WASHINGTON (AP) — Trying to recapture the Republican fervor that helped put him in office, President Donald Trump travels to Arizona on Tuesday to visit the nation’s southern border and to rally thousands of supporters in a state where he’s trashed both Republican senators.
The two-day trip, which also includes a stop in Reno, Nevada, on Wednesday to speak to veterans at an American Legion conference, marks his farthest journey west since taking office in January.
It comes at a politically turbulent time for the president. On Monday night, he addressed the nation about his decision to maintain a U.S. presence in Afghanistan, an action at odds with his repeated promises on the campaign trail to end the country’s longest war. And last week he touched off a firestorm by saying that “both sides” were to blame for violence that erupted at a rally organized by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Trump’s planned events could help stoke a base of voters who oppose his move on Afghanistan and the recent White House departure of Steve Bannon. The chief strategist had made it his mission to remind Trump of what his most fervent supporters want from his presidency, and some conservative strategists have openly worried that without Bannon around Trump will be too influenced by more traditional Republicans — such as on Afghanistan policy.
Trump is scheduled to tour a Marine Corps base along the U.S.-Mexico border, watch demonstrations of U.S. Customs drones, a boat and a truck, and meet with Marines.
While at the Marine Corps facility, Trump can renew his vow to build a wall and highlight other tougher immigration policies, a favorite among his supporters. Later, his political rally in Phoenix provides the atmospherics of the campaign trail itself. This will be Trump’s eighth political rally since taking office. His 2020 re-election campaign pays for and organizes the events, carefully screening attendees.
Democratic leaders and other Trump opponents plan protests and marches outside the rally to decry his immigration policies and his comments about Charlottesville. Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton had implored the president to postpone the rally to allow time for the country to heal after Charlottesville.
Vice President Mike Pence said Tuesday on Fox News Channel that Trump will be “completely focused” on his agenda for the country.
“But he’s also going to call on the Congress to get ready to come back when they arrive on Sept. 5th and go straight to work to make America safe again, make America prosperous again, and in his words to make America great again,” said the vice president, who was flying separately to Phoenix to introduce Trump at the rally.
Gov. Doug Ducey, a Trump supporter, will greet Trump as he arrives in Phoenix but will not attend the rally to focus on safety needs, his spokesman said. Neither Sens Jeff Flake nor Sen. John McCain, who is undergoing cancer treatment, will join Trump at his events in the state. Flake has been on tour promoting a book that says the Republican Party’s embrace of Trump has left conservatism withering.
Flake has been a frequent target of Trump’s wrath. Last week, Trump tweeted that Flake is “toxic” and said it is “great to see” Kelli Ward running against him in the GOP primary for the seat, which is up for re-election next year. That has sparked talk of Trump possibly endorsing Ward from the stage Tuesday night.
Another potential subplot of the rally: Trump has teased in a Fox News interview and on Twitter the possibility that he’ll pardon former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who recently was convicted in federal court of disobeying a court order to stop his immigration patrols.