Donald Trump’s opponents often do more to help him than his supporters ever could. While the president undoubtedly has his hardcore fans — a base that relishes his Twitter antics and won’t abandon him no matter what policies his administration manages to settle on — he also benefits tremendously from the fact that a host of Democratic politicians, along with the progressive pundit class, have reacted to his presidency primarily by behaving in a steadily more unhinged manner with each passing month.
This derangement has infected most of the candidates competing for a chance to face off against the president in next year’s general election, perhaps with the notable exception of frontrunner Joe Biden, and their symptoms have been particularly acute since the two horrific mass shootings this past weekend.
Shortly after the Walmart massacre in El Paso, Texas — perpetrated by an anti-immigrant white supremacist who left behind a manifesto announcing his intention to target Hispanics — former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke proclaimed that Trump is “causing this” by being “an open, avowed racist.” He was joined in this effort to directly blame the president for the violence by New Jersey senator Cory Booker, who declared Trump “responsible” for the attack.
More recently, O’Rourke and Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren, his fellow presidential-primary competitor, decided that blaming Trump for the shooting wasn’t quite extreme enough. In an MSNBC interview yesterday evening, the failed Texas Senate candidate and flailing presidential contender said he believes Trump is a white supremacist. Campaigning in Iowa last night, Warren agreed: “Asked in a brief interview with The New York Times if she thought Mr. Trump was a white supremacist, Ms. Warren responded without hesitation: ‘Yes.’”
These sorts of comments are several steps removed from the more common progressive attack on Trump, embodied by Times columnist Michelle Goldberg’s latest piece: “Trump Is a White Nationalist Who Inspires Terrorism.” That’s still more than a bit of an exaggeration.
Even so, the president deserves his share of criticism. Contrary to what many on the left believe, of course, favoring regulation of entrants to one’s country — or favoring a more-restrictive immigration policy, even — does not constitute an incitement to anti-immigrant violence. But when it comes to discussing immigration or issues of race, or even engaging with non-white political opponents, Trump has proven himself careless and irresponsible at best and intentionally malicious at worst. We need not consult the laundry list of his missteps in this regard to know that he routinely has failed to eschew racially-tinged personal affronts and unequivocally condemn race-based violence.
That completely legitimate critique is lost in the shuffle when Democratic politicians insist he’s in fact personally responsible for racial violence and go on to label him, with no evidence, a white supremacist. Aside from being untrue, such attacks undercut the obvious case against the way the president conducts himself, and they offer him and his supporters an easy way to avoid addressing it.
Instead of acknowledging that his conduct and rhetoric are consistently and unnecessarily divisive, he and his base immediately pivot to playing defense against the many off-base attacks lobbed at him. Trump can rightly say he isn’t a white supremacist, and he can rightly criticize Democratic presidential candidates for raising the temperature of political debate in the wake of unspeakable violence. Even though his actual faults are bad enough, his overzealous opponents guarantee he’ll never have to answer for them.