The Democratic nominee, whoever it turns out to be, should use the president’s contortions and carrying-on against him.
The person most capable of defeating Donald Trump is Donald Trump. If Democrats are smart, they will let him do the job.
President Trump thrives on outrage and resentment. He seethes with it, stirs it in others and mines it for his own political profit. His political project relies on driving Americans to their cultural and ideological corners. He is Pavlov. We are the dogs.
Mr. Trump’s serial assaults on the decency and the decorum upon which civil society depends are enraging — and meant to be. It is only natural to respond to his every provocation with righteous indignation.
My advice to the Democratic nominee next year is: Donʼt play.
Wrestling is Mr. Trump’s preferred form of combat. But beating him will require jiu-jitsu, a different style of battle typically defined as the art of manipulating an opponent’s force against himself rather than confronting it with one’s own force.
Mr. Trump was elected to shake things up and challenge the political establishment. And to many of his core supporters, his incendiary dog whistles, bullhorn attacks and nonstop flouting of “political correctness” remain energizing symbols of authenticity.
But polling and focus groups reflect a growing unease among a small but potentially decisive group of voters who sided with Mr. Trump in 2016 but are increasingly turned off by the unremitting nastiness, the gratuitous squabbles and the endless chaos he sows.
Plenty of attention has been paid to the historic shift in suburban areas Mr. Trump narrowly carried in 2016 but that broke decisively with his party last fall. That revolt was led by college-educated white women, who overwhelmingly turned against Republican candidates.
But what should be of even greater concern to Mr. Trump is the potential erosion among the non-college-educated white women he is counting on as a core constituency. Those women gave Mr. Trump a 27-point margin over Hillary Clinton in 2016. Yet in a recent Fox News poll, Mr. Trump was beating former Vice President Joe Biden by just four points in that group.
If I were sitting in the Trump war room, this number, more than any other, would alarm me. He won the presidency by the slimmest of margins in three battleground states. With little place to grow, even a small erosion of support among these women could prove fatal to Mr. Trump’s chances. While they are inclined to many of his positions, the thing that is driving these voters away is Mr. Trump himself.
And one thing we can be sure of as the election approaches: Donald Trump is not going to change.
Given that Mr. Trump’s approval rating has been hovering around 40 percent throughout his presidency, his obvious and only strategy is to turn his dial further into the red. He will try to raise the stakes by painting the election as a choice between himself and a radical, left-wing apocalypse. He will bay about
- open bordersand
- “deep state” corruption
and relentlessly work to inflame and exploit racial and cultural divides.
But as Mr. Trump seeks to rev up his base, he also runs a significant risk of driving away a small but decisive cohort of voters he needs. His frenetic efforts to create a panic over the immigrant caravan in the days leading up to the 2018 midterms may have stoked his base, but it also generated a backlash that contributed to major losses for his party.
With everything on the line and nothing, to his mind, out of bounds, the same dynamic will be in play in 2020, and this creates an opportunity for Democrats — if their party’s message allows Trump defectors to comfortably cross that bridge.
There is a legion of arguments on moral, ethical and policy grounds for Mr. Trump’s defeat, and that’s leaving out the sheer incompetence. But the most effective question for Democrats to get voters to ask is simply whether the country can survive another four years like this.
Can we continue to wake each day to the tweets and tantrums, the nasty, often gratuitous fights and the ensuing turmoil that surrounds this president? Can we make progress on issues of concern to the way millions of people live their lives with a leader who looks for every opportunity to divide us for his own political purposes? And is a Trump freed of the burden of re-election really going to be less combative and more constructive in a second term? Um, no.
Each time Mr. Trump lashes out, as he will with increasing ferocity and frequency as the election approaches, these questions will gain more resonance. Every erratic escalation — every needless quarrel, firing or convulsive policy lurch — will provide additional evidence in the case for change.
Mr. Trump’s impulse is always to create a binary choice, forcing Americans to retreat to tribe. He wants to define the battle around divisive cultural issues that will hem in his supporters, and it would be seductive for Democrats to chase every tweeted rabbit down the hole. The president would welcome a pitched battle over lines of race, ideology and culture.
But while Mr. Trump’s thermonuclear politics may rally both his base and Democrats who slumbered in 2016, it is the paralyzing disorder and anxiety his bilious behavior creates that is a distressing turnoff to voters at the margins who will make the difference.
To win, the Democrats will have turn Mr. Trump’s negative energy against him without embodying it themselves.
Manigault Newman claims that applicants to “The Apprentice” were tested for S.T.D.s, and that female prospects were subjected to a “humiliating vaginal examination and Pap smear.” She claims that, on the set of “The Celebrity Apprentice,” Trump egged Gene Simmons on as he hit on Ivanka.
.. Gone is the conviction of “Every critic, every detractor, will have to bow down to President Trump.” “Now, when I look at things, I’m stunned that I was involved in this kind of shady dealing,”
.. she writes, of dropping a lawsuit against the National Enquirer at Trump’s behest. The Enquirer, she claims, sent a reporter to surveil the funeral of her brother Jack, who was murdered, in 2011. She also claims that Trump brokered a solution: Manigault Newman would serve as the West Coast editor in exchange for letting the matter go. (David Pecker, the Enquirer’s publisher, denies such an arrangement.)
.. To deliver palace intrigue, you must be well placed in the court. “Unhinged” is obsessed with showing how Manigault Newman, who critics say did nothing in the Administration, was in fact a key presence. Résumé inflation has long been in the Omarosa playbook; she débuted, in the early aughts, by exaggerating her positions under Al Gore and the Clintons. Here she goes further: she wants to prove that, before Trump betrayed her, she was his one true confidante.
.. No one is buying that the hardened reality-show player could not see what was tweeting in front of her. So what is Omarosa really selling? Her product is not simply the alleged tapes but the idea that she may have outmaneuvered Trump. I’ve written before about Manigault Newman’s scrounging embrace of black exceptionalism. Opportunism has never morally burdened her, which makes her self-interest seem both egregious and banal. She has clung to her infamy, in part, by perverting the black worker’s experience of racism. She has always exploited the vantage of the pariah, but has more frequently tried to frame herself as a victim.
.. Our infantilization of women in power has, at times, elicited empathy for figures such as Hope Hicks, Melania Trump, and Ivanka Trump. This seems to be what Omarosa seeks.
Vice President Mike Pence, an evangelical Christian, visits Israel this week, the culmination of his years of support for the country on religious grounds. But the Trump administration’s policies, while lauded by American evangelical groups, are opposed by Palestinian Christians and have been questioned by Pope Francis.
Those policies, in other words, align poorly with either the religious solidarity or foreign policy realism that supposedly animated them, but align perfectly with American identity politics.
Mr. Trump, with his penchant for indulging his nationalist impulses and disregarding foreign policy doctrine, is a perfect vessel for carrying that culture war abroad, with potentially far-reaching consequences.
.. “Israel isn’t an ‘issue’ for evangelicals in the same way that deregulation and a better tax policy are issues,” Robert Nicholson, who leads a Christian advocacy group, said in an email. “It is a matter of identity.”
.. Research by Amnon Cavari, an Israeli political scientist, found that hard-line views on Israel had spread among conservatives only recently, and largely because of partisan polarization over domestic issues. Though conventional wisdom often suggests that evangelical and Jewish groups energized conservative views on Israel, in fact it was the other way around.
.. Being tough on terrorism became a core conservative value that was expressed, in part, as support for Israel — specifically, as support for harsh Israeli policies toward the conflict. This also aligned with increasingly negative attitudes toward Muslims. And an atmosphere of us-versus-them politics equated supporting Israelis with opposing Palestinians.Though George W. Bush, then the president, encouraged both inclusion of Muslims and neutrality on Israel, polarization pulled some conservatives toward a zero-sum view of the conflict, in which maximally opposing Palestinians became a matter of identity.
.. This opened a gap between the identity politics of the Republican base and the policies of its leaders — precisely the sort of gap that Mr. Trump would exploit in his presidential primary bid. As he rose by saying what others would not, he supercharged the Israeli-Palestinian conflict’s salience to identity issues among what would become his base.
Mr. Trump advocated severe restrictions on legal and illegal immigration, particularly from Muslim-majority countries whose citizens he said posed a threat. In doing so, the president aligned fear of demographic change with fear of terrorism.
There is no reason that those positions must necessarily line up with support for Israel, but Mr. Trump leveraged culture war passions to try to bring them together.
.. Mr. Trump represents the culmination of a trend that pro-Israel groups resisted for years: the loss of Jewish support. Even as Jews grew more liberal, many supported strongly pro-Israel policies. But as “pro-Israel” becomes synonymous with “conservative Republican,” Jews are drifting away. They oppose moving the embassy by almost 3-to-1.
.. Party politics started this process. In 2015, Republicans invited Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s right-wing prime minister, to address Congress in opposition to Mr. Obama’s policies on Iran. Though intended to turn American Jews and others against Mr. Obama, it had the opposite effect, polarizing them against Mr. Netanyahu.
Mr. Trump has taken it drastically further. He has indulged hard-core conservative instincts to a degree that, deliberately or not, attracted support from a white nationalist fringe that also tends to be hostile to Jews.
He is moving the idea of being “pro-Israel” even further right, separating it even from the Jewish support that is ostensibly critical to Israel’s long-term survival.
Revoking aid from refugees to punish Palestinian leaders, for instance, aligns with Mr. Trump’s nationalist tendencies to treat foreign populations as monolithic blocs. This, too, has its roots in American culture wars over immigration.