Trump, at a rally in New Mexico, a border state with the highest Hispanic population in the country, said that he has great support among Latino Americans because of his hard line on stopping migrants and drugs from crossing illegally into the United States.

“The Hispanic Americans, they understand,” he said as supporters waved preprinted “Latinos for Trump” signs at Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho, near Albuquerque. “They don’t want criminals coming across the border. They don’t want people taking their jobs. They want to have that security. And they want the wall. They want the wall.”

Trump flavored his typical campaign speech with repeated references to Hispanics, boasting that unemployment among Hispanics was at a record low, calling attention to the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month and asserting that Hispanics love him. He asked how many in the arena were Hispanic, and a sizable share of the audience cheered in response.

He singled out a longtime supporter, Steve Cortes, a CNN commentator, who was present. “He happens to be Hispanic, but I’ve never quite figured it out because he looks more like a WASP than I do,” Trump said.

Shouting across the arena to Cortes, the president said: “Nobody loves the Hispanics more. Who do you like more, the country or the Hispanics?”

Cortes cupped his hands and shouted a reply that was hard to hear.

“He says the country,” Trump interpreted for him. “I don’t know, I may have to go for the Hispanics, to be honest with you. We got a lot of Hispanics. We love our Hispanics. Get out and vote.”

He even boasted of support from Hispanics in Florida. “The Venezuelans and the Cubans, they’re all for Trump,” he said.

The notion of choosing loyalty between Hispanics and the country drew immediate condemnation from Democrats. “Tonight Trump said, ‘Who do you love more, the country or the Hispanics?’” Rep. Ben Ray Luján, who is running for Senate in New Mexico, wrote on Twitter during the rally. “I don’t even know where to begin with that question. Hispanics are proud Americans. We are part of this country, just like you @realdonaldtrump. Do better.”

Trump has the support of about one-quarter of Hispanic voters, according to polls. His approval rating among Hispanics in the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll stands at 25%, significantly below that among the American population as a whole. Former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic front-runner, leads Trump among Hispanics by 71% to 26%, according to combined Post-ABC polls.

New Mexico, whose population is about 49% Hispanic, according to the census, would be a tough state for the president to flip. Trump lost it in 2016 by 8 percentage points, and in 2018, Republicans lost the governor’s mansion and a House seat, making the state’s entire congressional delegation Democratic.

In his speech, Trump sounded many of the themes that usually animate his rallies, promoting his record on the economy, border security and military spending while lashing out at Democrats, the news media and “the elite.”

He focused on the latest accusation of youthful sexual misconduct against Justice Brett Kavanaugh, detailed in The New York Times in an excerpt from a new book on his confirmation. The excerpt reported that a Yale University classmate recalled seeing the future justice with his pants down at a drunken dorm party, where friends pushed his penis into the hand of a female student.

The woman declined to be interviewed, and friends said she did not recall the episode, a fact not originally mentioned in the excerpt and later added to it. Several Democratic presidential candidates have called for Kavanaugh to be impeached.

“Look at what they are doing today to Justice Kavanaugh,” Trump said. “Look at what they are doing. The woman said, I don’t remember that. And they still want him to be impeached.”

He assailed The Times. “I called for the resignation of everybody at The New York Times involved in this,” he said. “They have taken the old Gray Lady and broken her down, destroyed her virtue and ruined her reputation.”

Trump’s visit to New Mexico was his first since becoming president, and he vowed to make it competitive next year. “We are here because we really think we’re going to turn a state and make it a Republican state,” he said.

In his build-the-wall fervor, Trump has repeatedly used racially inflammatory language. He opened his presidential campaign in 2015 by denouncing Mexican “rapists” coming across the border (although, he said, some immigrants “I assume are good people”) and later claimed an American-born judge could not fairly handle a lawsuit against him because he was “Mexican.” The president has also denounced caravans of migrants heading for the border as “invaders” and gang members as “animals.”

But Trump and his allies maintain that his tough words apply only to criminals or bad actors, not to Hispanics as a whole. Hispanics whose families came to the United States legally, they argue, do not approve of others breaking the law to enter the country. And they add that many Hispanics share Trump’s views on regulation, taxes and social issues.

In his speech Monday night, Trump rejected the accusation that his policies and language played to racial stereotypes and promoted animosity. “I’m the least racist person in this room,” he said.

“We are working night and day to deliver a future of limitless opportunities for our nation’s Hispanic American citizens,” he said, “including millions and millions of extraordinary Mexican Americans who enrich our society, and strengthen our country, serve in our military, and contribute immensely to other shared American family.”

New Mexico Democrats, who held a unity and diversity rally to counter Trump, argued that the president was actually harming the people he said he was helping, noting that he had diverted money from military construction projects to finance his border wall without permission from Congress, including an unmanned aerial training facility at Holloman Air Force Base.

“President Trump says he’s building his wall, but it’s New Mexico’s service members who are paying the price,” the state’s Democratic Party tweeted. “We don’t need an expensive and ineffective vanity project, we need common-sense reforms to address the humanitarian crisis at our border.”

From here, Trump will travel to California for fundraising events Tuesday and Wednesday.

This article originally appeared in

.