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Trump leans in on immigration, crime during campaign stop in Richmond


Trump leans in on immigration, crime during campaign stop in Richmond

Mar 03, 2024 | 4:52 pm ET
By Charlie Paullin
Trump leans in on immigration, crime during campaign stop in Richmond
Former President Donald Trump speaks at a rally in Richmond. (Charlie Paullin/Virginia Mercury)

Former President Donald Trump made a campaign stop in Richmond Saturday ahead of Super Tuesday, a day of primary voting that is expected to seal his bid to be the Republican nominee for president in November.

“With your help, we will win big on Super Tuesday,” Trump told the crowd of a few thousand at the Richmond Convention Center. “This November, Virginia is going to tell crooked Joe Biden, you’re fired, you’re fired, get out of here, get out of the White House.”

Trump leans in on immigration, crime during campaign stop in Richmond
Former President Donald Trump speaks at a rally in Richmond (Charlie Paullin/Virginia Mercury)

A recent national poll conducted by The New York Times and Siena College found Trump has a 5 point lead over Biden. But those results may not be mirrored in Virginia: In their last matchup in 2020, Biden beat Trump in Virginia by 10 percentage points. The results of a separate poll from the Institute for Policy and Opinion Research at Roanoke College released Friday found Biden had a 4 percentage point lead over Trump among Virginians. That poll also found that if Trump challenger Nikki Haley, a former South Carolina governor, were the Republican nominee, she would beat Biden in Virginia by a solid 9 points.

Calling himself a “political dissident” Saturday evening, Trump’s speech in Richmond largely focused on immigration and crime. He specifically cited the recent death of Laken Riley, a 22-year-old University of Georgia nursing student whom authorities say was beaten to death by a Venezuelan migrant, and the shooting death of a 2-year-old in Montgomery County, Maryland. Law enforcement has arrested five suspects in the latter case, one of whom is a Salvador national who was slated for deportation last year but was later released by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.   

“We now have a new category of crime, you know what it’s called? It’s called migrant crime. And this category is turning out to be worse than any crime we’ve ever had in our country,” Trump said. “I was going to call it Biden migrant crime. But if you do that it’s too long. It doesn’t work.”

Trump pledged that if elected, he would “terminate every open border policy of the Biden administration” on his first day in office. 

“We will begin the largest domestic deportation operation in American history,” he said. “We have no choice. This is not sustainable by any country.”

Immigration, he warned the audience, was also affecting schools: “In New York, they have pupils from foreign countries, from countries where they don’t even know what the language is. We have nobody that even teaches it,” Trump said. “These are languages that nobody ever heard of. They’re sitting in the school chairs of people, of kids, that were there, and those kids aren’t able to go to school any longer. There’s no place they can go. They’re taking the school, and they don’t speak a word of English.”

Richmond resident Joe Wilson, 27, who said he attended the rally not to support Trump but to witness the movement behind him, said “it’s kind of fascinating the amount of pandemonium he can cause. I just can’t wrap my head around it.” 

Trump leans in on immigration, crime during campaign stop in Richmond
Attendees at a rally for former President Donald Trump in Richmond (Charli Paullin/Virginia Mercury)

During his speech, Trump touted himself as “the first president in decades who started no new wars” and claimed that had he been in office in October, Hamas wouldn’t have “thought” of attacking Israel. Dealing with adversaries like China, Russia and North Korea, he said, was easier than “dealing with radical-left lunatics in the United States.”

Trump’s stance on the U.S.’ global position resonated with attendee Brad Slaybaugh, 58, of Colonial Heights.

“Where do you want me to start — you want to talk about China, you want to talk about Russia, you want to talk about Israel, you want to talk about Ukraine, you want to talk about the border, you talk about the economy, talk about fossil fuels?” Slaybaugh said in response to a question about what appealed to him about Trump. “Our status in the world’s fallen. The world is chaos, because we’re not strong and they know it.” 

Trump also struck many familiar themes on domestic issues Saturday: He urged oil producers to “drill, baby, drill” in order to secure U.S. energy independence, touted tax and regulatory cuts passed during his term and decried recent nationwide inflation.

Chesterfield residents Thomas and Debra Tubbs, 64 and 65, said cost of living was one of their reasons for supporting Trump.

“A lot of medicine because of him came down in price, especially senior citizens in particular,” said Debra Tubbs. “We go to the store and spend $250, we come out of there with nearly nothing. It’s really affecting everything.”

Trump leans in on immigration, crime during campaign stop in Richmond
A sign held during a rally in Richmond. (Charlie Paullin/Virginia Mercury)

Trump made no mention of Virginia Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who was long rumored to be toying with a presidential bid of his own. Youngkin’s rise to power in the increasingly blue-leaning Virginia — a feat he accomplished by keeping a careful distance from Trump but avoiding any overt criticism of the former president that could alienate supporters — was seen by many as offering a new playbook for Republicans in less deep-red states. 

Youngkin, whom Trump took a swipe at in a bizarre social media post in November 2022, did not attend the rally. He told the Richmond Times-Dispatch he had a previously scheduled family commitment. Youngkin’s name was also not included on a list of 40 Republican leaders endorsing Trump that his campaign released Friday. Nor were Republicans Lieutenant Governor Winsome Earle-Sears, who has called Trump a “liability to the mission,” Attorney General Jason Miyares or Congresswoman Jen Kiggans.

In addition to Del. Wren Williams, R-Patrick, who addressed the crowd before Trump took the stage, in attendance for the event were U.S. Rep. Bob Good (R-Campbell), and state Sen. John McGuire (R-Goochland). Good and McGuire are locked in a heated battle to represent Virginia’s 5th Congressional District. 

The Tubbs said they thought former Ambassador and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley would be a good pick for Trump’s vice president as a way to win over female voters. Haley stopped in western Henrico Thursday for a rally of her own ahead of Super Tuesday. 

“She’s got a lot of good ideas,” said Debra Tubbs. Thomas Tubbs quickly added, “He’s got the balls to carry it out.”

Earlier in the day, Democrats held a counter rally in Richmond featuring U.S. Rep. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond), who focused on the threat Trump could pose to reproductive rights if elected to a second term. Most recently, Trump has floated the idea of a 15- or 16-week ban on the procedure.

“Even though Virginians stopped MAGA Republicans’ attempts to pass an extreme abortion ban here in Virginia by voting at the ballot box this past November, the stakes could not be higher for reproductive freedom this November,” McClellan said.

Trump leans in on immigration, crime during campaign stop in Richmond
A man holds up a sign stating former President Trump is a dictator. (Charlie Paullin/Virginia Mercury)

While other Trump rallies have drawn sharp counter protests, Saturday’s event sparked little organized activity from opponents. A truck playing a video in support of Haley’s bid drove around the rally site before it began, and a few people held up signs, one of which called Trump a dictator.

“Your Fellow AMERICANS are NOT the Enemy,” read the other.