We are told that Donald Trump’s appallingly un-American tweets directed toward the “Squad” of radical freshmen members of Congress are an expression of evil political brilliance. The tweets are supposedly designed to compel Democrats to side with the Squad’s leftism and make the rival party unpalatable in November 2020. To this, I can only reply, “Nah.”
First, Democrats need no assistance from Trump here, as the previous week’s self-destructive internecine war between Congressional liberals and the Left made clear.
Second, just because Trump may believe that racial dog-whistling is helpful to him doesn’t mean the rest of us should. We’ve learned from Tim Alberta’s just-published book American Carnage that Trump wants to believe the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape four weeks before the 2016 election actually helped him, but his unwillingness to reckon with his own disastrous behavior shouldn’t gull the rest of us.
As for racially or ethnically noxious talk, the two key moments in his four-year-long political life before this in which he made naked racial appeals—the assault on the judge hearing a case unfavorable to his prospects for being a Mexican and the “good people on both sides” remark after the Charlotteville march-riot—were terrible for him. In the latter case, he fell to the low 30s in the polls.
If Trump wanted to call out the anti-Americanism of the Squad, there are about a hundred more effective ways to do so than to say “go back where you came from”—one of the lowest forms of pre-Internet trolling, not even suitable for an idiot caller to a radio talk show hosted by a raging lunatic like Bob Grant.
Ilhan Omar’s repugnant view of the country that fought to save people like her in the 1990s, allowed her and her family to settle in freedom, and ushered her into a political life helping to lead the United States deserves all the scorn and opprobrium we can muster. Trump just made that harder. Thanks a whole hell of a lot, Mr. President.
At some point, even Trump fans are going to have to start to fear his compulsive need to court unnecessary controversy.
In 1992, Gallup began to try and gauge the difference between a president’s job approval and whether voters had a favorable opinion of the president as a person. The first president Gallup asked about this, George H.W. Bush, maintained a personal favorability rating seven or eight points higher than his job approval before the 1992 election, which suggested there really was a difference between how much the country might like a president and how willing they were to tolerate what they saw as his mistakes on the job. That point became even more starkly clear under Bill Clinton. By the end of his second term, Clinton’s job approval stayed steady around 60 percent after the Lewinsky sex scandal and his impeachment, but his personal approval fell by the end of his presidency to 40 percent. Americans in general thought he had done a good job even as they considered Clinton a person of bad character.
We’ll never know if Clinton’s parlous personal approval ratings would have cost him an election since he could not run again in 2000. We do know that Al Gore’s campaign believed Clinton was the drag on his election and cost him the presidency. But Occam’s razor suggests we’d do well in this case to follow the straight man’s response to the idea of giving a dead man chicken soup: “It couldn’t help.”
Over the past month, Trump’s approval ratings have been rising as the economy continues to hum along and Democrats flail at one another. Rather than take the gift of discord the Democrats are presenting to him, Trump couldn’t resist interposing himself on a circular firing squad, which is not an intelligent thing to do. And rather than letting the public make the association between his presidency and the economy they like, he chooses to define his presidency through racial division.
In other words, Trump appears determined to run for reelection as a generally unpopular person who should nonetheless be returned to the White House because of the job he’s doing. It’s true that Trump will win if the public thinks he’s in part or in whole responsible for the positive condition of the country in November 2020 (should it be positive). So why does he want to distract America’s attention from that? It’s not because he’s (as he still likes to characterize himself) a “very stable genius.” His behavior over the past few days suggests that, as a political actor, he is neither very stable nor a genius.