DOVER, N.H. — Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine on Thursday likened Donald Trump's view of Mexican immigrants and Mexican-Americans to the discrimination once faced by 19th and 20th century Irish, Italians, and European Jews entering the United States.
Kaine launched the attack in response to the strict immigration speech from Trump late Wednesday night in Phoenix delivered mere hours after his far more conciliatory visit with Mexico's president, Enrique Peña Nieto.
"He went on a rampage with words of division, trashing people who are Mexican-American basically — saying things about them that people have said about the Irish or about the Italians or about Jews coming from Central and Eastern Europe,” Kaine told a group of volunteers at a Democratic Party office here in Dover, kicking off a day of campaign stops in New Hampshire.
"Pretty much any group that's come into this country that has made our nation such a fantastic nation — they faced a few people who were saying bad things about them, who said 'no Irish need apply," said Kaine. "That was the speech that Donald Trump gave last night."
The comments only add to the picture painted with increasing intensity by Kaine and his running-mate Hillary Clinton of Trump as a candidate who trades in racism and prejudice.
Last week, in a major address in Reno, Clinton highlighted her opponent's ties to the alt-right movement, which has nativist, white nationalist elements, and has become known for its online harassment of minorities. The next day, during a visit to a historically black college in Florida, Kaine went further, saying that Trump held "Ku Klux Klan values" and that his campaign was "pushing their values."
For months, Democrats up and down the ballot have denounced Trump's campaign as one grounded in hate and division. But as the race has closed in on its final two months, Clinton and Kaine have become more aggressive in their attacks. While they are both careful to avoid the designation itself, they have in effect made the case that Trump is racist.
“There’s an old Mexican proverb that says, ‘Tell me with whom you walk, and I will tell you who you are,’” Clinton said during the Reno speech, which outlined the various alt-right figures Trump has associated with this year.
“Well," she said, "we know who Trump is.”
On Wednesday, after weeks of hinting at a softening of his immigration policies, Trump promised a wall would be built and that a deportation force would be established. He also said the current legal immigration system — the type and level of workers accepted into the United States — would be updated to protect American workers.
The campaign dispatched Kaine to offer a response to the speech in six back-to-back morning news shows — the latest in a recent series of searing attacks from the Virginia senator, not known as a politician who relishes negative campaigning.
At a campaign event later on Thursday afternoon, a quick meet-and-greet at a Democratic Party office in Laconia, N.H., Kaine again described Trump's speech as one that could have been taken from a long-past chapter of U.S. history.
"You could print that speech with Irish-Americans in it, and somebody gave that speech in 1850. You could print Italian-Americans in it, and somebody gave that speech in 1860 or 1870. You could put Jewish folks from Central and Eastern Europe and somebody probably gave that speech in the late 1800s," he said.
"Trashing people from other countries and saying that they're bad or their criminals or whatever — yeah, that speech has been given in the history of this country."
Speaking at both events after brief remarks from his wife Anne Holton, Kaine warned that Trump's proposed ban on Muslims entering the country could just as well apply to other groups, naming Mormons in particular, a group of typically Republican voters who this year have largely opposed the GOP nominee.
"Look, if it's Muslims this week, it could be Mormons next week. It could be somebody else the week after that," he said. (Clinton allies, now actively courting support from Republicans and Independents, have also signaled that Utah, where a large share of Mormons live, might be more competitive than ever this fall.)
Kaine, echoing his comments on the six morning news shows Thursday, also described Trump as cowardly for balking in the meeting with Peña Nieto on his promise to somehow force Mexico to pay for a wall along the US border.
"When he sat down and he looked President Peña Nieto in the eye, he didn't have the guts to bring that up. Then he flew back and boy, when he got back here — 'We're gonna make Mexico do this!'" Kaine bellowed, imitating Trump.
"He had the chance to sit down and look the other leader in the eye, it was like he choked, he caved, he lost his confidence, he lost his will," Kaine said. "We all know people like that. They're gonna talk a good game but when the chips are down — [when] it's the point where if you've got an opinion, if something matters to you, you say it — they fold like an accordion."
"And that's what Donald Trump did yesterday," he said.
Kaine did not address in great detail the policies Trump put forward in Wednesday's speech, only telling Democrats here that they would boil down to even more deportations. "He has made the very center of his campaign, we're gonna be deportation nation," Kaine said, arguing that the U.S. should strive to be an "innovation nation" and "inclusion nation."
"Donald Trump wants us to be the deportation nation," he said again.