Trump's warnings about migrant caravan fall off after election

WASHINGTON (AP) — One week after Election Day, President Donald Trump's daily drumbeat of warnings about a caravan of "bad thugs" and potential terrorists intent on invading the U.S. from Mexico has largely fallen silent.

The migrant caravans are still trudging along, the largest still about 1,000 miles from the southern border, but Trump — and many in the conservative media — have dramatically reduced the frequency and intensity of their dire warnings now that they no longer feel the same urgency to stir up GOP voters.

Trump and his media allies have largely moved on. They're more focused now on the possibility of electoral chicanery in recounts in Florida's Senate and governor's races.

Within the West Wing and in Trump's orbit of allies, there is a sense that the caravan was a useful midterm messaging tool, one that became the centerpiece of an eleventh-hour pre-election strategy modeled on the president's 2016 campaign pledges to crack down on illegal immigration, according to four White House officials and outside advisers not authorized to speak publicly about private conversations.

But once the election was over, the president's attention turned elsewhere, the officials and advisers said.

For weeks before the election, the caravan was a dominant news story. The largest caravan was believed to have formed in Honduras on Oct. 12 and first was featured in a "Fox & Friends" segment four days later, which prompted a tweet from the show's most famous fan.

27 PHOTOS
US troops sent to border by Trump in anticipation of migrant caravans
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US troops sent to border by Trump in anticipation of migrant caravans
Members of the U.S.military place razor wire along the U.S.-Mexico border on the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge, Friday, Nov. 2, 2018, in McAllen, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
In this photo provided by the U.S. Air Force, soldiers from the the 89th Military Police Brigade, and 41st Engineering Company, 19th Engineering Battalion, Fort Riley, Kan., arrive at Valley International Airport, Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018, in Harlingen, Texas, to conduct the first missions along the southern border in support of Operation Faithful Patriot. The soldiers will provide a range of support including planning assistance, engineering support, equipment and resources to assist the Department of Homeland Security along the Southwest border. (Alexandra Minor/U.S. Air Force via AP)
Razor wire recently placed by the U.S.military along the banks of the Rio Grande frames the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge at the U.S.-Mexico border, Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018, in McAllen, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Members of the U.S.military tour the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge with U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents, Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018, in McAllen, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Razor wire recently placed by the U.S.military along the banks of the Rio Grande frames the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge at the U.S.-Mexico border, Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018, in McAllen, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Onlookers watch as members of the U.S.military place razor wire along the U.S.-Mexico border on the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge, Friday, Nov. 2, 2018, in McAllen, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Pedestrians pass members of the U.S. military working to place razor wire along the U.S.-Mexico border on the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge, Friday, Nov. 2, 2018, in McAllen, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Razor wire recently placed by the U.S.military along the banks of the Rio Grande frames the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge at the U.S.-Mexico border, Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018, in McAllen, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Members of the U.S.military place razor wire along the U.S.-Mexico border on the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge, Friday, Nov. 2, 2018, in McAllen, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Razor wire recently placed by the U.S.military along the banks of the Rio Grande frames the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge at the U.S.-Mexico border, Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018, in McAllen, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Members of the U.S. military place razor wire along the U.S.-Mexico border near the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge, Friday, Nov. 2, 2018, in McAllen, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Members of the U.S.military place razor wire along the U.S.-Mexico border near the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge, Friday, Nov. 2, 2018, in McAllen, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Members of the U.S.military place razor wire along the U.S.-Mexico border on the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge, Friday, Nov. 2, 2018, in McAllen, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Members of the U.S.military place razor wire along the U.S.-Mexico border near the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge, Friday, Nov. 2, 2018, in McAllen, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Members of the U.S.military place razor wire along the U.S.-Mexico border on the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge, Friday, Nov. 2, 2018, in McAllen, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Members of the U.S.military place razor wire along the U.S.-Mexico border near the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge, Friday, Nov. 2, 2018, in McAllen, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Members of the U.S.military place razor wire along the U.S.-Mexico border on the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge, Friday, Nov. 2, 2018, in McAllen, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Pedestrians pass members of the U.S.military working to place razor wire along the U.S.-Mexico border on the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge, Friday, Nov. 2, 2018, in McAllen, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Members of the U.S.military place razor wire along the U.S.-Mexico border on the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge, Friday, Nov. 2, 2018, in McAllen, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
A member of the U.S.military cuts fencing at the U.S.-Mexico border on the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge as they work to place razor wire in the area, Friday, Nov. 2, 2018, in McAllen, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Members of the U.S.military place razor wire along the U.S.-Mexico border on the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge, Friday, Nov. 2, 2018, in McAllen, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Members of the U.S.military place razor wire along the U.S.-Mexico border on the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge, Friday, Nov. 2, 2018, in McAllen, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Members of the U.S.military place razor wire along the U.S.-Mexico border near the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge, Friday, Nov. 2, 2018, in McAllen, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Members of the U.S.military place razor wire along the U.S.-Mexico border near the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge, Friday, Nov. 2, 2018, in McAllen, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Members of the U.S.military place razor wire along the U.S.-Mexico border near the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge, Friday, Nov. 2, 2018, in McAllen, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Members of the U.S.military place razor wire along the U.S.-Mexico border on the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge, Friday, Nov. 2, 2018, in McAllen, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
In this photo provided by the U.S. Air Force, soldiers from the the 89th Military Police Brigade, and 41st Engineering Company, 19th Engineering Battalion, Fort Riley, Kan., arrive at Valley International Airport, Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018, in Harlingen, Texas, to conduct the first missions along the southern border in support of Operation Faithful Patriot. The soldiers will provide a range of support including planning assistance, engineering support, equipment and resources to assist the Department of Homeland Security along the Southwest border. (Alexandra Minor/U.S. Air Force via AP)
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As the midterms approached, Trump and his conservative allies flooded the zone with harsh rhetoric and hardline policy proposals, including sending troops to the border, revoking birthright citizenship and an ad featuring a Latino man convicted of killing two police officers that was widely condemned as racist.

But the caravan was Trump's favorite talking point. During his final blitz of campaign rallies, he hammered at the threat night after night and, without evidence, suggested that Democrats were supporting — and perhaps funding — the march of migrants.

"Democrats are inviting caravan after caravan of illegal aliens to pour into our country, overwhelming your schools, your hospitals, and your communities," Trump said in Fort Wayne, Indiana, on election eve. "If you want more caravans, if you want more crime, vote Democrat tomorrow. ... If you want strong borders and safe communities, no drugs, no caravans, vote Republican."

Trump ratcheted up his rhetoric on Twitter too. One tweet read: "We will NOT let these Caravans, which are also made up of some very bad thugs and gang members, into the U.S. Our Border is sacred, must come in legally. TURN AROUND!"

That tweet, on Oct. 31, was his last on the subject. Since the election, he's invoked the caravan only once. Asked about it during a news conference last Wednesday, Trump said "I'm not just talking about the caravans" when talking about militarizing the southern border and his proposed wall.

The thousands of Central American migrants in the largest caravan have been leapfrogging their way across western Mexico, despite the prospect of a hostile reception at the border. Most appeared intent on taking the Pacific coast route northward to the border city of Tijuana, which was still about 1,350 miles (2,200 kilometers) away.

On Friday, Trump signed a proclamation restricting asylum applications but did so with little fanfare and no press coverage before he departed for a trip to Paris. The White House did not respond to a request for comment on whether further action on immigration was imminent.

"Clearly, this was an election-eve stunt designed to whip up the base that really didn't have much foundation in fact and, clearly, when the election was over there was no need to keep beating those drums," said Mark Feldstein, journalism professor at the University of Maryland. He added that what the conservative media did with the story was "really toxic" and divided an already polarized country.

"The very fact that they dropped it so suddenly is just further confirmation of how bogus the story was in the first place," Feldstein said.

18 PHOTOS
A day in the life of the migrant caravan in Mexico
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A day in the life of the migrant caravan in Mexico
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, takes a rest on the road, as she walks to Pijijiapan from Mapastepec, Mexico, October 25, 2018. Picture taken October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, rests on the road with her son Adonai, as they make their way to Pijijiapan from Mapastepec, Mexico, October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino/File photo SEARCH "GLENDA ESCOBAR" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, plays with her son Adonai in San Pedro Tapanatepec, Mexico October 28, 2018. Picture taken October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, sleeps in San Pedro Tapanatepec, Mexico October 28, 2018. Picture taken October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, poses for a photograph with her children Adonai and Denzel in San Pedro Tapanatepec, Mexico October 28, 2018. Picture taken October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, smiles as she rests in San Pedro Tapanatepec, Mexico October 28, 2018. Picture taken October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, poses with her son Denzel, 8, as they rest in San Pedro Tapanatepec, Mexico October 28, 2018. Picture taken October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, rests in San Pedro Tapanatepec, Mexico October 28, 2018. Picture taken October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, rests on the road with her son Denzel as they walk to Pijijiapan from Mapastepec, Mexico, October 25, 2018. Picture taken October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, prepares the sleeping place after arriving at a makeshift camp with her sons Adonai and Denzel, in San Pedro Tapanatepec, Mexico October 28, 2018. Picture taken October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Denzel, 8, holds his brother Adonai, 5, near their mother Glenda Escobar, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, as they walk to Pijijiapan from Mapastepec, Mexico, October 25, 2018. Picture taken October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, prepares the sleeping place after arriving at a makeshift camp with her sons Adonai and Denzel, in San Pedro Tapanatepec, Mexico October 28, 2018. Picture taken October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, cries after talking on the phone, in San Pedro Tapanatepec, Mexico October 28, 2018. Picture taken October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, rests on the road, on her way to Pijijiapan from Mapastepec, Mexico, October 25, 2018. Picture taken October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, poses for a photograph as she rests in San Pedro Tapanatepec, Mexico October 28, 2018. Picture taken October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, takes a ride in a vintage car with her children Adonai and Denzel, as they walk to Pijijiapan from Mapastepec, Mexico, October 25, 2018. Picture taken October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Adonai, 5, son of Glenda Escobar, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, smiles as he rests in San Pedro Tapanatepec, Mexico October 28, 2018. Picture taken October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, prepares the sleeping place after arriving at a makeshift camp with her children Adonai and Denzel, in Pijijiapan, Mexico, October 25, 2018. Picture taken October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
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Fox News spent more than 33 hours discussing the caravan through Election Day, according to a study by Media Matters, a progressive media watchdog organization. On Nov. 7, the day after the election, Fox had no discussions centered on the caravan. On Nov. 8, the network spent four minutes and 57 seconds on discussions centered on the caravan, according to the study.

Some Republicans said the caravan's fade from the spotlight was a natural part of the election cycle.

"Every election, there are a series of issues that rise to artificial highs and then, once the votes are cast, settle back down to normal noise," said Ari Fleischer, former press secretary to President George W. Bush. "Both parties do it; this isn't some trumped up phony issue. The caravan will be back in the news once it gets closer to the border."

Trump had suggested sending up to 15,000 troops to the border; currently there are approximately 1,000 at the border itself and another 4,800 in staging areas nearby. The deployment is scheduled to end Dec. 15 but that could be changed, extended or shortened.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis plans to visit the border Wednesday. He was asked by a reporter Tuesday whether the military mission along the border of south Texas will change, now that the lead migrant caravan in Mexico is headed much farther west.

"Right now, the mission is exactly what it is," he said. "We'll have to see what the future holds. But right now that's the only mission I have."

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