WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump’s racist attack on four Democratic congresswomen is undisciplined impulsiveness now being dressed up as insightful “strategy” by his supporters, Republican political consultants said, arguing it will likely make his reelection campaign even harder.
“There was no strategy,” acknowledged one former Trump aide on condition of anonymity. “This is just a Sunday morning reaction to ‘Fox and Friends.’”
Stuart Stevens, a longtime campaign consultant now working for Trump challenger Bill Weld, said he understands Republicans’ desire to find a strategy in the president’s outbursts. “There is always this need to attribute this master plan to Trump because otherwise, you have to come to terms with the fact that he’s a blithering idiot.”
Trump launched his attacks on the black, Latino and Muslim House members Sunday morning, telling them “you can’t leave fast enough” — repeating a racist insult used against immigrants and U.S.-born racial minorities that goes back generations.
Trump kept it up Monday from the White House South Lawn — repeating several times that the four first-term female lawmakers who call themselves a “squad” were free to leave if they do not like the United States. He did it again on Tuesday during a Cabinet meeting.
By late Monday, Trump’s campaign and supporters had switched from claiming that his remarks were not racist and that he never told the women to leave the country to arguing that they were part of an effort to tie all Democrats, including the eventual 2020 presidential nominee, to the four women’s progressive politics.
The Trump campaign did not respond to queries from HuffPost for this story.
Matt Mackowiak, a Republican consultant from Texas and chairman of the county party that includes state capital Austin, said Trump had successfully undone House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s efforts to downplay the four women’s influence.
“These four members of Congress have made outrageous statements and hold views well outside the political mainstream. If the ‘Squad’ comes to define the Democratic Party nationally, that will repel independent voters and benefit Republicans,” Mackowiak said. “Trump’s attack on them raised their profile and forced Democrats to embrace them.”
Yet even longtime Trump supporter Anthony Scaramucci, who briefly served as White House communications director in 2017, said that Trump’s language undid whatever value there was in making New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar, Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib and Massachusetts’ Ayanna Pressley the public face of the Democratic Party.
“Good strategy, bad tactics,” he said. “You can’t tell people to go back to another country.”
As it happens, Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib and Pressley were all born in the United States. Only Omar is an immigrant, having arrived as a refugee from Somalia as a young girl, although she, too, is now a citizen.
“The original tweet was racist,” said Rory Cooper, once a top aide to former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. “I do think there is value in the White House and the president elevating the ‘squad’ as the face of the Democratic Party. But this is the worst possible way to do that…. It’s not going to work with any persuadable part of the electorate.”
He added that the one thing Trump had managed to do was to rescue a Democratic caucus that had been fighting among itself: “It’s all incredibly stupid.”
There is always this need to attribute this master plan to Trump because otherwise, you have to come to terms with the fact that he’s a blithering idiot. Stuart Stevens, Republican campaign consultant
One longtime Republican pollster who spoke on condition of anonymity said he cannot predict what effect Trump’s attacks will have. “All the lessons I’ve learned over the last 35 years have gone out the window over the last four,” he said. “It’s more than likely those tweets will be long forgotten by next month, and won’t even be a distant memory for voters when November 2020 comes along.”
Stevens, who worked for former President George W. Bush’s campaigns in 2000 and 2004 and was a top strategist in Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign, said the fundamental problem that Trump’s campaign cannot escape is Trump himself.
“Trump is a racist. You have a racist as president. He’s going to say racist things,” he said, adding that Trump actually doing this does not in any way enlarge the pool of people who would consider supporting him. “When the president of the United States says something that would get your kid kicked out of school, that’s supposed to make you want to vote for him?”
Stevens said the entire Trump campaign strategy of repeating what they did in 2016 — when Trump got 3 million fewer votes than Democrat Hillary Clinton and had the assistance of the Russian government in driving down minority turnout and leaking stolen emails in the final month — was akin to a drunk driver who makes it home safely and then comes to believe that he actually drives better while inebriated.
“That’s probably the wrong conclusion,” he said.
Trump himself appeared to show little concern that his attacks on the congresswomen could backfire. Early Wednesday, he posted tweets repeating that they were “free to leave” and promising that he would have more to say on the matter at his reelection rally in North Carolina on Wednesday evening.
And in the meantime, Trump’s White House staff — public employees paid by taxpayers — produced and released a campaign-style video featuring footage of Trump with numerous members of the armed forces and closing with the line: “America: One ‘Squad’ under God.”