The mayor of El Paso, Texas, said after he corrected President Donald Trump about crime statistics in his city, the president called him a “RINO,” a pejorative nickname that means “Republican in Name Only.”
Mayor Dee Margo told PBS’s “Frontline” in an interview published Wednesday that Trump made those comments in a private conversation they had while the president was in El Paso last week to pay respects after a mass shooting that killed 22 people and injured dozens more.
“He said, ‘You’re a RINO,’ and I said, ‘No sir, I’m not a RINO, I simply corrected the misinformation you were given by our attorney general, and that’s all I did’,” Margo recounted.
Earlier this year, Margo, who was elected El Paso’s mayor in 2017 after winning a runoff against another Republican, pushed back against claims made by Trump to justify his border wall demands. Trump, during the State of the Union in February, said El Paso had one of the highest rates of violent crime in the country but that after construction of border fencing it was now one of the safest.
Margo publicly challenged Trump at the time. He said crime in El Paso had been dropping before a barrier went up along the border and that fencing was not a “panacea” for the nation’s immigration and border security problems.
Shortly thereafter, Trump held a rally in El Paso and took a jab at Margo from the stage, saying, “I don’t care if a mayor is a Republican or a Democrat. They are full of crap if they say [the border barrier] doesn’t make a difference.”
A barrier would not have stopped the recent massacre.
Margo, who had been tepid in his reaction to Trump visiting the grieving city days after the shooting, said he rode with the president to the airport in an effort to correct his perception of El Paso.
“It seemed to resonate with him. He’d never been here, the only time he’d been here for his rally he flew in at night and left at night,” Margo told “Frontline.”
The RINO insult is one popularly employed by conservatives in primary campaigns against Republicans who they deem not far enough to the right. Some groups who sought to challenge GOP incumbents from the right called themselves “RINO hunters.”