Donald Trump visits border: What (or who) is his target?

Donald Trump didn't get the memo about front-runners not deigning to notice those trailing in the polls. He's hitting his GOP rivals head on. He's also helping them get noticed. 

Stephen B. Morton/AP
Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump speaks at his South Carolina campaign kickoff rally in Bluffton, S.C., on Tuesday. Trump’s visit to the US-Mexico border today promises new challenges for the GOP’s years-in-the-making push to attract Hispanic voters.

Donald Trump is in Laredo, Texas, today for a visit to the US-Mexico border. The American political world is tingling with anticipation for what he’ll say.

Some of that tingling is positive. Trump has many supporters for his unwelcoming attitude toward immigrants in the country illegally. That’s one reason he’s leading GOP primary polls.

Heaps of it is negative. Many top Republicans think “train wreck” is too mild a word to describe Trump’s impact on the party and its attempts to increase its appeal to Hispanic voters.

The general public’s attitudes here are more complicated. Generally speaking, it’s not true that Trump has tapped into a gushing wellspring of anti-immigrant feeling, points out The Washington Post today.

Sixty percent of respondents to a Washington Post/ABC News poll supported allowing undocumented immigrants to remain in the US and work legally, with some conditions, points out The Fix blog’s Janell Ross.

Self-described Republicans weren’t so keen on this idea, though. A slight majority of 51 percent opposed allowing undocumented immigrants to stay.

And the country as a whole doesn’t support the Democratic Party on immigration. The GOP wins on the question of which party’s immigration policies the public most supports, by 40 to 37 percent.

“In a nutshell, people think that the country should craft some sort of way for people already in the country illegally to remain and participate in the workforce lawfully,” Ross writes. “But, they don’t feel strongly enough about that to heap political rewards on any particular political party.”

Of course, the relevant question this morning in regard to Trump might be who he’s going to attack, as opposed to what sort of immigration actions he’ll espouse. In recent days he’s engaged in vituperative arguments with his GOP rivals, particularly former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham.

Trump read out Senator Graham’s phone number during a speech after Graham called him (Trump) a “jackass." Graham responded with humor, asking his Twitter followers whether his new phone should be Android or iPhone, and taping a YouTube video in which he destroyed his old flip phone model.

Governor Perry, on the other hand, has gone full-attack-Monty. He unloaded on Trump in a speech, saying Trump is “the modern incarnation of the know-nothing movement.”

“He offers a barking carnival act that be best described as Trumpism; a toxic mix of demagoguery, mean-spiritedness, and nonsense that will lead the Republican Party to perdition, if pursued,” said Perry.

Those are tough words. Also, full marks for alliteration! We’d be unsurprised if Trump fires back at Perry during his border appearance. He’ll be in Perry’s home state, for one thing. Plus, Perry’s all-in on the fight, which means it’s likely to continue.

Remember, the Trump carnival is a big opportunity for the second- and third-tier candidates in the polls. They’re struggling to get noticed in a big, raucous field. The first debate is coming up on Aug. 6, and only the Top 10 contenders will get in. How to boost named recognition? I know, we’ll mention “Trump!” That’ll get noticed.

Trump’s obliging by punching downward. He’s an exception to the political rule that front-runners shouldn’t deign to notice those lagging in the poll dust.

For Perry, Graham, et al, the stakes are high. It’s important for them to appear in the main debate, not the “kids’ table” forum held for the also-rans, writes political scientist Jonathan Bernstein.

Why? Because the presence of Trump at the main event will guarantee a huge audience.

“Getting noticed is the biggest challenge for candidates who aren’t at the front of the pack,” writes Bernstein in his Bloomberg View column. “And the first step to getting noticed is being where people are looking in the first place.”

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