People protest the arrival of President Trump as he visits the Tree of Life Congregation on October 30, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Many Americans fear more violence in U.S. political life.
Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images
Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images
The deadly synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, the killing of two African-Americans in Kentucky and the wave of improvised explosive devices aimed at critics of President Trump all happened just within the last week.
And they all coincide with deep national pessimism about the outlook for peaceful politics in the United States.
Last year, after a shooter opened fire on Republican lawmakers at a baseball practice outside Washington, D.C., a CBS News poll found that 73 percent of Americans felt the tone of the political debate encourages violence.
Since then the concept of a new civil war has seeped out into the open, especially on the right.
“The Civil War on America’s Horizon,” reads a headline in last month’s The American Conservative. On Townhall.com, a Trump supporter imagined how a civil war would turn out, in an article entitled “Why Democrats Would Lose the Second Civil War, Too.”
Meanwhile, The Federalist ran an op-ed advocating the breakup of the United States, arguing that it “may seem a bit outlandish now, but you won’t think so once real domestic unrest comes to your town.”
The extreme fringe has also picked up on the notion.
Here’s how one anonymous person framed a threat to The New York Times’ Ken Vogel on his voicemail, earlier this year. Vogel posted the recording on Twitter.
“You are the enemy of the people. And although the pen might be mightier than the sword, the pen is not mightier than the AK-47,” the caller said. “And just remember Ken, there’s nothing civil about civil war.”
VOICEMAIL FROM A FAN: “You’re the problem. You are the enemy of the people. And although the pen might be mightier than the sword, the pen is not mightier than the AK-47.” pic.twitter.com/hKHTsGm9KL
— Kenneth P. Vogel (@kenvogel) August 20, 2018
Carolyn Lukensmeyer is the head of the National Institute for Civil Discourse at the University of Arizona. The organization was formed after a shooting injured then-Arizona Democratic Rep. Gabby Giffords in 2011. The incident also killed six and wounded twelve others aside from Giffords.
“I have to say that I’ve been surprised at the number of times where we’re holding a discussion … across differences and someone will actually say that they believe we could come to a civil war again in the United States,” she told NPR.
But then, she said, many people back off from their initial conclusions: “They do say, ‘No, I don’t really believe that we’ll have a civil war, but I find some of what I see happening frightening enough to think of it that way.'”
Experts who study violent conflict in foreign nations say they are now seeing worrying similarities here at home.
“I already think we’ve seen some pretty dangerous signs, the most important of which is the demonization of opponents,” said Sheri Berman, a professor of political science at Barnard College, Columbia University.
“The second step is seeing people as unable to be dealt with or compromised with, and that can fairly easily slip into more extreme kinds of behavior,” she said.
Mike Jobbins works for Search for Common Ground, a nonprofit that tries to reduce political violence abroad in places like Burundi, Congo and Yemen.
He told NPR that violence breaks out when people no longer feel like they can work with others in a different societal group.
“Prior to some of these conflicts that erupted you see a drop in the capacity to deal with one another, and to focus on one sort of prevailing identity,” he said. “That’s something we see here in the U.S. as we look at some of the partisan political divisions.”
Polarization — and political violence — is far from unprecedented in America. Between January 1969 and April 1970, the United States experienced 4,330 bombings, according to The New York Times.
“I came of age during the Vietnam War, so I came of age in a time in which differences on policy issues did lead to violent civil protest, that did lead to blood in the streets, so do I think it is possible? It’s part of my own life experience,” said Lukensmeyer.
The way to prevent disagreements from becoming violence, according to experts in civil conflict, is to be more open to those with whom you disagree.
“The biggest challenge that many people have in their own lives is really in taking the first step to — when you disagree with someone, to listen first,” Jobbins said. “I think as you look at the U.S. today, we are entering a period of conflict … but even if conflict is inevitable, violence is not.”
Stars of David memorialize Jewish congregants killed at a synagogue in Pittsburgh on Saturday.
Kyodo News via Getty Images
Kyodo News via Getty Images
Anti-Semitism and hate crimes have surged in the U.S. over the last couple of years, and almost 30 percent of accounts repeatedly tweeting against Jews on Twitter appear to be bots, according to a recently released study from the Anti-Defamation League.
Researchers at the ADL analyzed 7.5 million Twitter messages between Aug. 31 and Sept. 17. Billionaire George Soros, who is Jewish, was a leading subject of anti-Semitic tweets, according to the researchers.
The study reports that while human users still account for the majority of derogatory Twitter traffic in the lead-up to the mid-term elections, “political bots—which explicitly focus on political communication online—are playing a significant role in artificially amplifying derogatory content over Twitter about Jewish people.”
The individuals behind the automated bots remain a mystery. “The facelessness of the people who are targeting the Jewish population is a major problem,” said Sam Woolley, an author of the study and director of the Digital Intelligence Lab at the Institute for the Future. “It’s something that has to be addressed, because it makes it impossible to either stop or report.”
The ADL study was released a day before a mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue killed 11 people.
Katie Joseff, an author of the study and research manager at the Digital Intelligence Lab, says the ease of creating bot accounts means anyone could be behind them.
“It wouldn’t be at all out of the realm of question for Nazis or anyone on the alt-right to be able to use bot accounts,” Joseff said. “They are very accessible, and people who just have normal social media followings, or even high schoolers, know how to buy fake accounts.”
Woolley says more work needs to go into finding who may be behind automated accounts tweeting anti-Semitic slurs. “We’ve known in the past that Russia has used the façade of things like white nationalism, or blue lives matter or black lives matter, or other groups, in order to infiltrate groups,” Woolley said. “So one of the things that the companies and intelligence officials…need to do is figure out whether or not the hate speech that is generated by these seeming white national accounts, is actually being generated by foreign entities.”
Twitter’s Head of Site Integrity, Yoel Roth, released a statement on the reported surge in anti-Semitic attacks via the social media platform:
“Since 2016, we’ve been learning and refining our approach to new threats and challenges. We’ve expanded our policies, built our internal tooling, and tightened our enforcement against coordinated platform manipulation, including bot networks — regardless of the origin.
We’ve also shared all the content connected to potential state-backed operations on Twitter with researchers to help inform the public and to promote independent analysis. Our goal is to try and stay one step ahead in the face of new challenges going forward. Protecting the public conversation is our core mission.”
Woolley and Joseff say to combat disinformation and abuse by bots, tech companies should label bots as automated accounts, and also improve the chain of command so when a user reports extreme trolling and online threats, the companies can respond quickly to protect the user.
But the push for increased scale and revenue discourages social media platforms from combatting automated bots, Woolley says.
“Companies are incentivized to actually continually grow their platforms, and to continually grow their user base. In fact their stocks are quite intimately tied to the amount of growth that the site experiences or the amount of shrinkage of the amount of monthly users,” Woolley says. “This is a real reason why we can’t rely upon companies alone to mitigate the usage of things like bots….We have to have some kind of regulation from government. We have to have civil society action. We have to have individual user-based action.”
Automated accounts are a force multiplier and allow for users disseminating hate speech online to be “small but mighty,” but Woolley and Joseff say people attacking people online remains a tougher problem for technology companies to fight. “That’s a case of free speech,” Joseff says.
According to the ADL, 3 million Twitter users posted or re-posted at least 4.2 million anti-Semitic tweets in English over a 12-month period ending Jan. 28. For many Jewish people, the study reports, “especially those in the public eye, social media platforms have become inhospitable for both general communication and as forums for discussing public life.”
The study’s authors interviewed several Jewish Americans about their experiences with online abuse, including a reporter at a major U.S. news outlet:
“Each time one of his stories got traction online—or featured details on topics such as white nationalism, Donald Trump, or libertarianism—he was sent photoshopped images of his face in a gas chamber or was threatened with the public release of his address and contact details.”
The ADL study says, “It is time for technology companies to design their products for democracy. This does not just mean a facile attempt to protect or prioritize free speech. It means protecting minority ethnic and religious groups,” which the study says are disproportionately targets of online abuse.
“Social media companies cannot escape responsibility by claiming not to be ‘arbiters of truth’,” the study says, concluding it is time for companies “to inject ethics and—more strongly—human rights, into the heart of product design.”
In recent weeks, there’s been discussion in the newsroom about best practices when it comes to seeking comment from people or institutions that are in the news (for “good” and “bad” reasons).
What follows doesn’t cover every potential situation. But when we know we need to ask for comment from someone or some organization, we must:
– Give them a reasonable amount of time to get back to us. What’s reasonable? Discuss that with senior editors or DMEs.
– Try more than once and in more than one way to get in touch with them. One email is not enough. Pick up the phone. Knock on the door. Send a registered letter if there’s time. Camp outside their office.
– Follow the multiple requests with one more “we’re going to broadcast/publish” phone call seeking comment when there’s an hour or so to go before the story is live.
– Be precise about who or what either didn’t respond or declined to comment. If our requests went to a politician’s press office, for example, we need to say it was that office or the politician’s staff that didn’t respond or declined — not the politician, who may not have known we reached out. Obviously, if we spoke to or reached the politician, we can say that person declined.
– Be transparent about our efforts to get comment. “The senator’s campaign staff didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment.” Or, “NPR contacted the CEO’s office multiple times this week, seeking comment. We got no response.” Or, “John Doe, the company’s spokesman, said CEO Smith would not comment.”
– Stand ready to update our report, or file a new one, if we get a response after deadline.
Finally, there’s a question that’s always good to ask in these cases. If you were that person, would you feel you’d been given a fair chance to either respond or decline to comment? The answer should be “yes.”
Josh Davis tends to his hog herd on his farm in Pocahontas, Ill. Once a popular breed, there are now only a few hundred American mulefoot hogs left.
David Kovaluk/St. Louis Public Radio
David Kovaluk/St. Louis Public Radio
Josh Davis likes to name his pigs after flowers: Petunia, Iris, Violet and Daisy.
That’s not the only thing that sets him apart as a hog farmer.
For the past three years, Davis and his wife, Alicia, have been raising one of the rarest pig breeds in the world on their farm in Pocahontas, Ill. The American mulefoot hog was a popular breed in the Midwest in the early 1900s, but now, there are only a few hundred left. The Davises are among a small group of farmers hoping to revive the breed — by putting it back on the menu.
“The reason why this hog is going extinct is people aren’t eating them anymore,” Josh Davis says while loading buckets of fermented grain onto a wagon.
He thumps the buckets together and whistles, luring his herd of “beautiful flowers” from the trees. The 500-pound hogs roam 12 acres of forest and pasture at Green Finned Hippy Farm, a small organic farm about 40 miles northeast of St. Louis, Mo.
The American mulefoot hog doesn’t look like your typical pink pig — it’s charcoal black with a solid hoof, like a mule.
A century ago, hundreds of herds spread across more than 20 states, including Missouri, where it was nicknamed the “Ozark hog.”
Jeannette Beranger of the Livestock Conservancy says the mulefoot’s “rough and tumble” nature made it particularly attractive to farmers in the Midwest.
“A lot of the time, American mulefoot hogs were managed on river islands,” Beranger says. “They’d forage all summer long, then when it came to butchering time in the fall, people would just go out to the islands and take what they needed.”
The mulefoot hog started falling out of fashion after World War II, with the rise of commercial agriculture operations that favored a few fast-growing breeds suited to confinement.
Missouri farmer R.M. Holliday saved the breed from near-extinction in 1964, when he gathered the few remaining mulefoot hogs in the U.S. and established a conservation herd at his farm in the small town of Louisiana, Mo.
There are about 200 breeding mulefoot hogs left in the U.S. today, all of which are descended from the “Holliday herd.”
‘How can you eat something that’s about to disappear?’
In Illinois, the Davises didn’t need much convincing to get their own herd started.
“It feels like there’s a lot more purpose when you’re doing something that’s not just for the sake of growing food for people,” Josh Davis says. “We’re also doing what we can to be conservationists at the same time.”
Alicia Davis describes the animal as a personable, mild-mannered pig that you can feed out of your hand. Plus, she adds, the meat “just melts in your mouth.”
It hasn’t been easy, however, to persuade their fellow farmers to take the risk.
For some, the problem is the bottom line: The hogs have smaller litters and take about two months longer to mature than a commercial hog.
Although there are several farmers in Missouri raising American mulefoot hogs, including at Crystal Creek Farm in Ash Grove and Heritage Hectares in Saco, the Davises are the only registered mulefoot breeders in Illinois
“We’re still surrounded by very old farming techniques in this area,” Alicia Davis says. “They don’t understand why what we’re doing may be important. They think it maybe wastes time or money.”
In the end, she says, it comes down to economics. In order to keep the American mulefoot hog from disappearing, they have to put back on the dinner table.
“It’s very hard for people to think, ‘How can you eat something that’s about to disappear? Isn’t that making it disappear?'” she says. “It’s the exact opposite. If people lose interest in this hog, that’s why it’ll go extinct.”
‘A special piece of meat’
Over the past year, the Davises have developed a small but loyal following of local chefs, including Rob Connoley, who owns Squatter’s Cafe in St. Louis.
Connoley seeks out local farmers and ranchers in an effort to buy ethically raised goods with interesting flavors.
“The diversity of sourcing creates a stronger product because it gives you diverse flavors,” he says. “I can go into 20 different restaurants today and pretty much get the exact same food. Why? Because the ingredients come from the exact same places.”
Connoley pulls a mulefoot hog loin from a chest freezer and points to the thick layer of fat surrounding it. That fat gives the meat a unique flavor that he’s willing to pay a little extra for.
“It doesn’t taste like the commercial pork we all know. It’s not funky, it’s not gamey,” Connoley says. “It has a rich, clean flavor. It’s such a special piece of meat.”
Connoley uses the mulefoot meat in just about everything, including a Mexican mole made with local pawpaw fruit and the cafe’s best-selling pork apple breakfast hash.
He also renders gallons of “beautiful, creamy white lard” from American mulefoot meat, which he uses in a variety of dishes.
“There’s not a single piece of that animal that goes to waste, whether it’s the skin that gets turned into chicharron or the fat that gets used in a number of different items,” Connoley says. “Even the bones get roasted off to make a stock.”
Taste aside, he says the ethics of working with mulefoot meat are the single most important factor to him.
“If I’m going to consume a life, I want to know that animal had a good life up until the point that it became food,” Connoley says. “I know this animal was well cared for. It was allowed to run in the woods and forage for acorns. That means a lot to me.”
Arrangement of colored oviraptor-like eggs in an oviraptorid nest arrangement
Jasmina Wiemann/Yale University
Jasmina Wiemann/Yale University
Assortment of paleognath and neognath bird eggs and a fossil theropod egg (right).
Jasmina Wiemann/Yale University
Jasmina Wiemann/Yale University
The rainbow of hues seen in modern bird eggs probably evolved in birds’ dinosaur ancestors, which had eggs with colorful and speckled shells.
That’s according to a new study of fossil eggs in the journal Nature. Researchers found that birds’ close dinosaur relatives had eggs with traces of two pigments—a red-brown one and a blue-green one. This same pair of pigments mixes and matches in today’s bird eggs to produce colors ranging from robin’s egg blue to red to yellow to green.
“There is a huge diversity in egg color and pattern. For a long, long time people have assumed that egg color is a trait that is unique to our modern birds,” says Jasmina Wiemann, a paleontologist at Yale University. She says that assumption was based on the fact that birds’ closest living relative, the crocodiles, “have completely uncolored, unpigmented eggs.”
To see if colored eggs might actually go further back in history, she and her colleagues started by looking at the eggs of oviraptors– a relative of the velociraptor made famous in the movie Jurassic Park.
“This dinosaur is particularly interesting because oviraptors are the first dinosaurs that built open nests,” she says, explaining that earlier dinosaurs buried eggs underground, where color wouldn’t be expected to make any difference.
“Once you start to build an open nest, your eggs are exposed to the environment,” she notes. Out there, colors and patterns could provide camouflage or help dinosaurs recognize their own eggs.
Inside some 66-million-year-old oviraptor egg fossils, her team found small concentrations of both pigments that color modern bird eggs. That was intriguing. Still, it was just one dinosaur.
Now the researchers have analyzed egg shells from more. “We tried to cover the major branches of dinosaurs to get a good idea for all non-avian dinosaurs,” she says.
They found no pigments in birds’ distant dinosaur relatives, such as the groups that include triceratops and the long-necked diplodocus.
The red-brown and blue-green pigments were present, however, in eggshells from the group of dinosaurs that includes birds and their close relatives. These pigments were built into the shells in the same sophisticated way that they are in modern birds’ eggs–and Wiemann thinks this can’t be a coincidence.
“We have, very likely, a single evolutionary origin of egg color,” she says.
What’s more, the analysis of pigments showed that dinosaur eggs even had spots and speckles. And that surprised Mark Hauber, an ornithologist and expert on eggs at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
“We not only know now that dinosaur eggs were colorful, but they were speckled, which is a whole other aspect of diversity,” says Hauber.
Dinosaurs may have needed these fancy eggs for all the same reasons as birds, suggesting that their behavior could have been just as complex.
“Dinosaur eggs could have been camouflaged, they could have been individually recognized, they could have been mimetic,” says Hauber. “So there are all the functions that are associated with spotting patterns on eggs that we did not even consider for dinosaur eggs.”
Plus, says Hauber, maybe distinctive colors and markings were linked to some egg-related dinosaur business we haven’t even thought of. A certain egg color might have warned would-be predators of danger, he says, “and that could be that the mama dinosaur comes back, or papa dinosaur comes back, and will beat you up.”
The Rev. William Barber marches outside the U.S. Capitol during a Poor People’s Campaign rally in June. On the left is co-leader of the Poor People’s Campaign, the Rev. Liz Theoharis.
Jose Luis Magana/AP
Jose Luis Magana/AP
Only about 200 people typically worship each Sunday at the Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, N.C., but as many as 40,000 others follow the service via Facebook livestream.
That huge online following reflects the growing fame of the Greenleaf pastor, the Rev. William Barber. A passionate preacher, anti-poverty activist, and civil rights leader, Barber has emerged as perhaps the most important figure in progressive U.S. Christianity, even while serving his small local congregation. This month, he was one of 25 Americans to be awarded a coveted MacArthur “Genius Grant,” with a no-strings-attached stipend of $625,000 over five years.
Barber, 55, has been the senior pastor at Greenleaf since 1993, but it has only been in recent years that he has gained a national following. As the leader of the North Carolina branch of the NAACP, Barber in 2013 launched the weekly “Moral Monday” demonstrations outside the state capitol in Raleigh to protest the enactment of restrictions on voting rights and a ban on transgender people using the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity rather than biological sex.
In 2016, Barber electrified the Democratic National Convention with a thundering prime-time speech, calling on activists to be “the moral defibrillator of our time” and “shock this nation with the power of love!”
Princeton professor Cornel West, in a blurb that year for Barber’s book The Third Reconstruction, said he was “the closest person we have to Martin Luther King, Jr. in our midst.”
Barber himself sees it as his mission to continue King’s work. Earlier this year, he and the Rev. Liz Theoharis of Union Theological Seminary revived King’s 1968 Poor People’s Campaign, organizing nonviolent protests around the country to demand living-wage laws, education equity, voting rights, universal health care, and an end to mass incarceration. On the day he learned of his MacArthur award, Barber was arrested in front of a McDonald’s in Chicago, where he was leading a demonstration for a higher minimum wage.
Still a small-town pastor
King gave up his local Alabama ministry in 1960 to devote his energies mainly to national work, though he continued to serve as co-pastor and occasionally preached at his father’s church in Atlanta. Barber, meanwhile, attends dutifully to the needs of his own small-town congregation while maintaining his outside activism. Within hours of returning from an anti-poverty demonstration in Kansas, he visited a parishioner in Goldsboro who was in critical condition and facing surgery. The next day he delivered the keynote speech at an “Awakening” meeting in Raleigh, focusing on the importance of voting, only to race back to Goldsboro immediately afterwards to preside at a wedding.
“My doctoral degree was in pastoral care,” Barber explains. “I don’t know how to be a pastor and not be concerned about the things that impact my own congregation. When I’m fighting for health care, I think about the people in my own congregation who have pre-existing conditions and will die without health care.”
Having served his Greenleaf congregation for 25 years, Barber knows the members personally, and his Sunday morning services have an intimate small-church character.
“Is anybody celebrating an anniversary? How about a birthday?” Barber asked as he opened worship on a recent Sunday. When a man in the eighth row stood up, Barber led the congregation in singing, “Happy Birthday.”
His local commitment while simultaneously leading a nationwide movement has impressed Marian Wright Edelman, who worked with Martin Luther King, Jr. on the original Poor People’s Campaign and then went on to establish the Children’s Defense Fund.
“Movements come from the bottom up, out of community institutions, out of local churches, and local day-to-day stuff, not from the top down,” Edelman said. “So in that sense, he’s grounded.”
Living with disability
Barber’s activism is all the more notable because he suffers from a debilitating and painful form of arthritis that has basically fused his vertebrae, making movement difficult. He is not able to turn his head from side to side, and he has trouble sitting. When he’s driven in a car, he needs the passenger seat to be fully reclined. At a worship service or rally, while waiting his turn to speak, Barber leans against a wooden stool. At 6′ 2″ and with a heavy frame, he needs a cane to walk.
“He definitely is a disabled person,” says Theoharis, his co-chair in the Poor People’s Campaign. “I think it’s really painful [for him], and yet he marches himself up stairs and stands and preaches for hours on end. He puts himself in those uncomfortable plane and car seats, just to be able to keep on spreading the gospel.”
In speeches and conversation, Barber often quotes a verse from the book of Micah: What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
For some people, being recognized as a “genius” might make it hard to “walk humbly” but Barber insists that will never be his problem.
“There was a time when they thought I’d never be able to walk again without a walker or being in a wheelchair,” he says. “So every day is a day of grace. Every day is a day of humility. I know that any day my body could be shut down. So it’s kind of hard for me to get up in the morning with a sense of arrogance and pride.”
From his rallies on the national stage to his local ministry, Barber moves smoothly between political and spiritual messages. At the “Awakening” meeting in Raleigh, held at the historically black Shaw University, Barber challenged African-American leaders to mobilize their communities in preparation for the mid-term elections, citing the civil rights struggles carried out decades earlier.
Politics as a spiritual practice
“We’ve been through too much,” he said. “We’ve fought too much. There are certain moments in time when you just have to say, ‘We’re not going back.’ I don’t know if Republicans are going to show up to the polls. I don’t know if Democrats are going to show up to the polls,” he hollered. “But I will tell you, the sons and daughters of slaves, we better the hell show up to the polls.”
The next day, in his Greenleaf sermon, Barber took a softer, more personal approach, emphasizing the peace that comes through faith.
“The love of Jesus says, ‘Come and eat,'” he repeated, over and over. “If you’ve been broken and need to be fed some restoration, come and eat! If you’ve been misunderstood and maligned and you need mercy, come to the holy mountain, come to the house of prayer. Come and eat! Come and eat! Come and eat!”
Rev. William Barber spoke earlier this month at a get-out-the-vote rally at Shaw University in Raleigh, N.C..
Tom Gjelten /NPR
Tom Gjelten /NPR
Once finished with his sermon, Barber made his way unsteadily to the side of the sanctuary. He said he could not get to the back of the church to greet the worshipers on their way out, but he invited those who wanted to speak to him to come up to where he sat.
Given his physical limitations, the time could come when Barber will have to choose between his local and national ministries. It would not be easy.
“I do not see any other reason to be alive if I’m not working to address the issues of systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation, the war economy,” he says, “and to challenge this false Christian narrative that says all God is concerned about is hating gay people, prayer in the schools, gun rights, [and] tax cuts, when I know that is not the Gospel.”
Asked what he plans to do with the MacArthur grant he has just received, Barber says he was told the award was given not for what he had done, but what he had the potential to do.
“I just intend to keep going,” he says, and then he returns to the words of the prophet Micah. “Otherwise, what’s the point of living, if you’re not going to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly before God? What’s the point?”
President Trump arrives to speak during an election rally in Murphysboro, Ill., on Oct. 27. He is doing a slew of events leading up to Election Day.
Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images
Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images
President Trump is back in campaign mode. After a brief pause to pay respects to victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, Trump is hosting a political rally in Fort Myers, Fla., on Wednesday. It’s one of 11 campaign rallies the president will hold in the next six days, in a furious final sprint to next week’s midterm elections.
With GOP congressional majorities on the line, Trump is investing considerable time and attention to campaigning this fall, with 30 political rallies on his calendar between Labor Day and Election Day.
“This isn’t bragging. There has never been anything like what’s happening,” Trump told Fox News’ Laura Ingraham this week. “I’m getting 25- and 30,000 people to these rallies.”
People familiar with Trump’s thinking say he’s given similar weight to helping Republican House candidates as he has to Senate candidates. But his rhetoric and rallies this final week appear tailored primarily to red states where control of the Senate will be decided, even at the cost of the most competitive House districts.
The president has been highlighting illegal immigration and other hot-button social issues, focusing attention on a caravan of Central American migrants slowly approaching the U.S. border through Mexico. This week, the Defense Department mobilized 5,200 troops to “harden” ports of entry and support border patrol agents.
“Many more troops coming,” Trump tweeted Wednesday. “We will NOT let these Caravans, which are also made up of some very bad thugs and gang members, into the U.S.”
Our military is being mobilized at the Southern Border. Many more troops coming. We will NOT let these Caravans, which are also made up of some very bad thugs and gang members, into the U.S. Our Border is sacred, must come in legally. TURN AROUND!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 31, 2018
Trump also reiterated his support for ending “birthright citizenship,” which grants citizenship to any child born on U.S. soil — including those born to immigrant parents living in the country illegally.
“So-called Birthright Citizenship, which costs our Country billions of dollars and is very unfair to our citizens, will be ended one way or the other,” Trump tweeted, amplifying comments he’d made to the website Axios.
For more than a century, birthright citizenship has been guaranteed by the 14th amendment to the Constitution. While Trump and some of his allies say the amendment has been misinterpreted, most legal scholars disagree.
The issue is catnip for anti-immigrant activists in the GOP base. But it’s a potential turnoff for many suburban voters, who may decide control of the House.
Rep. Ryan Costello, R-Pa., who represents a suburban district northwest of Philadelphia, called the president’s focus on birthright citizenship “political malpractice.”
We all know challenges of suburban R’s. The bloc of competitive R held districts less impacted by POTUS thus far are those w high # of immigrants. So now POTUS, out of nowhere, brings birthright citizenship up. Besides being basic tenet of America, it’s political malpractice.
— Ryan Costello (@RyanCostello) October 30, 2018
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., also disputed Trump’s claim that the amendment could be altered through an executive order.
“As a conservative, I’m a believer in followig the plain text of the Constitution,” Ryan told WVLK radio in Lexington, Ky., on Tuesday. “I think in this case the 14th amendment is pretty clear.”
Wednesday, Trump shot back.
“Paul Ryan should be focusing on holding the Majority rather than giving his opinions on Birthright Citizenship, something he knows nothing about!” the president tweeted. “Our new Republican Majority will work on this, Closing the Immigration Loopholes and Securing our Border! “
Both Ryan and Costello are leaving Congress at the end of this term.
Immigration is a more nuanced issue in red-state Senate contests, where Democrats as well as Republicans tout their law-and-order credentials.
In Missouri, where Trump will campaign on Thursday and again next Monday, Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill is running ads highlighting her endorsement by the National Border Patrol Council. She and her GOP opponent, Josh Hawley, agreed that Trump can’t alter birthright citizenship through an executive order.
Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., who’s in a tough re-election contest against Republican Mike Braun, stressed his repeated votes in favor of a border wall. Donnelly also said he’d be open to considering legislative changes to birthright citizenship.
Republicans in Florida worry that Trump’s focus on immigration could alienate Latinos, who represent 16 percent of that swing state’s registered voters.
GOP Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Mario Diaz-Balart, who represent the Miami area, both defended birthright citizenship on Tuesday. Trump’s rally on Wednesday is not near their south Florida districts.
Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who’s challenging Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., told the Miami Herald he hasn’t seen the president’s proposal and would need to fully review it.