Monday 19 August 2019

Trump wants 'The Squad' to be the face of his opposition

‘The Squad’. Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo
‘The Squad’. Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo

Nick Allen

Ugly as it is, there has been political method in Donald Trump's racist madness. And the fruits of it could be seen last week at a community centre in suburban Minneapolis where hundreds of enthusiastic Democrats packed into a spartan auditorium to hear Ilhan Omar, the object of Trump's ire, talk about state-funded healthcare.

If this was the future of the Democratic Party - lurching left with Omar in the vanguard - then Trump will be confident of returning to the White House in 2020.

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"I think what Trump's done is actually going to make the centrist, corporatist side of the Democratic Party move toward us," said Mike Neaton (69), a supporter of Omar. "Joe Biden is old news. The Democratic National Committee will push Biden, push middle of the road - but they're out of touch and no one's listening to them."

Following Trump's attacks on Omar and three other liberal Democrat congresswomen, who are known as "The Squad", there is no doubt where the energy in the Democratic Party now is. Riven by policy disagreements - on healthcare, climate change and college tuition - a potential electoral cliff looms.

This didn't happen by chance. Republican strategists set out to make The Squad the face of the opposition. Their polling shows over 80pc of Republicans have a "very unfavourable" view of both Omar and fellow Squad member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The Republican 'hate rating' for the more moderate Biden is only 58pc. The question, as is often the case, is whether Trump has gone too far.

By suggesting the congresswomen - none of whom are white - should "go back" where they came from, he could risk losing the support of moderate Republicans.

"That doesn't matter. There are no moderate Republicans any more. It's a dead species," said Larry Sabato, politics professor at the University of Virginia. "Just like conservative Democrats are a dead species, the Republican Party is gone. This is the party of Trump.

"It's going to be a very polarised election, and Trump's ratings with Republicans have gone up since this row. He was already at 90pc, now he's mid-90s. That gives him the extra per cent or so he needs in a close election. He doesn't have to make converts among independents."

The electorate is now so polarised it would take a recession or an unpopular war to damage Trump's near universal Republican support.

"The Democrats look like they're being pushed to the Left - everything's about race and transgender and so on," said Larry Peterson (63), a retired oil worker who identifies as independent. "But I just don't want to see Trump in office after this. You can't say that - 'go back' - about another person. Joe Biden seems pretty mainstream, and the Harris gal too, I can go for them.

"A lot of my friends are Trump. They just think he's the greatest person ever, and they're loving this. Moderate Republicans I know are embarrassed, but they're tolerating him, keeping their mouths shut."

Trump will welcome Omar's decision to keep sparring. Her record is fertile ground for him.


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