Some in the national media are dismissing the Central American caravan of several thousand migrants as a legitimate security concern and instead are casting it as a way for President Trump and Republicans to scare people into voting and to inflame racial tensions before the midterm elections.
Trump has used campaign rallies and Twitter to rail against the thousands of migrants that have started to travel through Mexico toward the U.S. border, where they are expected to seek asylum. On Monday, he said allowing thousands of additional people to enter would be unfair to those trying to enter legally.
"Criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in. I have alerted Border Patrol and Military that this is a National Emerg[enc]y," Trump tweeted. "Must change laws!"
Trump also tweeted out that people should "blame Democrats" for going easy on illegal immigrants and to "remember the midterms." But many in the national press see Trump's comments as an election gambit and not a dire security situation.
A New York Times article called the series of tweets from Trump an attempt “to stoke fear about the caravan.”
Liberal Times columnist Charles Blow said Sunday the focus on immigration was about racism.
“It encapsulates a sentiment without expressly articulating it,” wrote Blow. “America is being invaded and overrun by people who are not white and not European, which risks the maintenance of American heritage, which is white heritage.”
The same day, on CNN, Washington Post writer Max Boot accused Trump of “demagoguery” and of “really pandering to the fears of Trump supporters and Fox News viewers who tend to be older, white, male who are alarmed about the supposed invasion of dark-skinned newcomers coming to America.”
In another one of his tweets last week, Trump shared a video, first shared by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., which appeared to show money being handed out to the caravan migrants. “Can you believe this, and what Democrats are allowing to be done to our Country?” Trump said in the tweet.
The Washington Post fact-checker devoted a column the following day aimed at disputing assertions by some conservatives that the money was coming from liberal activists in the U.S.
“While we haven’t been able to pin down exactly who was distributing cash in Guatemala, there is no evidence to back up claims that [billionaire George] Soros, U.S.-backed NGOs or the Democrats are secretly organizing this caravan,” the column said. “As always at The Fact Checker, the burden of proof is on the speaker. This seems to be a cherry-picked video reused as a political scare tactic.”
Most criticism and coverage coming from the media on the immigration rhetoric of Trump and other Republicans characterizes it in terms of political effect or it attempts to fact check the specifics of the claims. But the coverage rarely addresses the matter as a legitimate issue for conservative and independent voters or explores why it has proven to be a potent issue heading into the midterm elections, as it was during the 2016 election.
The Real Clear Politics state-by-state polling average shows that six states are considered toss-ups in their Senate races, including Florida, Indiana and Missouri, all three of which have an incumbent Democrat fending off a close Republican challenger. A Pulse Opinion Research poll put out earlier this month and sponsored by the right-leaning NumbersUSA group, for example, said that in each of those states, a majority of likely midterm election voters favored a reduction in the annual admittance rate for immigrants in the U.S.
Many in the media have instead, however, concentrated on pushing back against the Republican campaign rhetoric.
“Please, don't see these people as Trump does, monsters on the march,” CNN’s Chris Cuomo said to viewers on Thursday. “See them as they are: Desperate, leaving behind whatever they had, and whomever they knew, all for a better chance at life, a real life. Trump seems to see them instead as the Walking Dead, this walking threat, especially to his posture as Mr. Tough Guy on the border.”
A New York Times article over the weekend did say, however, that Democrats acknowledge they do not have the political upper hand on immigration and are avoiding it on purpose.
“Some strategists who have been advising Democrats on immigration issues have instructed them not to get drawn into a detailed debate by Republicans seeking to attack their positions, but to quickly pivot to friendlier terrain such as health care and wages," it said.