A man famous for demonizing illegal immigrants, ranting about President Obama’s birth certificate and abusing people who cannot fight back made an appearance on the Republican presidential campaign trail Tuesday. Standing next to him was Donald Trump.
At a rally in Marshalltown, Iowa, Joe Arpaio, the controversial sheriff of Maricopa Country, Arizona, announced his support of the Republican frontrunner, saying, “It was a no-brainer for me to endorse him. Very easy decision. Believe me.”
For his part, Trump gladly accepted the blessing of a man widely reviled in the Hispanic community for his extreme policies toward illegal immigrants. Most Republicans acknowledge that without the Hispanic vote the party has little chance of winning the presidency. Yet, while the majority of GOP candidates wouldn’t want to be seen in the same football stadium as Arpaio, Trump embraced him Tuesday night, calling him a “great guy.”
The only thing in question here is why this took so long. In many ways, Arpaio is a sort of proto-Trump. He’s a petty, vindictive narcissist who traffics in conspiracy theories and whose abuse of authority with regard to suspected illegal immigrants was so egregious that that the Department of Justice successfully sued to have his enforcement authority stripped away.
In other words, before the feds stepped in and spoiled the fun, Arpaio did to Maricopa County what Trump proposes to do to the whole country. Trump calls for banning immigrants based on their religion, walling off Mexico from the U.S. and forcibly deporting 12 million people. He’s basically Joe Arpaio in a bespoke suit.
Arpaio’s reputation as “America’s toughest sheriff” is based, in part, on his practice of devising the most inhumane ways to treat prisoners in county detention centers while (arguably) remaining within the letter of the law. He developed an armed volunteer “posse” to assist his deputies in the enforcement of immigration laws, which attracted a handful of B-list celebrities (like actor Steven Seagal, last seen palling around with another Trump favorite, Russian President Vladimir Putin.)
In the more than 20 years Arpaio has been sheriff, the people of Maricopa County have paid out more than $140 million in court judgments, awards and legal fees defending him and his office.
Arpaio was only the second highly controversial figure to endorse Trump on Tuesday. Rev. Jerry Falwell Jr., the son of the televangelist who founded the Moral Majority in 1979, and the current president of Liberty University, also founded by his father, officially got behind Trump earlier in the day.
Falwell’s endorsement was hardly a surprise. Trump spoke at Liberty earlier this month, and Falwell delivered an introduction that, while not an explicit endorsement, sounded a lot like one. Tuesday morning he removed what little doubt might have remained.
In his remarks, Falwell called Trump “a successful executive and entrepreneur, a wonderful father and a man who I believe can lead our country to greatness again.”
Falwell has recently come under fire for recommending that students at Liberty carry weapons on campus. In the wake of the San Bernardino shootings last month, committed by a Muslim man and wife aligned with the terror group ISIS, he said, “I’ve always thought if more good people had concealed carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in.”
Trump’s reaction, via Twitter: “Great honor- Rev. Jerry Falwell Jr. of Liberty University, one of the most respected religious leaders in our nation, has just endorsed me!