What ‘Send Her Back’ Tells Us About Trump’s 2020 Campaign
Hi. Welcome to On Politics, your guide to the day in national politics. I’m Lisa Lerer, your host.[Get On Politics delivered to your inbox.]This was the kind of explosive week in Washington that should make anyone interested in the state of American politics sit up and take notice.President Trump’s attacks on four minority first-term congresswomen turned into a brawl over some of the most divisive issues in American civic life — race and ethnicity, citizenship and partisanship. His rally last night, peppered with chants of “send her back,” raised fears that his no-holds-barred political tactics could feed the country’s ugliest impulses.Mr. Trump is betting his presidency on his ability to inflame those divisive issues, and his actions over the past week give us some hints about what to expect from his re-election campaign. (Spoiler: It’s going to be rough).1. Mr. Trump will play identity politics.Typically, when political types use the phrase “identity politics,” it’s a coded way to talk about liberals trying to appease voters of color. In reality, though, versions of race-based politics targeted at white voters have been used by Republicans for decades.But unlike Presidents George W. Bush or Richard M. Nixon, who embraced slogans almost identical to Mr. Trump’s “America: Love it or leave it” approach, the current president doesn’t do dog whistles.He tells four liberal, minority congresswomen to “go back” to their ancestral countries. He has spent most of his presidency equating Latino immigrants with criminals. He tries to strengthen the political power of white voters by changing the census — literally altering who is counted in America.And after standing silent during the crowd’s chant last night, Mr. Trump said today that he was “not happy” with his supporters’ words, even claiming he tried to stop it — an assertion contradicted by video of the event.Since 2016, a number of academic studies have found a strong connection between high levels of racial resentment and support for Mr. Trump. In research published last March, a research team led by the political scientist Brian Schaffner of the University of Massachusetts found that higher levels of denial of racism were correlated with greater support for Mr. Trump.That feeling is particularly mobilizing among non-college educated white voters — you know, the kind who helped Mr. Trump win Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania last time around. So, this is a campaign strategy, crafted by a politician with a good sense for the desires of his base.2. It’s not about the economy, stupid.Mr. Trump has the kind of economy that’s the stuff of re-election dreams. The unemployment rate is 3.7 percent, near its lowest level since 1969. The economy has grown for a record 121 consecutive months. And the stock market is reaching record highs.But don’t expect to hear much about it. As much as Republican leaders would like this race to be run over the economy, as my colleagues Jonathan Martin and Alex Burns wrote last month, Mr. Trump’s political instincts will drive the race into the more inflammatory cultural issues.That dynamic helps explain some of what we’re seeing in the polls: Voters give Mr. Trump credit for the economy, but don’t see him as presidential. In 2018, Democrats won control of the House on the backs of college-educated suburban voters turned off by Mr. Trump’s behavior. Whether his style continues to alienate those suburban swing voters, who would otherwise see a vote for Mr. Trump as support for economic prosperity, is a central question of the race.3. Buckle your seatbelts; it’s going to be a bumpy ride.Mr. Trump and Republicans have decided that the only way to counter an unpresidential president is to make your opponents seem even more unfit for office. His comments this week are the culmination of a monthslong Republican effort to make “the squad” of freshman congresswomen the face of the Democratic Party, as a way to paint Democrats as radical socialists who hate America. It’s a strategy that the G.O.P. is embracing up and down the ticket.“A vote for any Democrat in 2020 is a vote for the rise of radical socialism and the destruction of the American dream — frankly, the destruction of our country,” Mr. Trump said.Moderate Democrats worry that they’re playing into Mr. Trump’s hands by embracing policies like “Medicare for all” and free college. The liberal wing argues that those policies are broadly popular and that what the party needs is a more aggressive
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