LAREDO, Texas -- Donald Trump traveled to the border Thursday in a style befitting the president of the United States — but without saying anything specific about how he’d govern if he were elected to the White House.
Trump, the real estate mogul and former reality show host-turned presidential candidate, landed at the Laredo International Airport shortly before 1 p.m. local time in the Boeing 757 emblazoned with his last name. (The jet, which features a gold plated toilet, is typically parked at LaGuardia Airport in New York City.) Wearing a white hat printed with his campaign slogan -- “Make America Great Again” -- he waved to cameras on the tarmac as he descended the plane’s stairs, then stopped to talk to the 100 or so reporters who packed into the Landmark Aviation building.
"They say it's a great danger, but I have to do it,” he said, when someone asked if traveling to the border was dangerous for him, especially after he labeled many Mexican immigrants “rapists” and “murderers."
"I love the country, there’s nothing more important than what I’m doing,” Trump said.
After a few more minutes of answering questions, Trump was whisked away — into a massive motorcade escorted by Laredo police on motorcycles and in squad cars and which featured two full-size coach buses for the press.
The cops closed roads and highways to allow Trump’s motorcade to pass through the city, down to the Rio Grande and the World Trade Bridge across the river into Mexico. As Trump met with Laredo’s mayor and city manager behind closed doors, dozens of tractor trailers trying to ferry goods across the border backed up along the highway while police kept the road closed.
The border guards who initially invited Trump to visit the Mexican border were nowhere to be found, having decided to rescind their invitation just hours before Trump was scheduled to land. So Trump came back to the waiting microphones.
“Thank you for being here, it's been amazing experience, Mexico is booming,” Trump said. “A lot of what's happening here is because Mexico is doing so well.” On the campaign trail, Trump has repeatedly warned that Mexico is taking advantage of the U.S. because America’s leaders aren’t as strong as Mexico’s.
He fielded questions about his comments on Mexican immigrants, whether he would build a wall along the entire border, and whether he would run as an independent for president if he doesn’t win the GOP nomination.
"Look, I’m a Republican, I’m a conservative, I’m running, I’m in first place by a lot it seems according to all the polls,” he said, seeming to temper comments published earlier in the day in The Hill that suggested he would mount a third party bid if GOP leaders pushed him too far. "I want to run as a Republican, I think I’ll get the nomination, we’ll see soon enough, but I think I’ll get the nomination."
He was happy to keep talking until he was asked for policy specifics. What, exactly, did he think should happen to the 11 million undocumented immigrants already living in the United States?
"The first thing we have to do is strengthen our borders and after that we’re going to have plenty of time to talk about it. Thank you very much,” he said, abruptly ending the press conference and walking away.
He climbed into his waiting black SUV, Laredo police officers struggling to keep cameras back as the vehicle started to move. Trump rolled down his window, an invitation for the cameras to press in closer, his white hat clearly visible.
“Thank you, it’s great to be here,” he said, again and again.
Then it was off again, for another high speed trip down closed Laredo freeways, the police cars that held back traffic one by one joining up behind the motorcade.
His final event, billed as remarks to law enforcement officials, lasted less than five minutes from beginning to end. It was dominated by an exchange with Telemundo and msnbc anchor Jose Diaz-Balart, who tried to ask about Trump’s labeling of Mexican immigrants as “rapists.” Trump said reporting on his remarks was a “typical case of press manipulation,” drawing loud cheers from the crowd of about forty or so people who had gathered in the room.
“Telemundo should be ashamed. And what really going to be fun is suing Univision for $500 million,” he said, to another waving of cheering.
Then, it was time to head back to his airplane. “I want to thank all of you folks who have been here, it's an extra special stop, thank you,” he said to the law enforcement officials, waving and walking away four and a half minutes after he stepped behind the podium.
A short motorcade ride later, he was back at the airport. He stopped again to wave to cameras outside, then headed out to the tarmac to take photos with the police officers who had escorted him — a tradition kept by many U.S. presidents.
Then it was back up the stairs at the back of his jet. At the top, he turned and waved.
Less than four hours after he landed, Trump was gone.