Last week was a particularly bad week for the Democrats. After Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) implied that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is racist by accusing her of “singling out” minority representatives, a very intense and public squabble (don’t call it a catfight!) broke out between the different factions of the Democratic Party. Meanwhile, a group of protestors at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility tore down an American flag and replaced it with the Mexican flag. At a different ICE facility, an Antifa terrorist waged an attack with a gun and explosive devices. He was killed by police. Like I said, it’s been a bad few days for the Democrats. All Trump had to do to win the week was step back and let them self-destruct. Instead, as is so often the case, Trump threw the Democrats a lifeline in the form of a stupid tweet.
Referring to the newly elected Democrats who have been at odds with Pelosi, Trump urged them to “go back” to the countries “from which they came,” adding that they “can’t leave fast enough.” Of the four Democrats Trump is referring to, only one is actually foreign-born. The others were born in America.
Diehard Trump fans, as always, have set to work trying to explain and rationalize this moronic and reckless comment from the president. Some have claimed that he was only talking about Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), who was born in Somalia. But he said “women,” not “woman” — and “countries,” not “country.” He also made a crack about how Nancy Pelosi would be “very happy to work out travel arrangements.” This makes it exceedingly clear that he is speaking about all four of the Democratic congresswomen who belong to the “Squad” contingent that has been feuding with Pelosi. One of those women — Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) — is black. The Democrats will say that Trump just told a black woman to go back to Africa. They will not have to stretch very hard to make the connection.
I have heard some Trump fans argue that Trump really just meant that they should go back to their congressional districts. That is a willful misreading of the plain language of the tweet. He said “countries,” not “districts.” Others have speculated that Trump is engaged in some kind of brilliant political chess maneuver. He’s not. He rarely is. He’s just saying stuff. There is no grand strategy. There is no plan. Trump just goes on Twitter and says stuff. That’s all. Besides, if it was a political move, it was a disastrously dumb one. He only succeeded in taking the attention away from Democratic infighting while giving them reason to unite again. To top it off, he provided more evidence for the claim that he is racist.
To be clear, I do not believe the president is racist. I think he likes anyone who compliments him and hates anyone who criticizes him. Race does not factor into the equation — neither does gender nor religion nor anything else. But it doesn’t much matter what I think. If you’re a diehard Trump fan, it doesn’t much matter what you think, either. Trump already has your support. He can probably count on your vote no matter what he does. He can certainly count on it no matter what he says or tweets. You will read his tweets, then, in the best possible light. You will reject — rightly, I think — the claim that he’s a bigot. But you are not in the category of people that Trump possibly could, and absolutely must, win over in order to achieve re-election. You are his base. He’s going to need more than you to stay in office after 2020.
At this point, it’s very clear that Trump’s tweeting is a net political negative for him and the Republican Party. A vast majority of Americans have a negative view of his social media antics. But don’t trust the polls — go talk to people. Almost every middle-of-the-road voter you meet — those who aren’t ideologically committed to the Right or the Left — will tell you that they like some of Trump’s policies but they find his tweets annoying at best, and repulsive at worst. Even some of his committed supporters are sick of the act, by now. The point is: The tweets are a hindrance for many potential Trump voters. They are not a help to any potential Trump voters. Nobody is saying, “I’m not so sure about his policies but, man, I can’t get enough of those tweets.” Many people will say something close to the reverse. Again: Only the truest of true believers still like the tweets. But these voters’ preferences are politically irrelevant.
The fact that Trump is hurting himself, his agenda, and his party by constantly mouthing off on Twitter like a moody teenager is self-evident to any reasonable person. Still, a large contingent of the Right feels compelled to defend everything he says, which just makes his stupid comments all the more harmful. You may be able to argue that what Trump said isn’t racist, or that he didn’t mean it the way people are taking it, or that yeah it’s bad but so-and-so on the Left says worse stuff all the time. But your argument automatically loses because the whole conversation is a loser. A discussion about the moral value of telling minorities to go back where they came from is a loser, plain and simple — especially when it supplants the discussion we could be having about the anti-American behavior of leftists and Democrats.
Trump has a habit of fighting every battle on the least favorable ground and approaching every conversation from the worst possible angle. It’s true that Ilhan Omar is anti-American. There are so many ways to make that point — so many winning approaches to that issue. Trump surveyed all of the options and carefully selected the absolute worst one. And now conservatives will spend the next three days justifying it and making themselves look racist, or ignoring it and making themselves look cowardly. That is what Trump achieves with his tweets. His Twitter account continues to be the Democratic Party’s best asset.
Of course, I will be reminded that Trump won in 2016 even while tweeting dumb things and exercising no self-control. That’s true, but 2016 isn’t 2020. Trump was a novelty then. He isn’t now. Trump was running against the most unlikable and corrupt candidate in modern American history then. He isn’t now. The opposing campaign took the Rust Belt for granted. They won’t this time. Anti-Trump voters stayed home because they assumed he’d lose anyway. They won’t this time. Trump was able to win with three million fewer votes across the country. He may not be so lucky this time around. Things have changed, as they always do. If you expect Trump to cruise to victory using the exact same playbook as last time, you’re fooling yourself. If Trump wants to win, he’s going to have to adapt, innovate, and throw some curveballs. Trolling on Twitter was a curveball in 2016. It isn’t anymore. Now it’s a lob right down the center of the plate. And that’s no way to win the game.