But Trump’s latest rant at a rally in Minnesota — along with a new election forecast that shows him losing Midwestern Whites and a new report on rising GOP anxiety about Trump — strongly suggests his preternatural grasp of the region might have deserted him, if he ever possessed it at all.
Trump unleashed a long and hateful diatribe Wednesday night about his favorite target in the state, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D), while spewing wretched nonsense about Joe Biden and refugees. The episode neatly captures the ailing state of Trumpist demagogic politics.
Biden will “inundate your state with a historic flood of refugees,” Trump railed, insisting that “Biden and crazy Bernie Sanders have agreed on a manifesto” that pledged a “700 percent increase” in them.
“Then she tells us how to run our country,” Trump scoffed. “Can you believe it?”
Trump’s substantive claim is silly. Yes, Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) agreed in their “unity task force” blueprint that Biden will seek to raise the cap on refugees the U.S. accepts to 125,000 per year. But that would only be a modest rise relative to 2017, when Trump took office and the official cap was 110,000.
Since then Trump has dramatically slashed refugee levels — all the way down to 18,000 in 2020. The 700 percent increase would only be relative to that. If anything, restoring pre-Trump levels and building on them would be good policy.
But Trump’s claim that Omar “tells us how to run our country” deserves special attention. As Ronald Brownstein notes, by targeting a Muslim immigrant who is a naturalized citizen this way, Trump tells supporters that “people of color, big cities, liberals are interlopers” in “their White Christian America.”
The illegitimacy of the opposition
Indeed, Trump’s core claim here is really that the opposition’s voters are simply not entitled to legitimate political representation.
More than 260,000 American citizens elected Omar to Congress in 2018 to represent them, to give themselves a voice in “how to run our country.” When Trump suggests Omar has no grounds to tell “us” how to do this, his real claim is that his supporters constitute “our” country, and that those who elected Omar don’t have a legitimate voice in running it because they don’t belong to that “us.”
It’s often said that in 2016, Trump successfully tapped into a sense among many Midwestern voters that they’d been “forgotten” by our political classes, a sense that they lack political agency, which Trump addressed by making them feel heard and empowered. This core idea undergirds elite journalistic self-flagellation for having missed this sentiment in 2016.
There might be a good deal to that claim: Our political classes have failed a lot of people, and Biden appears to be working to speak to that sentiment among working-class whites, among whom he’s doing relatively well.
But Trump has perverted this whole sentiment into a concrete scheme to deny political agency and representation entirely to those who are outside of what he calls “our country."
It’s no accident that Trump slides effortlessly between this line about Omar and his lies about voter fraud. They are two sides of the same coin: Trump is already working to delegitimize as many of the opposition’s legally cast ballots as possible as fraudulent. This would put the idea that they aren’t entitled to legitimate representation into operational practice, to maintain “our,” or his, America’s dominance via illicit means.
But this whole effort appears to be failing him, and not just because the anti-Trump majority outnumbers his lusty support base. Trump is losing the very voters this story is supposed to capture.
Trump is losing Midwestern Whites
In a new analysis, Sabato’s Crystal Ball shifts Ohio and Iowa from the “Leans Republican” to the “Toss-Up” category. Trump carried them by eight and nine points in 2016.
The analysis also shifts Wisconsin to “Leans Democratic” and Minnesota to “Likely Democratic.” Trump won Wisconsin (and the other “blue wall” states of Pennsylvania and Michigan), and came within a hair of winning Minnesota.
Why is this happening? Partly because Biden is outperforming Hillary Clinton among White voters:
Namely, after Clinton hemorrhaged white voters in northern small town and rural areas in 2016, Biden appears to be bringing some of those voters back into the Democratic fold while also improving on Clinton’s margins with white suburbanites. If this pattern holds in the actual results, it could pay major dividends for Biden in the Great Lakes region, where American presidential elections are so often won and lost and where the electorates in the competitive states are whiter than the nation as a whole.
Trump spent months on a “law and order” strategy to galvanize his core White supporters while frightening White suburbanites back to him. That failed.
Then, at the debate, Trump kept it up, falsely insisting Biden wouldn’t utter the words “law and order,” winking to right-wing extremists and white supremacists, and again rallying supporters to intimidate the opposition’s voters.
Yet Republicans believe this is failing for him, reports the New York Times. His racist backlash politics and threats of voter intimidation risk further alienating “women, moderates, suburban voters and people of color,” as the Times puts it. The people outside what he calls “our country."
Republicans fear this approach is putting Trump and his party on track to a big loss. But as his Minnesota rally showed, he remains absolutely committed to winning only in this fashion.