Donald Trump’s journey from ‘American Carnage’ to ‘Biden Border Bloodbath’

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The Scene

Donald Trump arrived in Grand Rapids shortly after 2 p.m. today, sitting at a table covered in photos of the dead. All of them, he explained, had been killed by “illegals” — all of them were victims of a “Biden Border Bloodbath,” the crisis he was there to talk about. The word had completed its unusual journey, from an off-the-cuff remark to a campaign talking point.

“They tried to use that term incorrectly on me two weeks ago,” Trump said at his next stop, flanked by local sheriffs and political supporters behind a sign: STOP BIDEN’S BORDER BLOODBATH. “Joe Biden has brought the carnage, chaos, and killing from all over the world and dumped it straight into our backyards.”

Trump had warned of a “bloodbath for the country” if he lost the election on March 16, at a rally in Dayton, Ohio, while discussing trade policies around automobiles. Democrats seized on the line immediately, the Biden campaign insisting that the “bloodbath” riff, ostensibly about the economic damage from a second Biden term, was Trump “doubl[ing] down on his threats of political violence.”

But the Trump campaign saw an opportunity. Forty-eight hours after the speech, it released a video about “Biden’s Border Bloodbath,” compiling horror stories from local news — “immigrants face sexual battery charges,” “fatal car crash by an illegal immigrant” — and adding movie trailer music.

“When you read local headlines every day about Americans being raped, assaulted, and killed by illegals, and when you meet the grieving families of those who were brutally murdered by illegals, like Laken Riley’s, bloodbath is a very appropriate word to describe what’s going on,” Trump spokeswoman Karoline Leavitt told Semafor.

In the days following the first bloodbath reference, multiple Republican members of Congress used the same language to highlight crime connected to migrants. “Dead Americans. Dead migrants. Biden’s border bloodbath,” posted Texas Rep. Chip Roy, one of the few GOP members of the House who backed Gov. Ron DeSantis over Trump in the primary.

Pro-Trump media like OANN quickly adopted the slogan, too. And on Tuesday, in sync with the Trump trip, the Republican National Committee launched a “Biden Bloodbath” microsite, collecting stories of “illegal alien crime” across the country.

According to the Trump campaign, if re-elected this year, the former president would bring back the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement office (VOICE), a tip line where Americans could report offenses by people who might be deportable, which Biden had closed down.

The Democratic response was a shudder.

“It’s shameful that the former president would use our community in mourning as the backdrop for his political theater,” said Michigan Rep. Hillary Scholten, an immigration attorney elected to represent Grand Rapids in 2022, in a statement.

David’s view

Trump has been warning about migrant crime and telling gruesome murder stories since he entered the 2016 presidential campaign. What’s new this year, as seen in the “bloodbath” messaging reboot, is the confidence that doing this will cost him nothing with non-white voters. To understate things a bit: Democrats are skeptical.

“I believe that this rhetoric deeply offends a lot more people than they think,” said Julián Castro, a 2020 presidential challenger to Biden who now leads the Latino Community Foundation. “It’s going to turn off a lot of folks who believe that we should be better than that as a country.”

The Democratic theory is that the truth will out: that violent crime is falling, and that immigrants commit fewer crimes than American citizens. Trump mangles data to make it sound worse, telling reporters in Grand Rapids that crime in Venezuela had fallen “67% from what it was a year and a half ago,” implying that the country had solved its domestic problems by exporting them to the Rio Grande. (Venezuelan crime is down 67% from what it was in 2016, not 2022, according to the Venezuelan Violence Observatory.)

Democrats talk about Trump like they have since he launched his first campaign with a warning about illegal immigrants “bringing drugs” and “bringing crime” across the border — as a racist exploiting human suffering to win votes. In “Change,” an ad the Biden campaign put into rotation late last month, Democrats went after Trump for the 2015 launch speech and his December comment on illegal immigrants “poisoning the blood” of the country.

“What the hell is he talking about?” Biden says in the ad. “The reason we’re as good as we are is because we’re the most diverse country in the world.”

But in 2016, Trump won just 21% of non-white voters; in 2020, after doing exactly what he said he’d do about illegal immigration, he won 26%. He is running better than that right now with Black, Latino, and Asian voters in polls, with no evidence of a backlash for the way he talks about immigration.

That’s popularized his approach across the GOP. In New Hampshire, former Sen. Kelly Ayotte has run for governor with a relentless focus on migration to Massachusetts, a “sanctuary state” that has been taking arrivals from Texas. “Illegal immigrants are overwhelming these communities, severely draining local resources, driving crime, and destroying once-great American cities,” Ayotte wrote last month, adopting the language of a president she’d once rejected as a “matter of principle.”

In Texas, ground zero for Republicans moving right on immigration and winning handily, Rep. Tony Gonzales was forced into a runoff after local conservatives protested his vote for a gun control bill and his squeamishness about detaining asylum-seekers in jails. He had transformed his own rhetoric about immigration, but too late to satisfy MAGA conservatives.

“Never forget that Tony Gonzales called the Chip Roy legislation to secure the border UNCHRISTIAN,” Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz posted on X last week, after rallying with the congressman’s runoff opponent Brandon Herrera. (Roy had written the asylum-seeker bill, which Gonzales ended up supporting after it was amended.) “Tony is an amnesty Republican.”

Trump’s approach hasn’t changed, but the party has. In 2015, Trump’s campaign began working with the Texas-based Remembrance Project to connect with “angel families” — people whose sons or daughters were killed by people in the country illegally. Other Republicans were wary of being seen as tarring immigrants with such a broad brush. Some thought it was offensive.

Trump’s presidency, and his improved performance with non-white voters, quieted any internal opposition to the strategy. “Biden’s Border Bloodbath” is now basic Republican messaging.

“The migrants, in many cases, are murderers and drug dealers,” Trump told podcaster Justin Barclay on Monday, previewing the Michigan trip in language that echoed his 2015 speech. Citing TV reports he’d watched, Trump said foreign leaders were emptying out their jails to send criminals to the United States — a longtime fact-free accusation which made sense for them, if true.

“I’d do the same thing,” Trump explained. “I’d empty out every prison, I’d empty out every mental institution, and that’s what the countries are doing.”


Vanessa Cárdenas, the executive director of the pro-immigration reform group America’s Voice, said voters might have “collective amnesia” about what immigration policy under Trump was like. While she thought the Senate’s bipartisan immigration bill “missed the mark” by not including pathways to citizenship, Republicans who sunk it had shown that they didn’t care about public safety.

“Trump kind of opened up the floodgates in 2016, but he’s now full-on anti-immigrant,” she said. “Eight years ago it would have been unheard of for a politician to speak in the dehumanizing way he speaks about immigrants. The entire GOP is amplifying this narrative of invasion and great replacement.”

Castro, who in 2020 ran on decriminalizing illegal border crossings, said that “the Overton window has moved to the right under Trump,” and “too many Democrats have been afraid of pushing back on the immigration issue” under Biden by telling a positive story about immigration while enforcing the law.

“There’s been very little of that from the President and the administration over these last few years,” said Castro. “That was a mistake. Basically, we’ve been put in a corner. That kind of dynamic does not build up in one day, or one week, or one month, or even one year. It builds up over time in politics. And that’s what we’re watching now.”


  • In The Associated Press, Will Weissert and Jill Colvin look at how Trump’s immigration messaging “appears to be resonating with key elements of the Democratic coalition that Biden will need to win over this November.”

  • In their Politix podcast, Matthew Yglesias and Brian Beutler argue over whether Democrats should have picked a fight over “bloodbath,” or whether they’re better off ignoring Trump’s rhetoric in favor of his conservative tax policies.

  • In the Detroit News, Chad Livengood explains how Michigan Republicans, coming off a difficult year, are “banking on immigrant crime as the issue that will motivate so-called security moms this fall to come back to the GOP.”