Donald Trump on Thursday landed in this Texas border town to meet with local officials, speak with law enforcement and tour the border between the U.S. and Mexico that has become a contentious symbol in his campaign for president.
Four hours later, he was gone.
Speaking from in front of a road leading in and out of Mexico after a roughly 15-minute meeting with the mayor, city manager and other Laredo officials, Trump said he had learned a lot about the situation along that border and once again called for sweeping efforts to address the “huge problem” of illegal immigration.
And in this city that is 95% Hispanic, Trump didn’t back away from his trademark confidence and claimed a broad base of support from Latino voters.
“I think I’ll win the Hispanic vote,” Trump told reporters after touring the World Trade Bridge in Laredo, Texas. “Over the years, thousands and thousands of Hispanics have worked for me.”
The visit was the culmination of more than a month of attention centered around Trump’s branding of undocumented Mexican immigrants as killers and rapists – remarks that have drawn condemnation from the Republican establishment but also helped rocket him to the top of the polls.
Trump is leading several national surveys for the Republican presidential nomination – snagging 24% in a poll released Monday – but his trip here also came as he aimed to shake the focus off of his comments questioning the war hero status of Republican Sen. John McCain, comments that threatened his rise in the polls.
And aside from a group of protesters, several of them veterans, who greeted Trump at the airport, Trump largely avoided the topic.
Instead he was pressed on his solutions to address border security and illegal immigration – providing few, if any concrete proposals – and responded to speculation that he could leave the GOP and run for the White House as an independent, something he suggested in an interview published the same morning. Trump also told The Hill that the Republican National Committee has not been supportive of his candidacy as a Republican.
“I want to run as a Republican,” he said, arguing the party’s presidential nomination is his surest ticket to the White House.
On Thursday, though, Trump was listening to a Democrat: the city’s mayor, Pete Saenz.
After the local union of border patrol agents backed out of their invitation to give Trump a tour of the border under pressure at the last minute, Trump instead spent time with Saenz and other Laredo officials – first aboard his plane and then at a facility alongside a commercial border crossing between the U.S. and Mexico, where hundreds of trucks lined up bring shipments through Laredo.
There, city officials gave Trump an overview of how the area works, discussing border security but also pointing to the billions of dollars in trade annually that pass through their city.
The border tour, though, wasn’t much of a tour and was a far cry from the “boots on the ground” perspective border patrol agents had initially planned. Instead, Trump was shuttled via motorcade into the Laredo border facility and back out, and his shoes touched nothing but hard pavement.
And trailing along was the media circus that has come to define Trump’s typically lightning-fast swoops through campaign ground – this time herded into two coach buses from one brief event to the next.
And the reporters hurling questions at Trump and sticking cameras in his face came from a broad spectrum – with notably several Spanish-language outlets covering the trip, including four different Telemundo outlets from the region.
The trip, Trump said, was essential – despite the fact that it came amid security concerns he played up in anticipation of and during his border visit.
“They say it’s a great danger but I have to do it. I love the country,” Trump said, without specifying who told him he faced such danger.
And he also hailed the law enforcement agents – several of whom work for the U.S. Border Patrol – who filled a reception hall in Laredo to hear Trump speak for just a few minutes, thanking the agents for coming to see him despite the “danger you’re under.”
In that room, it was clear Trump’s message resonated – as cheers and hoots of support met Trump’s insistence that border patrol agents needed more backing from Washington to do their jobs.
But Trump has yet to come up with any concrete proposals to address illegal immigration and beef up border security – other than to erect a massive wall along the border and make Mexico pay for it.
Trump didn’t back away from that even after Laredo city manager Jesus Olivares, whom Trump said he wanted to hire, said he didn’t believe a wall was needed to address border security.
But Trump did do something he isn’t known for: he qualified his position.
“You have to have a wall,” Trump said after adding three key words: “In certain sections.”