Regardless of whether you think it was racist for President Trump to urge four nonwhite (and mostly non-immigrant) Democratic freshman congresswomen to “go back” to their countries, the practical effect is clear: He’s pitting himself against these minority women to help him win reelection in 2020, no matter how ugly that strategy is.
And a new poll shows just how ugly it could get.
The Economist and pollster YouGov are out with a survey testing the images of a bevy of politicians, including all the big-name 2020 presidential contenders, party leaders and the four freshmen Trump targeted Sunday. The poll was conducted beginning Sunday, the morning on which Trump sent those racist tweets, so it provides a good window into how people viewed the four congresswomen as they were thrust into the spotlight.
As you peruse it, it becomes clear that the conventional wisdom about why Trump picked these targets is right: They were ripe for motivating the GOP base. Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (Mich.) are already hugely unpopular among Trump voters. All of them are better known among Republicans than Democrats, which suggests that a steady stream of coverage in conservative media has elevated them as potential Democratic bogeywomen. Trump is tilling fertile soil.
And in fact, they might already be his most effective foils.
Ocasio-Cortez is viewed “very unfavorably” by 74 percent of voters who supported Trump in 2016, while Omar is at 65 percent and Tlaib is at 58 percent.
But those differences are mostly a function of name ID. If you adjust their “very unfavorable” ratings for the percentage who have actually heard enough to rate them, the picture becomes clearer. By this measure, Trump voters already rate them as three of the four Democrats they dislike the most — more than any of the 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls, even. Only House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), who is tied with Tlaib for third-most-disliked, prevents them from monopolizing the top four spots.
(Rep. Ayanna Pressley (Mass.) was the fourth congresswoman Trump targeted. She remains less well known and less despised than the other three members of “the Squad.”)
Here’s a breakdown, which includes pretty much every well-known Democrat except Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Focus on the last column:
|Politician||Very unfavorable (among Trump 2016 voters)||% of those familiar who rate them very unfavorably|
|Bill de Blasio||61%||74.4%|
Whatever Trump’s real motivations here, he has a political incentive to keep the focus on these three women (not to mention the next two people on the list, who are also women: Pelosi and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts).
That doesn’t necessarily mean Trump’s tweets were a good idea — it’s possible to keep the focus on the right opponents without tweeting something racist that could alienate swing voters — but Trump is a politician obsessed with pleasing his base. If his supporters respond to something, he’s going to keep doing it. And he suggested as much in a new interview with the Daily Mail. Asked whether he was pleased with how this whole situation panned out, he said, "Well, let’s put it this way: I’m not unhappy.”
Trump has shown before that he’s perfectly willing to demean his political opponents, especially women (Clinton) and racial minorities (Obama), in intensely personal ways. What happens when his targets are both of those things? It seems we’re about to find out, over and over again.