Wednesday, July 17, 2019


President Trump thought he was being a clever boy when he went to Twitter to tell the four members of "the Squad" to go back where they came from. On the New York Times op-ed page, there's widespread agreement that Trump was, in fact, pursuing a smart strategy.

Frank Bruni:
With his attack on the congresswomen ... he had specific goals. They’re all about the 2020 presidential campaign, which has now begun in full....

He wants to reframe it, so that he’s running not against whomever the Democrats wind up nominating but against Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley. Against who they are individually. Against what they represent ideologically. Against what they telegraph about the demographic direction of the country and about a new distribution — a new sharing — of power.
Michelle Cottle:
Calling on these four women of color ... to “go back” to their home countries (though all but Ms. Omar were born in the United States), the president simultaneously denigrated them and elevated their political standing. In the process, he may well have hit upon the shiny new political foil that he has been searching for.

... If he wants a culture war, they will give him one, bringing the bellicose rhetoric and rallying their voters — and, yes, calling for his impeachment. Who better to fire up Mr. Trump’s loyal supporters?
Trump, using his sample set of one, thinks he knows everything there is to know about winning elections. We could write this off as Trumpian hubris, but much of the media suspects he's right. They think a base-only strategy could get him reelected.

Even I think that a base-only strategy might work. But it's one thing for Trump to fire up his base with the usual complaints about the media not giving him enough credit for the economy and Twitter using sinister algorithms to reduce the number of his followers. It's another thing for Trump to be this blatant in his racism. It doesn't work. Here's Bruni and Cottle's colleague Jamelle Bouie, in dialogue with Dave Weigel of The Washington Post:

The polls right now tell us that there's no benefit for Trump in this strategy. Reuters:
Support for U.S. President Donald Trump increased slightly among Republicans after he lashed out on Twitter over the weekend in a racially charged attack on four minority Democratic congresswomen, a Reuters/Ipsos public opinion poll shows.

The national survey ... showed his net approval among members of his Republican Party rose by 5 percentage points to 72%, compared with a similar poll that ran last week.

Trump, who is seeking re-election next year, has lost support, however, with Democrats and independents since the Sunday tweetstorm.

Among independents, about three out of 10 said they approved of Trump, down from four out of 10 a week ago. His net approval - the percentage who approve minus the percentage who disapprove - dropped by 2 points among Democrats in the poll.

Trump’s overall approval remained unchanged over the past week. According to the poll, 41% of the U.S. public said they approved of his performance in office, while 55% disapproved.
And USA Today:
A clear majority of Americans say President Trump's tweets targeting four minority congresswomen were "un-American," according to a new USA TODAY/Ipsos Poll. But most Republicans say they agreed with his comments....

More than two-thirds of those aware of the controversy, 68%, called Trump's tweets offensive. Among Republicans alone, however, 57% said they agreed with tweets that told the congresswomen to go back to their "original" countries, and a third "strongly" agreed with them....

Independents by more than 2-1 said his tweets were "un-American." Three-fourths of the women polled called them offensive.
I'll repeat what I said yesterday: Trump can't possibly fire up his base more than he already has. They'll crawl through ground glass to vote for him. They're locked in. He's wasting energy selling them on a product they're already 100% certain to buy. It's not as if he can motivate them to vote for him more than once. But when he plays the race card this way, he motivates independents and women, including some who chose him in 2016, not to vote for him.

Trump's usual mode is barely concealed racism, but the Squad inspired him to dispense with even the tiny bit of deniability in his standard rhetoric. If he keeps up his vendetta against them in this way -- or if, perhaps, he's inspired to go full-on racist against, say, Kamala Harris if she's on the Democratic ticket -- I think he'll lose. The Squad may be the foil Trump wants, but what he wants might be the opposite of what he needs.

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