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.
Is there an election coming up, or something?
With Republicans struggling to keep their grip on Congress, President Trump is dialing up the demagogy. At campaign rallies and on social media, he’s spewing dark warnings about a
- Democratic mob clamoring to usher in an
- era of open borders,
- rampant crime,
- social chaos and
- economic radicalism.
As is so often the case, Mr. Trump is not letting reality interfere with his performance. At a rally in Nevada this weekend, the president told the crowd that Californians were rioting to “get out of their sanctuary cities.” (They aren’t.) He also suggested that Democrats will soon be looking to hand out free luxury cars to illegal immigrants. (They won’t.) “Give ’em a driver’s license. Next thing you know, they’ll want to buy ’em a car,” he riffed. “Then they’ll say the car’s not good enough, we want — how about a Rolls-Royce?”
Mr. Trump’s Twitter feed has been electrifying as well, full of statements intended to thrill his fans — and, better still, bait his opponents into a partisan rage. In recent days, he has dubbed Stormy Daniels “Horseface,” escalated his taunting of Senator Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas” and grumbled about the fact that Bruce Ohr, one of Mr. Trump’s nemeses in the “rigged” Russian “witch hunt,” is still employed by the Department of Justice. He has asserted that the Democratic nominee for governor in Florida, Andrew Gillum, is looking to turn the state into “the next Venezuela.” He has threatened to dispatch troops to shut down the southern border and renewed his vow to cut off the “massive foreign aid” sent to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras for those nations’ failure to stop their people from flocking to the United States.
In particular, the caravan of Honduran migrants making its way north has emerged as a focus of his fantasies. Mr. Trump has repeatedly implied that Democrats are paying Honduran youth to join the caravan. On Monday, he claimed, based on nothing, that the caravan is awash in “criminals and unknown Middle Easterners.”
.. Mr. Trump plays the polarization game because he enjoys it — he does love a brawl — and because he doesn’t appear to care about much beyond his political and personal fortunes. And, more practically speaking, these days he doesn’t have much else to talk about.
It’s not that this president has failed to achieve anything in his first couple of years in office. The economy is chugging along right now, and many Republican candidates would be happy for him to play that up on the campaign trail.
But his most notable achievements do not resonate beyond Mr. Trump’s base. He has overseen a conservative overhaul of the federal judiciary, seating a record number of judges, including two Supreme Court justices. And he has been an aggressive deregulator in areas ranging from education to transportation to health care to the environment.
The selective outrage and twisted morality of the Left never fails to amaze. But through all this the Democrats have revealed themselves. With nothing else to run on, they have now become the party of MS-13, transgender bathrooms, open borders, NFL protesters, filthy comedians, abortion, pot — and now the porn industry. We’ll see how that plays in November.
Laura Ingraham, in her monologue on “The Ingraham Angle,”
arguing that Democrats “revealed” that they have nothing to campaign because Trump has reduced unemployment and boosted the economy, including when it comes to traditionally Democratic minorities.
Trump has been complaining about her ever since she became head of D.H.S., in December. He didn’t like that she had once served in the Bush Administration, or that Fox News personalities such as Ann Coulter and Lou Dobbs considered her an “open-borders zealot.”
.. illegal border crossings declined, but they began rising last year—as many analysts expected they would, owing to continued violence in Central America.
.. Part of Nielsen’s job also involved talking the President down when he floated his own ideas for curbing immigration, many of which he picked up from Fox News. This didn’t endear her to the President, either.
.. two of her most prominent backers from the Bush Administration—Michael Chertoff, a former head of D.H.S., and Frances Townsend, a former homeland-security adviser at the White House—were part of the “Never Trump” movement.
.. Since John Kelly was a retired four-star general who, at the time, enjoyed good standing with the President, disgruntled immigration hard-liners were reluctant to criticize him; they directed their frustration toward Nielsen, instead.
.. The irony is that, since becoming the D.H.S. Secretary, Nielsen has shown herself to be both an extremely tough-minded enforcer of Trump’s immigration agenda and an enthusiastic spokesperson for his Administration.
.. “You can’t be seen as the lapdog of the White House,” one of them said. “That makes the department into a political football.”
.. Nielsen’s embrace of the President’s rhetoric on immigration had politicized the department’s broader mission.
.. While Trump was questioning Nielsen’s place in his Administration this winter and spring, she was forced to try to prove her loyalty.
.. Earlier this month, D.H.S. and the Justice Department announced a new “zero tolerance” policy at the border, vowing to prosecute all unauthorized border crossers, including asylum seekers, for entering the country illegally. One outgrowth of the policy is that parents and their children will be separated once they’re taken into custody. The Administration initially justified its stance by insisting that breaking up families would act as a deterrent, to scare away other families that might try to cross the border
.. “You have to ask yourself,why is she doing what’s she’s doing?” the official told me. “It’s not because she really wants to do it. It’s all posture.”
.. The border wall was another source of contention. Republicans in Congress skimped on funding it in the omnibus bill earlier this year. “That was an insult to the President,” the official said. “And a lot of that is on Nielsen. It was up to her to convince Congress to fund all this.”
.. there is “a cabal of anti-immigration people sprinkled throughout the government. A lot of them used to work for Jeff Sessions, and they all talked.” This group disliked Nielsen, but she survived, in part, because she has had the support of John Kelly.
.. There are additional similarities in how Kelly and Nielsen have handled confrontations with Trump.
.. Kelly, too, has reportedly threatened to resign at times when he couldn’t corral the President.
.. Nielsen does have some leverage. It will be difficult, if not almost impossible, to find a replacement for her—someone who can both appease the President and get confirmed by the Senate.
.. “The Administration can’t get rid of Nielsen. She doesn’t even have a deputy right now to fill in for her if she leaves.”