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Opinion Trump’s cruelty and hate are creating a defining moment for Democrats

At a news conference in Britain July 13, President Trump responded to a reporter's attempt to ask a question by saying, "I don't take questions from CNN." (Video: The Washington Post)
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President Trump’s rampaging and destructive international tour has taken yet another turn in an interview with a London tabloid, in which he blasted British Prime Minister Theresa May as soft on Brexit and as an added bonus went full white nationalist, not with a dog whistle but with a clanging, blaring sound truck.

Trump savaged the Muslim mayor of London for doing a “terrible” job on terrorism, and he claimed that “immigration” to Europe — not illegal immigration, mind you — is changing Europe’s “fabric.” Addressing European audiences, Trump said that due to “millions and millions” of immigrants, “you are losing your culture.”

This sends a strong message to white nationalists all over the world, but it’s also likely aimed at domestic audiences as well: It is about keeping immigration in U.S. headlines, out of a belief that Republicans can win the midterms on the issue. The architect of Trump’s white-nationalist agenda, Stephen Miller, has said the White House strategy is to cast Democrats as the party that loves open borders and coddles tattoo-festooned immigrant gang members, in contrast with the allegedly pro-American-worker posture of Trump’s immigration agenda (cuts to legal immigration included).

Many House Republicans would be uncomfortable with Trump’s explicit rhetoric about immigration as a threat to “culture.” But as Ronald Brownstein has pointed out, House Republicans are increasingly getting pulled into Trump’s vortex, with most of them now supporting deep cuts to legal immigration. Republican candidates have employed the same sort of race-baiting attacks around MS-13 that Trump relishes. And right now, House Republicans are pushing forward with plans to force Democrats to vote on an “Abolish ICE” measure, which House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) says will help Republicans this fall — thus taking up the same “open borders” attacks on Democrats that Trump’s chief white nationalist adviser has employed.

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All of this sets up a defining moment for Democrats. Many House Democrats are likely to vote against the “Abolish ICE” measure. As I’ve argued, individual Democrats can and should tailor their stance on “Abolish ICE” to their own policy beliefs, values and districts. But they should not police their left flank on this issue, because that actually plays into Trump’s hands by projecting weakness and lack of conviction. Indeed, doing that risks distracting Democrats from the urgent task of mounting the kind of defense of immigrants that this historical moment demands.

There are intense internal debates underway among Democrats about how to get this right in the context of the midterms, according to Frank Sharry, the executive director of America’s Voice. Sharry tells me that many House Democrats he talks to agree that Trumpism has created the need for Democrats to defend immigrants in a kind of party-defining manner. At the same time, Democrats also want to talk about other issues — such as health care — so they have come to view the challenge this way: Democrats must unequivocally defend immigrants, while not allowing the midterm elections to only be about immigration, as Trump appears to want.

Sharry, for his part, has recommended to Democrats that they do this by pointing to the cruelty of Trump’s policies, while also linking the Republican attacks over immigration to the failure of their plutocratic agenda. “They want to define Democrats as for ‘illegals’ and against you,” Sharry told me. “Democrats have to say, ‘Trump is putting children in cages and breaking up immigrant families. We’re going to stand up for immigrants and for you. Republicans are dehumanizing immigrants to distract from the fact that they’re screwing all of us, by lining the pockets of billionaires with tax cuts and threatening health care and education for all.’ ”

A backlash to Trump

Democratic pollster Nick Gourevitch tells me that his firm, Global Strategy Group, is exploring ways for Democrats to respond to immigration attacks like the MS-13 ads in elections that they want to be about health care. “We are seeing that voters care a lot more about health care than sanctuary cities right now,” Gourevitch told me.

At the same time, Gourevitch says, Democrats also want to stand up firmly against Trump’s immigration attacks and policies, because they are a “motivator for our side,” and because they are producing a “backlash” among college-educated Republican-leaning independents and suburban women who “are uncomfortable with Trump on these issues.” Democratic pollsters found that MS-13 ads produced a backlash among those voters in the Virginia gubernatorial race.

At the center of all this strategizing should be the fact that Trump’s white nationalism is manifesting itself in cruel policies that are hurting a lot of people. The explicitly stated rationale for Trump’s family separation policy is that the horrible prospect of children getting separated from parents will dissuade people from trying to cross the border — desperate refugees included. We know from three years of public and private statements from Trump that the desire to keep away desperate people fleeing horrible conditions — and the effort to cut legal immigration, and the thinly veiled Muslim ban — are rooted in white nationalism, bigotry and hate. Democrats need to rise to this moment, and it shouldn’t be too hard to get that right.

* WHITE HOUSE REFUSES TO CLARIFY ON NATO: The New York Times reports that Trump privately threatened our allies that we’ll leave NATO if they don’t boost defense spending. But:

White House officials ignored requests to clarify what the president had said or offer any information on which the allies had responded to his threats with promises of more military spending.

Trump, of course, said yesterday that he had gotten huge and tremendous concessions. Funny that the White House won’t confirm that.

* PENTAGON GOES INTO ‘DAMAGE CONTROL’: NBC News reports that Trump’s threats to our NATO allies prompted a full-scale effort at damage control from U.S. military officials:

The overall message from senior military officials in a series of phone calls to members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has been that U.S. military bases in their countries will remain open and American troop levels in the region will not be reduced. … The direct conversations were aimed at “reinforcing alliance commitments,” after Trump “made it clear alliance commitments were on the table,” according to one U.S. official familiar with the discussions.

Trump has reaffirmed our commitment to NATO, but that is contingent on his claim that our allies made concessions that they didn’t actually make.

* TRUMP RAMPAGE ABROAD CONTINUES: Trump has now blasted British prime minister Theresa May’s new Brexit plan, and The Post reports that officials on both sides are rushing to clean it up:

White House officials were scrambling for what to say to May on Friday. “There’s no way Trump will apologize,” a senior U.S. official said. “But we also don’t want to blow everything up.”

“We” don’t? Does that “we” include Trump? Because he does want to blow everything up.

* DEMS LEAD IN GENERIC BALLOT: A new Fox News poll finds that Democrats lead in the generic congressional ballot match-up by 48-40. And:

Fifty-four percent of Democrats are “extremely” interested in the November elections, and 51 percent are more enthusiastic about voting than usual, according to the latest Fox News national poll. Republicans trail on both measures: 47 percent are extremely interested and 42 percent are more enthused.

Don’t look now, but the polling averages show the Democratic advantage continuing to widen. It’s now at more than eight points.

* WHITE HOUSE RELEASES INFO ABOUT FBI PROBE: The Times also reports that the White House has greenlighted the release of documents about that FBI informant that Republicans are pretending shows the FBI probe’s genesis was nefarious:

The F.B.I. files about the informant will now be available to all members of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees, instead of to just a group of congressional leaders known as the Gang of Eight. It is unclear whether Mr. Trump or a lower-level White House official authorized the move.

As the Times reports, intelligence professionals believe the White House did this to give ammunition to Republicans to further cast doubt on the probe. No kidding!

* GOP WON’T TAKE ON TRUMP’S TRADE WAR: Axios reports that Republicans are reluctant to take on Trump over his trade war, but they might start to do so when their own voters “feel the pain”:

While some Republicans think Trump has a plan up his sleeve, most think there’s no good ending here. But they think the GOP base — which is fiercely loyal to Trump — needs to feel the impact of the new trade policies before Congress will have the voters’ permission to do something.

Remember, the data show that most of the jobs in industries targeted by Chinese retaliatory tariffs are in counties carried by Trump.

* TRUMP’S ‘BAD FAITH’ ATTACKS ON INSTITUTIONS: Paul Krugman looks at Trump’s aggressive efforts to blow up international institutions:

America tried to create an international system reflecting our own ideals, one that subjected powerful countries — ourselves included — to rule of law, while protecting weaker nations from bullies. … He may complain that other countries are cheating and taking advantage of America … But those claims are … not real grievances. He doesn’t want to fix these institutions. He wants to destroy them.

The next time Trump does a presser, he should be pressed on how, exactly, this constitutes “winning” for America.