In a state known for its devotion to the Second Amendment, President Donald Trump came out firing at a Houston rally for Senator Ted Cruz on Monday night.
The president, who was in town to gin up support for Cruz, came armed with his usual bombastic rhetoric, blasting Democrats on the need for heightened border security and making unsubstantiated claims about “illegal aliens” coming out to vote in United States elections in droves.
Cruz is currently enjoying a spirited challenge from the left in the form of progressive Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who, in the months since securing his primary nomination, has shocked pundits and constituents alike with his popularity in deep red Texas, and currently trails Cruz by just 7 percentage points.
On Monday, Trump addressed the unexpectedly competitive nature of the race head on, and also attempted to sour voters on O’Rourke by describing him as a left-wing radical.
“Ted’s opponent in this race is a stone-cold phony named Robert Francis O’Rourke, sometimes referred to as ‘Beto,’” Trump told the crowd, referring to the congressman’s longtime nickname. “He pretends to be a moderate, but he’s actually a radical, open-borders left-winger.”
Throughout the evening, Trump relied on predictably bellicose rhetoric around immigration in particular, hammering O’Rourke over past comments in support of sanctuary cities and the need to examine the role of the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency. At one point, the president self-identified as a “nationalist” — a political ideology that carries with it a heavy connotation of tribalistic jingoism and has been associated with some of the most oppressive regimes in human history.
“You know what I am? I’m a nationalist, okay?” Trump told the crowd, which promptly erupted in chants of ‘USA! USA!’ “Nationalist. Use that word.”
Trump also harped on the so-called caravan of migrants currently marching towards the southern border of the U.S., and called upon Democrats to take action.
“I think the Democrats had something to do with it,” the president said, despite zero existing evidence that would support that theory. “That’s an assault on our country.”
With or without Trump’s help, the Texas Senate election is drawing unprecedented levels of interest from voters within and outside the state.
On Monday — the first day of early voting — the Texas Tribune reported that the Lone Star State saw “tens of thousands” of voters flock to the polls in a first-day turnout that dwarfed that of the last midterm election, in 2014. In Harris County — the largest county in Texas in terms of population — the Houston Chronicle reported that some 63,188 turned out to cast ballots, more than doubling the previous first-day record, set in 2010.