WASHINGTON — For weeks earlier than the midterm elections, President Trump warned ominously in regards to the risk from a caravan of migrants streaming from Central America towards Mexico’s border with the US. It was a fearsome mixture of criminals and “unknown Center Easterners,” Mr. Trump claimed darkly, one which constituted a real nationwide emergency.
However because the election final week, Mr. Trump has tweeted in regards to the caravan precisely as soon as — to difficulty a proclamation stopping those that cross the border illegally from making use of for asylum in the US. Fox Information, which faithfully amplified Mr. Trump’s warnings in regards to the migrants, has gone equally quiet on the topic.
There was little dispute, even earlier than Election Day, that Mr. Trump was exploiting the caravan for political functions. However analysts, historians and veterans of earlier administrations mentioned there have been few comparable cases of a commander in chief warning about what he known as a looming risk, solely to drop it as quickly as folks voted.
Whereas the caravan has light from tv screens, the prices of Mr. Trump’s response to it haven’t. Practically 6,000 active-duty troops stay deployed from the Gulf Coast to Southern California, the place they’re placing up tents and stringing concertina wire to face a ragtag band that’s nonetheless not close to the border.
“Now that the political utility of troops on the southern border to face a fictitious caravan invasion risk is over,” mentioned Adm. James G. Stavridis, a former commander of the navy’s Southern Command, “let’s hope the president will stand down the troops to allow them to be with their households — particularly over the vacations.”
However some officers within the Protection Division fear that Mr. Trump might do the other — search an exception to the Posse Comitatus Act, the 1878 regulation that prohibits the federal government from utilizing active-duty troops to implement legal guidelines contained in the nation’s borders.
As pure political calculation, analysts from each events mentioned that seizing on the caravan mobilized Republican voters, dramatizing immigration in a means that resonated with Mr. Trump’s political base. However it’s far much less clear that the dire warnings helped Republican candidates with independents or different late-deciding voters.
In some locations like Arizona, the place the Democratic Senate candidate, Kyrsten Sinema, narrowly beat her Republican opponent, Martha McSally, analysts mentioned the caravan may even have backfired. Ms. McSally echoed Mr. Trump’s language in regards to the coming wave of migrants, calling it a “public security and nationwide safety difficulty.”
David Axelrod, a former aide to President Barack Obama, mentioned on Twitter, “The president’s calculated histrionics in regards to the caravan, about which we have now heard little or no since Election Day, could have sunk the @GOP in AZ.”
In exit polls, voters who made up their minds within the final three days earlier than the election mentioned they voted for Democrats over Republicans 53 p.c to 41 p.c. That coincides with the interval through which Mr. Trump redoubled his deal with the caravan, rejecting the recommendation of aides who needed to air a business selling the wholesome financial system.
Exit polls didn’t comprise a selected query in regards to the caravan. However they did present that voters who made up their minds within the last week of the marketing campaign, earlier than Mr. Trump’s last-minute push, selected Democrats over Republicans by a narrower tally: 49 p.c to 48 p.c.
Privately, Republican pollsters pointed to the truth that their social gathering had picked up simply three of 10 Senate seats held by Democrats as proof of the ambiguous impact the caravan campaign had on Republicans.
At one marketing campaign rally after one other, Mr. Trump mentioned the election got here right down to “the caravan, regulation and order, and customary sense.” In Mesa, Ariz., on Oct. 19, he mentioned: “You bought some dangerous folks in these teams. You bought some powerful folks in these teams. And I’ll inform you what — this nation doesn’t need them. O.Okay.? We don’t need them.”
A day earlier, he tweeted in regards to the “assault on our nation at our Southern Border, together with the Felony parts and DRUGS pouring in.”
Mr. Trump posted footage of an undocumented immigrant on trial for killing a police officer, and his marketing campaign group produced an advert that includes migrants making an attempt to scale a wall to dramatize the stakes of the election.
“I’ve by no means earlier than seen an American president, after going everywhere in the nation about this nationwide disaster, then the day after an election shrug,” mentioned Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian at Rice College.
The closest parallel that Mr. Brinkley drew was to President Lyndon B. Johnson, who seized on — and mischaracterized — two murky encounters between American and North Vietnamese warships within the Gulf of Tonkin in 1964 as a pretext to speed up America’s engagement within the Vietnam Conflict. Nonetheless, he mentioned, Mr. Trump’s response was of a special order.
“It was a harmful type of xenophobia, aimed solely for electoral functions and had nothing to do ultimately with actual nationwide safety,” Mr. Brinkley mentioned.
For the troops, up to now, it has principally been an costly subject journey. The price of the deployment isn’t recognized, however price range officers consider it might attain $200 million if all 15,000 troops that Mr. Trump pledged are in the end despatched.
Protection Secretary Jim Mattis mentioned on Tuesday that the Pentagon was “capturing” the bills every day and would replace the general public when he knew the full value. On Wednesday, Mr. Mattis plans to satisfy with troopers at Base Camp Donna, the ahead working base constructed over the past month close to the Rio Grande.
Mr. Mattis mentioned there had been no change to the mission; the troops weren’t receiving additional fight or hostile-fire pay. His go to, a protection official mentioned, is supposed to be low key and paying homage to his days as a Marine normal, when he might meet front-line troops with little fanfare.
Dwelling circumstances at Base Camp Donna are spare, however since its development this month, the Military has added showers and a bigger residing space other than the preliminary allotment of tents.
Defenders of Mr. Trump mentioned the troops would take little discover of his sudden lack of emphasis on the caravan.
“Understanding the troops, realizing how busy they’re, they’re not targeted on him,” mentioned Jack Keane, a retired four-star normal who’s a former vice chief of workers of the Military. “They’ve received a job to do.”
However different former navy officers mentioned the troopers have been nicely conscious of the political motivation behind their mission. Missing a lot else to do, they are going to shortly choose up on Mr. Trump’s lack of curiosity within the caravan, and it’ll add to their already depleted morale.
“Having spent months within the desert with nothing to do, at the least we had scorpions to have scorpion fights with,” mentioned John A. Nagl, a retired Military lieutenant colonel who served in Operation Desert Defend in 1990 and 1991.
“However we had an actual mission,” he mentioned. “These guys don’t have that.”