Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, whose caustic comments about Mexican Americans have inflamed the debate over illegal immigration, is taking his tough-talk road show to this border state that has been the epicenter of the divisive national battle over reform.
Ignoring a plea from the Republican Party chairman to tone down his rhetoric, Trump plans to rally more than 9,000 supporters here in Phoenix on Saturday afternoon. Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who built a national profile with his aggressive efforts to hunt down and deport undocumented immigrants in the Phoenix area, will join him on stage.
In remarks at the downtown Phoenix Convention Center, Trump plans to renew his vow to build an impenetrable wall across the U.S.-Mexico border and to attack by name several Republican presidential candidates as weak on immigration, according to people with knowledge of Trump's plans.
The Trump event, hosted by the Maricopa County Republican Party, has invited a barrage of criticism - from the city's Democratic leaders, local business executives and more mainstream Republican office holders, such as Arizona's two senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake, who believe his language about an issue as sensitive as immigration is far too explosive.
But Trump expects to find a large and receptive audience, at least here in Arizona. The event, initially scheduled for the Arizona Biltmore, a historic luxury resort, was moved this week to the convention center to accommodate the thousands of people who were requesting tickets. By Saturday morning, more than 9,000 people had been given tickets to the event, according to Trump's campaign.
In his speech, Trump plans to single out several campaign opponents by name. People familiar with Trump's prepared remarks said he intends to go after former Florida governor Jeb Bush for having said many immigrants come to the United States out of an "act of love"; to cast Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) as a typical politician for once trying to achieve comprehensive immigration reform, a priority of President Obama's; and to accuse former Texas governor Rick Perry of being weak and unable to secure his state's border with Mexico.
Trump, a billionaire real estate mogul and reality television star, wants to make the case that other candidates are beholden to big donors and corporate lobbyists who are advocating changes to immigration law, but that he won't be influenced by anyone because he's funding his own campaign.
Sam Nunberg, a Trump adviser, said Trump's goal is to be a conduit for Republicans who feel like outsiders within their own party, especially on immigration.
"His persona is a mix of Ross Perot and Ronald Reagan," Nunberg said in an interview Friday. "A successful businessman disliked by the elites, a natural communicator, and someone who speaks for and is part of the conservative base."
Trump is expected to be greeted in Phoenix by protesters, just as he was at another campaign event Friday in Los Angeles, where he met with the families of crime victims who were killed by people who had come to the United States illegally.
"The illegals come in and the illegals killed their children," Trump said. "And we better get smart in the United States."
Before touching down in Phoenix, Trump will be in Las Vegas, where he will address Freedom Fest, a gathering of libertarian-minded activists. He also plans to hold a news conference in Las Vegas.