The president's re-election campaign released a new ad Friday that borrows liberally from an expletive-filled, anti-immigration video that was denounced as racist.
The new ad, tweeted by Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale, warns ominously that a caravan of migrants that has been traveling toward the U.S. must be stopped. And it includes footage of Luis Bracamontes, a twice-deported immigrant from Mexico sentenced to death in California for killing two police officers.
"Dangerous illegal criminals like cop-killer Luis Bracamontes don't care about our laws," the narrator says against footage of the caravan, which remains hundreds of miles from the southern border. "America cannot allow this invasion. The migrant caravan must be stopped."
The decision to use the footage in an official campaign ad is the latest of Trump's election-week efforts to stoke fear and anti-immigrant sentiment in hopes of motivating Republicans to vote Tuesday. And it comes amid a frenzy of hardline immigration proposals he has pushed in the final stages of the campaign, including sending troops to the border and revoking birthright citizenship.
Bracamontes was also featured in an ad Trump tweeted Wednesday that was widely seen as reminiscent of the infamous 1988 "Willie Horton" ad used against Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis and condemned as racist.
Trump had said earlier Friday the video was tough "but correct."
"I don't view it as the Willie Horton ad at all," the president told The Washington Times in an interview published Friday. "I think it's just an ad where somebody is a bad guy, came in illegally, twice, and we can't do that."
Parscale said the new ad would start running nationally Friday night and the campaign had purchased $1.5 million in airtime to run it.
It stands in stark contrast to an ad released by the Trump campaign earlier in the week that highlighted rosy economic numbers and depicted gauzy scenes of American suburban life. That ad was part of a blitz by Trump's campaign, and Parscale did several interviews to promote it.
The conservative Breitbart News chronicled Bracamontes' conviction and death sentence.
Bracamontes' snarling, expletive-filled courtroom rant about killing police officers appeared in a little-noticed January 2018 Trump campaign ad. Bracamontes sports a shaved head and long chin hair in the video. He speaks in accented English, and his words are clear: He's killed cops and he's "gonna kill more cops soon."
The original video alleges without evidence that Democrats were responsible for allowing Bracamontes into the U.S. Bracamontes was sentenced to death in California for the 2014 killings.
"Illegal immigrant, Luis Bracamontes, killed our people!" the video states, adding, "Democrats let him into our country ... Democrats let him stay." It includes scenes of a migrant caravan moving toward the U.S., asks, "Who else would Democrats let in?" and suggests that more violence would soon penetrate the border.
While the first video did not appear be running on television, it received extensive coverage on cable news networks. As of Thursday afternoon, it had received 3.51 million views in less than 24 hours and was the "pinned" tweet atop Trump's profile, making it the first thing any visitor to his Twitter page would see.
The White House and the Trump campaign did not immediately respond to requests for comments as to who made or paid for the video or if any tax dollars were used to run it from the president's account.
"This is a sickening ad. Republicans everywhere should denounce it," said Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, a frequent Trump critic. And Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., seeking re-election in a Democratic-leaning South Florida district, said he'd not seen the video but criticized Trump's use of it.
"I can tell you that it's definitely part of a divide-and-conquer strategy that a lot of politicians, including the president, have used successfully in the past," Curbelo said Thursday on CNN. "I hope this doesn't work."
Tom Perez, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, called the new ad the "dog whistle of all dog whistles."
"This is distracting, divisive Donald at his worst," Perez said on CNN. "This is fearmongering."
But the Trump campaign was behind the January 2018 video, released on its YouTube page, that featured Bracamontes' courtroom appearance. That video was timed to the one-year anniversary of Trump's inauguration and meant to promote his immigration agenda.
The previous year, Jessica Davis and Susan Oliver, the widows of Detective Michael Davis and Deputy Sheriff Danny Oliver, were invited to Trump's address to Congress. Bracamontes' case — he was sentenced to death in March — also received steady coverage on Breitbart and other right-wing news sites.
Trump has long promoted the alleged danger presented by those living in the country illegally, although statistics show they do not commit crimes at a higher rate than citizens. During his 2016 campaign, he frequently appeared with so-called "angel families" — those who lost loved ones at the hands of immigrants in the nation illegally.