Just when you think @realDonaldTrump has lost his ability to shock, he outdoes himself. He tweets what he’d call ‘a beauty’ — and most of the media calls a nasty. Everybody goes into spasms of apoplexy, and we are all left still whirring in the Trump outrage news cycle that began in 2015.
Trump himself has taken to complaining about his diminishing impact on Twitter – he cannot set fire to world conversation as easily as he used to. This might explain his risqué tweets this weekend, in which he encouraged famous progressive congresswomen to ‘go back and help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came.’ He’s pushing the outrage envelope – transgressing the boundaries of polite society in order to make himself the story once again.
Sure enough, the world and his social media feed have called Trump ‘unacceptable’ – as if that matters at all – and people who have expressed sympathy for the president in the past are being asked if they are willing to stand by a president that so flagrantly plays on racist tropes etc. etc…
I know it is hard to stop moralising, especially in this age of social media and 24/7 virtue-trumpeting. But let’s try. Let’s attempt to understand what’s happening in Trump’s unusual, media-addled brain. Once you stop jumping up and down and shouting racism it becomes obvious. Trump isn’t playing 3D chess. He just wants to keep the ‘the Squad’ – as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib, the four Democratic congresswomen Trump was referring to are known – front and centre of the news agenda.
Trump can see the big fissures in the Democratic coalition, and he wants to hammer into them. He knows the squad are a headache for the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. That’s why he added that joke about Pelosi being ‘very happy to quickly work out free travel.’ The more he can keep the likes of Omar and Tlaib in the news, the better, he thinks, never mind if that means endless pundits calling him racist.
The Democratic splits were in evidence this weekend in Philadelphia at Netroots Nation, the progressive summit, where Nancy Pelosi was roundly attacked for having criticised the Squad. Pelosi constantly finds herself dragged outside the party’s centre-left comfort zone because of the edgy popularity and media zing of figures such as Ocasio-Cortez and Omar. The more Trump can promote them, the more he pushes his 2020 opponent (whoever that might be) left.
The danger, of course, is that Trump serves as a kind of toxic glue that binds his enemies together against his re-election. By attacking radical leftist congresswomen in such incendiary terms, he ends up uniting the Democrats.
But Trump’s strategy doesn’t need to split the Democrats. He just needs to keep pushing them to the left of the American mainstream, where the Squad are. The more he can keep Omar and co. in the public eye, the more he wins. Like all things Trump, it is stupid and smart at the same time.