Why Trump’s Reliance On Racism Won’t Work In 2020

When Trump senses he's in political danger, he taps into the racial animus of his shrinking base. But if 2018 is any indication, this strategy will likely fail.
Donald Trump waves as he leaves a campaign rally, Friday, Aug. 12, 2016, in Altoona, Pa. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Donald Trump waves as he leaves a campaign rally, Friday, Aug. 12, 2016, in Altoona, Pa. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Whenever President Trump feels backed into a corner, wants to shift the news cycle, or feels he is in political peril, he behaves in the same manner. Trump unleashes unhinged remarks that are offensive, racist, and downright indecent to the broader public but are red meat for his base. This week was no different.

A new Reuters/Ipsos poll released today indicated Trump’s support among Republicans rose 5 points after his racist attacks on the four freshman congresswomen of color. But the key component of this poll is that it rose to 72% from 67%, which is incredibly low GOP support for Trump.

President Trump usually maintains well above 80% Republican support. A similar drop in approval happened during the height of Trump’s attacks on former Special Counsel Robert Mueller in August 2018, after which Trump then resorted to his migrant caravan messaging.

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President Trump’s internal polling could be revealing the shaky foundation of his base, so he needed a cultural grievance to rally them. After all, we were just in the middle of a multi-week news cycle about the horrific migrant detention center conditions and not all of Trump’s base approved. A CNN poll showed that only 62% of Republicans approved of the way migrants were being treated at the border. Although that number should be lower given the inhumane nature of the conditions, 62% is a low level of support among Republicans for a Trump policy.

Nonetheless, President Trump was seeing a new high in his approval rating in a Washington Post poll (44%) as Americans began to tune out for the Summer, but Trump couldn’t help himself. The Jeffrey Epstein pedophilia scandal and migrant detention centers were garnering too much media attention, and Trump wanted to change the subject.

President Trump also reportedly believes that his attacks on representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), and Ayanna Pressley (D-IL) are good for him. But a USA TODAY/Ipsos poll released today revealed that 68% of Americans called Trump’s tweets offensive and only 57% of Republicans agreed with his tweets. But Trump’s strategy goes beyond racism. By targeting them with racist attacks, Trump forced Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to embrace “the Squad”, and therefore Trump believes he can brand the entire Democratic Party as “socialist”.

President Trump can cry “socialism” all he wants but it will definitely fall apart and Americans will see it for the demagoguery it is. How does Trump think this will play in the debates? Trump: “You’re a socialist.” Democratic nominee to the camera: “Don’t listen to him. He calls me wanting to give you access to healthcare, a tax cut, and a livable wage “communism.” He promised you jobs and instead gave the 1% the biggest tax cut in decades. His attacks are a distraction.”

Trump used racist and false attacks successfully in 2016, but when he ran his fear-mongering, migrant caravan-driven campaign ahead of the 2018 midterms, it resulted in the loss of 40 seats in the House. The rhetoric merely fired up black women voters and turned white suburban voters away from the Republican Party.

Tapping into the white fear in the Republican base is a simple tactic that has been used by GOP politicians since the 1960s. President Trump has just been significantly more overt in its application. It’s been clear for a while now that it was not “economic anxiety” that motivated many of his supporters, but it was cultural and racial anxiety – in other words, racism. The Trump Administration is trying to end the asylum process as we know it and completing the GOP’s transition into the white nationalist party.

But this won’t work. Another note from today’s Reuters/Ipsos poll is that he lost support among Independents. As usual, President Trump’s efforts to double down and target his base will backfire among the swing voters he needs to push him over the edge in 2020. Especially as the majority of Americans disapprove of Trump and the Republican Party continues showing signs it is shrinking.

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Opinion // Donald Trump / Racism / White Nationalism