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Trump’s Angry Rant About Biden’s Speech Showcases MAGA’s Ugliest Scam

Biden’s SOTU pushback on MAGA anti-immigrant rhetoric was a start. But it can be more forceful still.

Donald Trump
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Amid the barrage of tweets that Donald Trump fired off during President Biden’s State of the Union address, no topic was more central than the southern border. Trump highlighted GOP Senator Katie Britt’s comments on the subject in her otherwise universally panned response speech. “Her conversation on Migrant Crime was powerful and insightful,” Trump said on Truth Social, inventing a new criminological category in particularly ugly fashion.

All this stands as a reminder that Trump and his GOP allies in the MAGA movement have pulled off a truly monumental scam. They’ve managed to persuade large swaths of our media and political elites that their primary concern on the issue is with border security, which has served as cover for a different, more politically extreme preoccupation: the impact of migrants on the demographic makeup of the country.

In his speech, Biden took on this issue more forcefully than he has for some time. But there is still room for improvement: Rather than just fight over the border, Democrats could more frontally rebut the tacit arguments about demographics that Trump and MAGA Republicans are making.

In his Truth Social rant about Biden’s speech, Trump posted a chart that derided the recent immigration compromise brokered in the Senate, which Biden supported and Trump commanded Republicans to kill.

The chart is telling. That deal would invest billions of dollars in border security, migrant detention, and faster adjudication of migrant claims. All this would reduce the incentive for people to enter the country to seek asylum, which Republicans say draws migrants, creating border chaos. The deal would have gone some way—not all, but some—toward fixing the problem Republicans themselves rail about.

Yet Trump’s chart tells a series of lies about the bill designed to erase the fact that it would have promoted border security and efficiency. Trump and Republicans oppose the deal because it would make the system work better in allowing migrants to enter in an orderly, rule-bound way. They also oppose the deal because it didn’t kill Biden’s parole programs, which admit tens of thousands of migrants monthly who apply from afar, reducing pressure on the border.

Indeed, this week Trump floated a new conspiracy theory raging on the right—that those programs are secretly smuggling hordes of migrants into the United States. In reality, these programs are very public and were launched expressly to render the border less overwhelmed.

Here’s the bottom line: All this does not amount to a position that prioritizes “border security.” It’s a position that prioritizes ensuring that far fewer migrants settle in the country. Trump and Republicans rejected the prospect of a more secure border because the means of achieving it wouldn’t sufficiently slash orderly and legal immigration.

Underscoring the point, Trump also ranted that Biden refuses to “fix” immigration because he wants our country “flooded with migrants,” predicting this would produce a massive crime spree in the United States. And he singled out Senator Britt’s speech on “Migrant Crime,” which highlighted Laken Riley, a young woman who was brutally killed, allegedly by a Venezuelan migrant.

This too gives away the MAGA “border security” scam. What happened to that woman is a horror, and her parents merit our deepest sympathies, as Biden noted in his speech. But nonetheless, “Migrant Crime,” i.e., the supposed link between crime and undocumented immigration, is an invention.

The casual ease with which MAGA Republicans apply this smear to this one group shouldn’t escape us. They are granting themselves license to express fear and loathing of “Migrant Crime” as simply a stand-in for expressing fear and loathing of too many migrants in the U.S.

Need more? All this comes as senior Republicans are ramping up a sanitized version of “great replacement theory.” This holds that Democrats are deliberately flooding the country with “illegals” to turn them into “voters” who dramatically and permanently shift the makeup of the U.S. electorate against native-born Americans.

In an important way, this resembles the “Migrant Crime” trope. As Vox’s Eric Levitz notes, given that the vast majority of migrants likely will never become citizens who gain the right to vote, in objecting to these supposedly illicit voters-in-waiting, Republicans are actually objecting far more broadly to “recent nonwhite immigrants.”

In his speech, Biden took on some of this. He emotionally described immigrants as central to our national identity. He again called for reform securing the border and making the asylum system more functional. Importantly, he called out Trump’s vile claim that migrants are “poisoning the blood of our country.” It’s good that Biden directly took issue with Trump’s most explicit demonstration yet that in the MAGA imagination, “border crisis” is actually a stand-in for a perceived demographic crisis.

Yet on some level, we are still locked in a make-believe place—a place where we pretend the parties are arguing over how best to secure the border, as opposed to over whether immigration is good or bad for the country. Biden and Democrats could more frontally take this on and flush the true MAGA position out into the open: They could say that immigrants are driving our economic boom, that they have helped tackle inflation, and that they have helped make the U.S. post-pandemic economy one of the Western world’s success stories.

Biden could say plainly that another Trump presidency, by dramatically slashing legal immigration and unleashing mass deportations that tear up local communities and economies, would kill that golden goose that has delivered for us so spectacularly. Biden could say: That’s insanity, and I will not allow it to happen.

The argument we’re largely skirting is that one. The result? The Trump-MAGA use of “border security” concerns as a smokescreen for rank demographic demagoguery still passes mostly unchallenged. And that’s too bad. Instead, it should be called out as the terrible and destructive scam that it is.