SAN ANTONIO (AP) -- The outspoken Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's visit to the U.S.-Mexico border promises new challenges for his party's years-in-the-making push to attract Hispanic voters.
Trump has gone beyond the party's hardline stance on illegal immigration, calling immigrants who cross the border illegally "criminals" and "rapists" and accusing Mexico's government of deliberately sending felons into the U.S. His trip Thursday also comes amid an escalating feud with Republican rivals and criticism from members of both parties, guaranteeing the billionaire developer plenty of attention from voters and reporters.
In recent days, Trump has come under fire for calling out his critics by name, vilifying the Republican establishment and roiling the debate over immigration and more.
The reality television star is set to make multiple public appearances in Laredo, Texas, including at an afternoon news conference on the border. He also plans to meet members of the union that represents U.S. customs and border patrol agents and speak to other law enforcement officers, his campaign said.
In Washington on Wednesday, former Texas Governor Rick Perry, a Republican, was asked about Trump's trip to Laredo. He snapped, "I hope he can find the border because I'm not sure he's ever been there before."
Indeed, the insults flying between Trump and his rivals have been caustic. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham called him a "jackass" earlier in the week and Trump responded by calling Graham an "idiot" and giving out the senator's cellphone number, jamming his voicemail.
The feud is unfolding as the candidates head into a presidential election in which Hispanic voters will play a critical role, particularly in swing states like Nevada, Colorado and Florida.
"If Hispanic Americans perceive that a GOP (Republican Party) nominee or candidate does not want them in the United States, they will not pay attention to our next sentence," reads a Republican National Committee report released after the 2012 election. "It does not matter what we say about education, jobs or the economy; if Hispanics think we do not want them here, they will close their ears to our policies."
Yet Trump, who has become a dominant force in the 2016 contest, has clearly stated, over and over again, that Mexican immigrants are unwelcome.
"The Mexican government is forcing their most unwanted people into the United States," and "criminals, drug dealers, rapists" are among them, he said in a recent statement that also declared "great respect for Mexico."
On Fox News, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, another prominent presidential hopeful in the Republican Party said of Trump: "I don't think the way he has behaved over the past few weeks is either dignified or worthy of the office he seeks."
Trump remained unbowed. "I'm called a jackass," he said Wednesday on CNN. "You have to fight back. The country has to fight back. Everyone's pushing our country around. We can't allow that."