How DeSantis says he can outdo Trump on the border

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It’s not so much a contrast but an amplification of Trump policies that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis hopes will get him the Republican nomination.

Delivering his first major policy pitch as a presidential candidate, DeSantis appeared this week near the Texas border with Mexico and pledged to outdo former President Donald Trump on Trump’s signature issue of immigration.

Trump, running in his third straight presidential election, has been focused on immigration, with pledges to finish a border wall, end birthright citizenship and impose the death penalty on drug traffickers.

The meat of what DeSantis proposes is very similar to Trump, but with the added tweak that the governor says he can actually deliver.

Both men promise to crack down at the border, build a wall and keep undocumented people from entering society.

CNN’s Steve Contorno and Kit Maher wrote this from Eagle Pass, Texas, after watching DeSantis roll out his plan:

The tagline for his platform – “no excuses” – invokes DeSantis’ chief criticism of the Trump presidency as a period of unmet promises. Over the weekend, his campaign tweeted a clip of Trump promising “the largest domestic deportation operation in American history,” with the comment: “Trump ran on this same promise in 2016, but ended up deporting fewer illegals than Barack Obama.”

Trump also noted the similarities between his promises and what DeSantis wants to do, and mocked DeSantis for it.

“I saw DeSantis yesterday, he got up and said exactly what I was doing,” with his border and immigration policies, Trump said after both men appeared in New Hampshire Tuesday.

One distinction between their plans is that DeSantis says he would be “more aggressive in terms of our plan than anything (Trump) did in empowering local officials to enforce immigration law.”

In Eagle Pass, for instance, DeSantis said he wants state officials in Texas and other border states to begin unilaterally deporting undocumented people, something not currently allowed under US law.

Contorno and Maher note the US Supreme Court, in an 8-1 decision last week, said Texas and Louisiana did not have the standing to sue the Biden administration over how it prioritizes which noncitizens to deport, affirming previous decisions that made clear enforcing immigration laws is primarily a federal, not a state, matter.

Any trouble DeSantis would encounter tasking state governments with deportation would pale in comparison with the difficulty of his and Trump’s desire to end birthright citizenship – the guarantee within the 14th Amendment, passed in the wake of the Civil War to protect freed slaves, that people born in the US are automatically US citizens.

Trump has been teasing an end to birthright citizenship for years, but there is not currently a meaningful effort to change the Constitution.

Trump has pledged to sign an executive order. DeSantis has said he would lean on Congress and the court system. Actually changing the Constitution would be nearly impossible in today’s political environment.

DeSantis proposed the use of “deadly force” for migrants trying to break through barriers.

Back in 2018, Trump tried to say American troops deployed to the border could use “lethal force” against approaching groups of migrants.

His defense secretary at the time, James Mattis, later clarified that troops deployed to the border would not be carrying firearms.

On DeSantis’ website, there is a video where he pledges to “stop the invasion” – and he said on Monday that states should be able to “declare an invasion.”

Trump has used that term repeatedly in the past.

It is perhaps a problem for Trump that he wants credit for building a border wall as president but doesn’t want to admit that only 52 miles of new wall were built during his term.

He tangled with CNN’s Kaitlan Collins on the semantics of the wall – what was built and what was rehabbed – during a town hall last month.

DeSantis said he will bring a “can do” spirit to cut red tape and get things done on the border. “You just gotta put your mind to it,” he said in Eagle Pass.

It is no mystery why the current top two Republican candidates want to focus on immigration: It unites Republican primary voters.

Seventy percent of Republican and Republican-leaning voters see illegal immigration as a “very big problem” in a Pew Research Center survey released this month. Just a quarter of Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters see it the same way.

Only inflation and the federal budget deficit were seen as very big problems by a larger portion of Republican and Republican-leaning voters.

Concern extends to the rest of the population too. The portion of people listing illegal immigration as a “very big problem” grew from 38% last year to 47% this year, according to Pew’s poll. And even a majority of Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters say the government is doing a bad job with people seeking asylum at the US-Mexico border.

Meanwhile, Trump’s lead in the GOP primary has grown, according to an NBC poll released this week compared with its April poll. He would get the nod of 51% of GOP primary voters today, compared with 22% for DeSantis – which helps explain why the governor wants to take the border issue away from Trump.

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