‘We Have No Choice’: Trump Vows to Create ‘Largest Deportation Effort’ in U.S. History If Reelected

Former president Donald Trump participates in a Fox News Channel town hall ahead of the caucus vote in Des Moines, Iowa, January 10, 2024. (Scott Morgan/Reuters)

Former president Donald Trump vowed during his Fox News town hall on Wednesday night to create the “largest deportation effort in the history of our country” if he is reelected in November, saying “we have no choice.”

Trump, the leading contender for the Republican nomination, said that as many as 18 million people will have entered the country illegally by the end of Democrat Joe Biden’s presidency, a number that he said is “not sustainable for our country.”

“Many of those people come from jails and prisons, many of those people come from mental institutions and insane asylums, and many of those people are terrorists,” he said, taking another big swing on the issue that helped to propel him to the White House in 2016.

In addition to bashing Biden for having “the worst border in the history of the world” and vowing to “finish the wall” at the Southern border, Trump used his town hall appearance to talk up his first-term record and to bash Florida governor Ron DeSantis, whom he said would “be working in a pizza shop, or maybe a law firm” if he hadn’t received Trump’s endorsement in 2018. Trump said he took DeSantis “from nothing to winning an election,” and he said the Florida governor, whose presidential campaign has underperformed, is not “a loyal person.”

During his debate with former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley on Wednesday night, DeSantis pushed back on the idea that Trump would successfully deport large numbers of illegal immigrants, saying that during his first term he deported fewer people than former president Barack Obama.

Trump’s town hall in Des Moines, Iowa, hosted by Fox anchors Martha MacCallum and Bret Baier, served as counterprogramming to CNN’s debate at the same time between DeSantis and Haley, Trump’s two top competitors for the nomination. Fox hosted town halls with Haley and DeSantis earlier this week.

With a commanding lead in virtually all the polls, Trump has boycotted the Republican debates, choosing to hold his own events or to do counterprogramming instead.

In comparison to his often raucous rallies, Trump’s town hall appearance was mostly understated. He sat on stage on a white stool, and took questions from Iowa Republicans, most of whom said they would be supporting him during next week’s caucuses. And he mostly stuck to themes and talking points he’s used often in the past.

While he repeatedly took digs at DeSantis, saying he wears “fancy shoes” and is doing “very, very poorly,” he mostly laid off Haley, even though she’s been creeping up in the polls. He noted a hot mic comment that former New Jersey governor Chris Christie made before he withdrew from the Republican race earlier in the day — Christie predicted Haley would “get smoked” by Trump.

“I know her very well,” Trump said of Haley, who served as his United Nations ambassador, “and I happen to believe Chris Christie is right. That is one of the few things he’s been right about, actually.”

Trump downplayed accusations that he would try to be a dictator if reelected. While he has often been accused of creating chaos, he said that “we have chaos now” under Biden. He took digs at the 81-year-old president’s age and demeanor, claiming he “can’t put two sentences together” and “can’t find his way off a stage.”

Trump called the economy under Biden “horrible” and said inflation also continued to be “horrible.” But, he noted, the stock market is doing well, and attempted to take credit.

“I think if I wasn’t leading [in the polls] the stock market would be 25 percent lower,” he said. “And I think, frankly, if I didn’t win, I think the stock market would crash.”

He touted the relative global calm under his leadership, saying, “I’m the only president in 72 years, I didn’t have any wars.” He claimed that Russian president Vladimir Putin wouldn’t have invaded Ukraine if he was president, and Hamas terrorists wouldn’t have attacked Israel.

“They see a weak president in our country and they did something that is unthinkable,” Trump said, adding that if he’s elected again “we’re going to have peace through strength.”

Trump’s town hall was his first live event on Fox News since April 2022.

The network was long a favorite of the former president’s, but he soured on it — and Fox soured on him — in the wake of the 2020 presidential election. Trump resented the conservative network for its early call of Arizona for Joe Biden on election night. Last April, Fox agreed to a $787.5 million settlement with Dominion Voting Systems for amplifying conspiracy theories about the company promoted by Trump’s backers on its shows.

The Fox town halls and the Republican debate come with less than a week before the Iowa caucuses. Despite his behavior after the 2020 election, four criminal cases, and more than 90 criminal counts against him, polls show Trump is the far-and-away leader to be the Republican presidential nominee this year.

The Real Clear Politics polling average show him with more than 60 percent support from Republicans nationally and a more than 50-point lead over Haley and DeSantis. The divide is a bit narrower in Iowa — polls show Trump up about 35 points over Haley and DeSantis there. The race appears to be much closer in New Hampshire, where Haley is within striking distance.

While some have suggested that Christie’s departure from the race could help Haley to catch up to Trump and win in New Hampshire, Trump downplayed it. “I’m not exactly worried about it,” he said. “I think we’re going to do very well in New Hampshire.”

Ryan Mills is an enterprise and media reporter at National Review. He previously worked for 14 years as a breaking news reporter, investigative reporter, and editor at newspapers in Florida. Originally from Minnesota, Ryan lives in the Fort Myers area with his wife and two sons.
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