LAREDO, Texas—You want the Trump show to be over. But it’s not over.
You want to ignore Donald Trump. You think maybe if you ignore him long enough, he will go away. Well, guess what? He’s not going away.
Trump is in Laredo, Texas, on Thursday, not because he wants to be, but because he is needed. “The border patrol—they’re the ones that invited me here,” he says.
Trump has just emerged from the tarmac into the private-jet terminal of the Laredo airport. His slab of a face is framed by a jostling halo of reporters. There are cameras above him, cameras in front of him, cameras practically standing on top of each other to broadcast his message, which obviously must mean he has something very big, very important to say.
So, the border patrol. Well, actually the border-patrol union, which is known for its anti-immigration views and which is not a part of the U.S. government. The union pulled out this morning, they didn’t really say why, but Trump has an idea.
Since announcing his presidential campaign a month ago, Trump has been saying things they don’t want you to know. He’s been talking about the dangers posed by illegal immigration—the criminals, the rapists, pouring over the border. This is not a popular or politically correct thing to talk about. (It is also not true, according to the official sources, but Trump has his own, more mysterious sources of information.) And so they, apparently, got to the border-patrol union. “I heard they got those orders from Washington,” Trump says, declining to elaborate.
But Trump is here nonetheless. He came here on his 757, a giant passenger plane with TRUMP on its navy-blue fuselage. There were 18 photographers waiting for him on the tarmac and at least as many inside the terminal. A couple-dozen protesters, organized by the Zapatista Council of the League of United Latin American Citizens, are making speeches under a tree outside.
Laredo is 96 percent Hispanic and heavily Democratic. “He does not belong here,” shouts Henry Rodriguez, who is wearing a Mexican flag as a headband and a red Zapatista Council T-shirt. “We don’t want him here! He is a joke.”
A 90-year-old World War II veteran, Jose Elizondo, sits on a lawn chair. He is offended on behalf of John McCain, the Arizona senator, who spent five and a half years in a prison camp in Vietnam, repeatedly refusing early release or special treatment despite being tortured. Trump, last weekend, said McCain was “not a war hero.” (Trump also said McCain was a war hero, and it is so typical of the press, when Trump says two completely opposite things, to report the bad thing he said and ignore the other, contradictory, non-bad statement.)
Elizondo’s common-law wife, 85-year-old Grace Garcia, is wearing a button that says “America con Hillary.” She says, with satisfaction, “Our Democratic Party is taking a lot of strength from this.”
Inside the terminal, the hovering reporters move with Trump like a swarm of bees. They shout questions every time he closes his mouth. Where does he get this idea that it’s dangerous on the border? “People say, ‘Oh, it’s so dangerous, Mr. Trump, it’s so dangerous what you’re doing!’” he says. “I have to do it. I have to do it.”
The media, you may have noticed, is full of Trump—explanations of Trump, denunciations of Trump, justifications of Trump, analyses of Trump, handwringing about the coverage of Trump, and accounts of the latest outrageous thing Trump has done. He is on the front page of every newspaper, the top of every newscast. They can’t believe it; they can’t get their heads around it, that this is happening, and not only is it happening, it is the biggest thing in American politics right now. It has consumed American politics. It—Trump—is bigger than the entire rest of the Republican field, which, by the way, has 15 other people in it—governors, senators, very big, very serious people. Trump is bigger than them all.
Trump is so big they are attacking him just to get themselves noticed. Lindsey Graham, the senator from South Carolina, called Trump a “jackass,” so Trump gave out his cell-phone number on national television, and suddenly Lindsey Graham, languishing at less than 1 percent in the polls, was all anybody was talking about. You’re welcome, Lindsey Graham.
All these Republicans seemed to love Trump when they were begging him for all the money and attention he could give them (and while Trump was asking for the president’s birth certificate, which, by the way, did you notice he succeeded in getting Obama to release?). But now, Rick Perry, the former governor of Texas, is giving a speech in Washington calling Trump a “cancer on conservatism.” “Rick Perry I don’t think even understands what he is saying,” Trump says.
Who are you going to believe, the pundits? The pundits said Trump would never get this far. They said he would never actually run for president, because he thought about it in 1988, and said he was thinking about it in 2004, and floated it again in 2012. They said he just wanted attention—for his reality television show, for his golf courses, his buildings, his product lines. They said he would never disclose his assets, as required by election law. They pointed out that he is a germophobe who does not like to shake hands, as if something like that would stop Trump when he believed his country was in trouble.
Then, when he did run, they said he would not get anywhere, because, according to polls, the majority of Republicans can’t stand him. Now that he has risen to the top of the field, they say he won’t last. But why should you believe them now?
The pundits love to talk about what Trump is really doing, because he can’t really be running to be president. Is he trying to boost his brand? Is he trying to make more money? But money-wise, this deal is a loser for Trump. He has lost his hit TV show and his Macy’s clothing line. Univision refused to air the Trump-owned Miss USA pageant. He is funding the campaign out of his own pocket.
What if—the most terrifying thought of all—the presidency, not approval or money or anything else, is what he really wants? “I’m in first place by a lot, it seems, according to all the polls,” Trump says, in his New York accent, with his usual facial expression: a sort of perpetually nonplussed duckface, like he is continually being impressed with himself anew. “We’ll see soon enough, but I think I’ll get the nomination.”
Trump is standing, now, in a sweaty little tent next to an eight-lane trucking bridge that connects Laredo, in the U.S., with Nuevo Laredo, in Mexico. Traffic on the U.S. side has been halted—the semis are backed up as far as the eye can see; Laredo is America’s largest inland port—and Trump has just toured the administrative post on the other side of the highway. “We were treated so nicely,” he says. “We learned so much in such a quick period of time.”
Trump is wearing white golf shoes, pale khakis, a blazer with gold buttons, and a white cap that says MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN above a braided cord. The strawberry-blond hair at his temples is moist with sweat. Behind him are two very New York-looking men with dark suits and earpieces. There are at least 50 reporters clustered in the tent. They came here on two air-conditioned charter buses, furnished by Trump.
One of the policemen guarding the tent, Sergeant Robert Medina, tells me to Google the television series he was in some years ago, Bordertown: Laredo. Everybody likes to be famous. Everybody has a reality show these days. Medina, a former narcotics officer whose father immigrated from Mexico, says he sees with his own eyes the things Trump describes. He spits a stream of tobacco juice. “He’s made some pretty profound statements,” Medina says. “I’d vote for him twice if I could.”
The horde of reporters shout for Trump’s attention. Mister Trump! Mister Trump! MIS-TER TRUMP! Again Trump is asked for evidence of the supposed danger. “We’ll be showing you the evidence,” he says. Next question.
What about the people who have called Trump a racist? “Well, you know, we just landed, and there were a lot of people at the airport, and they were all waving American flags, and they were all in favor of Trump and what I’m doing, virtually everyone that we saw.”
No, a reporter says. Those people were protesting against you! “Well, I didn’t see that,” he says.
Trump gives the podium to the mayor, Pete Saenz, a Democrat, who says that NAFTA, which Trump opposes, “has been very good to us,” and that he believes that immigration reform must include not just border security, but “other elements” as well, presumably meaning a way for the millions of undocumented immigrants to become citizens. Trump gives the podium to the city manager, Jesus Olivares, who says, of Trump’s proposal to build a border fence, “We don’t think that’s necessary at this time.” Saenz and Olivares, Trump says, are both “tremendous people.”
About the wall, Trump says, “Certain sections, you have to have a wall.” He adds, “Absolutely, there are areas that you have to have the wall.” About the prospect of citizenship for the undocumented, he says, “The first thing we have to do is strengthen our borders, and after that, we’re going to have plenty of time to talk about it. Thank you, thank you.” The 10-minute press conference is over. Trump walks back to his police-escorted Cadillac Escalade. The reporters get back on their buses.
Trump has the Republican Party by the throat. It cannot figure out how to get rid of him. The party elites, those snobs in D.C. who do not respect or understand the people out there in America, are tearing their hair out over the damage Trump is supposedly doing to the party. “He is, I believe, causing some problems,” Randy Blair, the county Republican chairman, a polite, mustached accountant in a gray-tweed suit, tells me as we ride on Trump’s bus.
In Blair’s opinion, Laredo is an extremely safe place and a wall would be a waste of money. I ask him about Trump’s comments about the border. “I wasn’t offended, because I didn’t take it as an intelligent statement,” he says. “I’m more offended if he truly meant what he said about John McCain.”
Yet the party has no power over Trump. He has the money, he has the press, he has the voters. If he does not feel the GOP is treating him fairly, he is considering running as an independent instead. In that case, polls indicate he would take a chunk of votes from the Republican candidate, and Hillary Clinton would win by a large margin.
So the party has to be nice to him; it has to let him on the stage. The 20 percent of the party that loves Trump may be dumb or racist or angry or wrong, but the Republican Party cannot live without them. The GOP is damned if Trump stays and damned if he goes, and no one knows how the show will end.
Trump’s last event of the day is a meeting to which members of local law-enforcement agencies have been invited, held in a small banquet room near the airport. At least half of the 100 chairs are filled with media, with more in the aisle and sitting and standing on the floor. “The press has been amazing,” Trump says, gesturing around him. “I really appreciate it. The turnout of press has been incredible.”
From the front row, Jose Diaz-Balart, the MSNBC host, shouts a question about “rapists and murderers.” Trump cuts him off: “You know what, that’s a typical case of the press with misinterpretation,” he says.
The Trump supporters in the audience cheer. “That’s what’s wrong with this country!” shouts a man with tattoos up and down both arms. Diaz-Balart asks to finish his question. “No, you’re finished,” Trump says, to more cheers.
Outside in the sun, Elizabeth Allen, a 57-year-old Laredo resident whose brown hair spikes up behind a black headband, cannot contain her excitement. “We can’t go to the dentist because it’s too expensive, but the Mexicans come here and have their babies and get food stamps and welfare and healthcare,” she says. “They live here in the ugliest little houses. They will kill for their flag, do anything for Mexico. They will never love our country. They are here only to use us and to steal our money.”
Allen grew up near the border; she says her uncle was stabbed by an illegal immigrant. “They have a saying in Spanish: Mi corazon esta en Mexico, pero mi estomago esta en los Estados Unidos.” She says it in flawless Spanish—her first language.
Back at the terminal, Air Trump is taking off. He has been in Texas for about three hours. He spoke to the media for about 15 minutes in total. He did not even make an attempt to talk to local Republican voters. Tomorrow, he will be on the front page again; he will lead all the newscasts. The summer of Trump will continue.
You can’t stop it. Nobody can.
Trump is just too big.