Trump’s first order of business, now that he may face Biden, is to employ his magical chaos-spreading powers to depress youth turnout in the general election — by telling supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) that they are getting robbed by the Democratic establishment:
Pushing this youth-demoralizing message is a concerted, party-wide strategy. Trump and numerous top campaign officials seized on the Iowa vote-counting debacle to allege a plot against Sanders. The Republican National Committee chair now charges that the “elite” hopes to “take out Bernie.”
But this message — that the Democratic “establishment” is uniting to stop Sanders — comically undercuts another crucial message Trump hopes to wield this fall: That Biden may seem moderate, but in reality he hails from a party hopelessly taken over by socialism.
This latter idea is an important element of the Trump/GOP campaign strategy against a potential Biden nomination, not just a Sanders one. As Politico reports, Trump’s campaign team is now shifting toward Biden, and Republicans hope to weaponize Sanders against him:
While Biden has associated himself with the Democratic Party’s moderate wing, Republicans are eager to brand him as a foot soldier in a party governed by Sanders’ socialist brand of liberalism.
For a taste of the GOP sewage that’s coming, see this new ad from Sen. Tom Cotton’s (R-Ark.) reelection campaign. It places Biden alongside Sanders and other progressives, and flashes footage of civil violence under socialist regimes, while intoning: “Socialism has taken over the Democratic Party.”
This, too, is a concerted party-wide strategy: Trump and GOP officials have been hammering the Democratic Party as overrun with socialists for months, often citing Sanders to do so.
But the absurdity here is glaring. If by the GOP’s own lights Sanders is a wannabe Latin American caudillo (Sanders’s actual agenda is far more in line with European social democracy), then it becomes difficult to paint Biden with the same brush if the Democratic “establishment” is using him to stop Sanders, as Trump and Republicans themselves widely claim.
Small wonder that some Republicans are “skeptical” that depicting Biden as a dangerous leftist will work, as Politico also reports. The deeper problem here is that two of the biggest Trump/GOP “arguments” against Biden laughably contradict one another.
Biden’s strengths and weaknesses
Trump’s strategists should worry even more about this strategy, given the scale and nature of Biden’s Super Tuesday comeback. Biden carried nine states, and he showed remarkable geographic breadth, carrying numerous southern strongholds, including Latino-heavy Texas, while also winning in places supposedly more hospitable to Sanders in the Midwest (Minnesota) and northeast (Massachusetts).
Then there’s Biden’s coalition. He didn’t just win decisive majorities among African Americans. As Ron Brownstein details, Biden also won college-educated whites virtually everywhere while also reversing Sanders’s previous advantages among non-college whites in many states.
Biden’s successes among educated and affluent whites in the suburbs, Brownstein points out, suggest he may be strong in “prosperous communities outside major cities that helped deliver the House majority to Democrats in 2018, largely out of antipathy toward Trump.”
But Biden is still struggling badly to win young voters. Sanders won among voters aged 17 to 29 in every state on Tuesday, sometimes by extremely lopsided margins, and he prevailed in most states among voters aged 30 to 44.
This stark generational divide is a pressing matter for Biden — and the Democratic Party. If he wins the nomination, a decline or collapse in youth turnout will be a deeply worrying prospect.
All this has important ramifications for the developing Trump/GOP strategy. That’s because this strategy is born of an imperative: To win, Trump and his strategists must figure out how to divide the anti-Trump majority that exists in this country.
The anti-Trump majority
The attacks on the Democratic Party’s alleged socialist drift, of course, are all about scaring away those suburban and educated white voters who delivered Democrats the House in 2018 — among whom Biden is doing very well. Indeed, as Politico reports, the likelihood that Biden could hold those voters amid continuing alienation from Trump is one reason Republicans worry about him.
One big question about 2020 is whether the anti-Trump majority coalition of 2018, which also included inroads among non-college whites, will still prove decisive amid a presidential year electorate that also features supercharged pro-Trump turnout. That 2018 anti-Trump coalition was also driven by surprisingly high turnout among young voters, so they’ll also be crucial in 2020.
And so, Trumpworld’s efforts to depress youth turnout — by claiming the Democratic “establishment” is trying to crush Sanders’s movement — are at bottom about dividing that anti-Trump majority.
The problem for Trumpworld is that this argument — by reminding voters that the Democratic Party worked to thwart the very candidate Republicans themselves paint as a socialist boogeyman — could work against their goal of scaring away white suburban moderates.
None of this remotely guarantees a Biden victory in the fall. Sanders remains very formidable, due to his extraordinary fundraising and strength with core constituencies. And if Biden is the nominee, it’s still far from certain he can repair his difficulties with young voters, not to mention his mental lapses.
But there’s a very deep contradiction in Trumpworld’s messaging about Biden, and it’s likely a badly damaging one. Trump may have absolute faith in the ability of his chaos-spreading powers to paper over that contradiction, but it’s right there in the open, like a gaping wound, for all to see.