younger and more multiracial and multiethnic electorate. The growing unaffiliated Latino electorate continues to increase. Yes, DeSantis has done very well with Latinos in Florida, thanks in large part to the haplessness of Democrats there, but to win Latinos outside Florida, DeSantis would need to tap into voters of Mexican descent. They are the largest group of U.S. Latinos, and they have voting power in pivotal states such as Arizona, Colorado, Nevada and Texas. In Texas, Latinos now outnumber non-Hispanic whites.

chief of staff

Essentially advocating for a war against the country where their families are from is most likely not a position most U.S. voters of Mexican descent would support. Democrats would be wise to exploit that. They should also call more attention to DeSantis’ punitive anti-immigrant state law that has immigrants leaving the state because they don’t feel welcome there.

All the signs from the midterms show that Republicans will fail again unless they change the way they talk about immigration.

The fear, however, is that they will continue this rhetoric and put the lives of more people at risk.

There are no excuses for that.

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