Trump's racist attack on progressive congresswomen is reportedly part of a plot to smear Democrats as extremists in the 2020 election

Business Insider | Jul 18, 2019, 08.27PM IST

Trump rally


US President Donald Trump speaks at a "Make America Great Again" rally at Minges Coliseum in Greenville, North Carolina, on July 17, 2019.

  • In recent days President Trump has kept up a steady stream of attacks on four progressive congresswomen of color.
  • Some have seen Trump's attacks as a wild outburst of the type that almost derailed his 2016 candidacy, but others believe there is a deeper strategy at play.
  • President Trump has reportedly told allies that he believes the attacks have succeeding in "marrying" House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to the four congresswomen, who he has denounced as "extremists."
  • Trump allies have told Axios that the attacks are part of a strategy to increase turnout of white voters.
  • Portraying the Democrats as extremists hostile to American values will be central to GOP strategy in 2020.
  • Some strategists though believe the attacks could backfire, unite Democrats, and turn away moderate voters.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

As Trump continues to target a group of Democratic congresswomen in a series of incendiary attacks, arguments are raging about the president's motivation.

Is Trump just giving venting his convictions and prejudices in the type of outburst that so often had his officials rushing to limit the damage during his 2016 election campaign? Or is there a strategy at play?

Read more: Trump repeated an unfounded claim that freshman lawmaker Ilhan Omar married her brother to sneak him into the US

According to aides there is a plan at work, and the president's rhetoric is highlighting what will likely be the dark and divisive themes of his 2020 presidential re-election strategy.

Citing several sources familiar with the matter, the New York Times reported on Wednesday that Trump has told aides that he is pleased with the Democratic reaction to the attacks.

The Times says he believes he is succeeding in tying centrist Democrats such as Nancy Pelosi to the four progressive congresswomen he has smeared as anti-American extremists.

From left, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP Images

From left, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass.

Only last week Pelosi was locked in fierce dispute with the congresswomen, known as "The Squad," but came to their defense after Trump on Sunday tweeted they should "go back and help fix" their "broken and crime infested" countries. The tweet was widely denounced as racist.

For months, Trump and the GOP have been laying the ground for their attacks. In tweets, Trump has attacked the Democrats as "socialists" and "extremists" opposed to American values.

And in the four congresswomen - Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, and Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota - he seems to believe he has found the perfect target.

Read more: Trump stepped up his attacks on a group of progressive congresswomen of color, groundlessly calling them 'pro-terrorist' and 'anti-USA'

The GOP and allies in Fox News have for months been highlighting controversial statements made by the four, all of whom are recently elected and do not hold leadership positions in the Democratic party. They include statements by Rep. Omar saying that support from US political leaders for Israel is all about money, for which she apologized.

It is these four young representatives and not the nominee the party eventually chooses to take him on in the 2020 election, that Trump will seek to portray as the face of the Democratic party.

Trump associates who spoke to Axios on Thursday offered further insight into the calculations that are behind the attacks.

According to them the president's race baiting and strong anti-immigrant policies will juice turnout from white voters, and will not significantly alienate Latin voters, leading to a narrow election win.

Trump's shock election victory in 2016 was clinched by persuading white voters in former Rust Belt states to switch sides and vote Republican.

ilhan omar


Rep. Ilhan Omar, who Trump has attacked in recent days.

Read more: Trump is furiously accusing Republican lawmakers of being weak in their defense of his racist tweet, report says

According to a poll reportedly circulating among top Democrats, the white, non-college educated swing voters key to Democrat success in 2020 see Ocasio-Cortez as the face of the Democratic party. Only 22% hold a favorable view of her, and only 9% approve of Rep Omar.

Other Republicans though believe the attacks are dangerous gamble that could backfire, with Politico reporting Monday that some strategists believe a divided and bickering Democrat opposition is of more benefit to Trump going into 2020 than one united in face of his attacks.

Other fear alienating more of the suburban white voters who abandoned the GOP to vote Democrat in the 2018 mid-terms, handing the Democrats control of the House.

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