ANALYSIS: The cynical strategy behind Trump's attacks on minority women in Congress
It was not a typo or a slip of the tongue.
U.S. President Donald Trump made his comments with full consciousness and clarity, tweeting them out to the world at 8:27 a.m. on a Sunday.
His targets on that July morning are believed to be four Democratic congresswomen — representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna S. Pressley — ‘The Squad,’ as they’re known.
All four are women of colour, serving in an institution that remains overwhelmingly white and male-dominated.
All four have left-leaning political views that challenge the mainstream of their party.
All four have been openly critical of President Trump.
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“Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came,” Trump pondered on Twitter, before adding, “you can’t leave fast enough.”
For the record, three of the four were born in America. All four are legal U.S. citizens.
That didn’t stop the president from digging in even deeper. On Monday he decided to expand on his remarks in person.
“If you’re not happy here you can leave,” he told reporters.
“These are people that hate our country, I think, with a passion,” he added, before accusing Rep. Omar of supporting al-Qaida while claiming she “hates Jews.”
From almost any other politician or world leader, this would be astonishing. For Trump, it’s just more of the same.
This is not the first time that Trump has suggested that if you’re not white you might not have been born in the United States. This is also not the first time Trump has made blanket statements equating Muslims with terrorists.
Before the “go back” tweets, there were the “very fine people” Trump spotted at a rally of white supremacists, which came after Trump proposed a ban on Muslims entering the United States, in a campaign that was launched by calling Mexicans rapists.
All of this was preluded by Trump’s years-long campaign to discredit the first African-American president as not being born in America.
That’s a lot from someone who has proclaimed himself “the least racist person.”
But Trump doesn’t actually do much to hide his sentiments.
That’s because there’s a strategy here. This is the 2020 re-election plan in full view.
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“Dividing is easy, and uniting is hard, and Donald Trump usually does the easy thing,” said Larry Sabato, head of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.
For Trump, it’s all about his base.
His comments, especially targeting the only two Muslim women in Congress, are red meat to some of his supporters.
The bigger play is that all four congresswomen also represent the far left of the Democratic Party.
Trump is undertaking a calculated strategy to make the women household names. He’s doing this while portraying them as extremists — Venezuela-loving socialists, heck, even communists!
And by attacking these women directly, he’s forcing Democrats to rush to their defence, all so that he can paint the entire party with the same brush.
Don’t believe me? Trump will gladly tell you this himself.
“If [Democrats] want to gear their wagons around these four people they’re going to have a very tough election because I don’t think the people of the United States will stand for it,” said the president from the White House on Monday.
Sabato says “it excites his base.
“It gives him a point of argument that is relatively popular, in that there are lots of Democrats who don’t agree with the so-called ‘squad,’” he said.
Indeed, Democrats have been ripping themselves apart over whether or not they should move to the left and listen to the young progressive voices that have joined the party.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi has sparred with members of The Squad, while Democratic presidential candidates seem unsure as to which part of the party to appeal to.
All the while, Trump is resting comfortably with 90 per cent support from Republicans.
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He may be down in the polls and historically unpopular, but Trump knows winning the next election is a numbers game.
At this point, he can trust that his supporters will come out for him in droves. His game is to keep them all fired up while fuelling disarray within the Democrats.
If it takes being called a racist to do that, Trump apparently doesn’t care. When asked about being on the same page as white supremacists, the president responded: “It doesn’t concern me, many people agree with me.”
According to Sabato, the things Trump “says and does about race are truly outrageous and they divide America further.
“Whether he’s damaging the fabric of American life, I don’t think comes into his consideration.”