The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

He Just Can’t Help Himself

(Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

By Saturday, the long-simmering fight between Nancy Pelosi and her allies on one side and the “squad” associated with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the other had risen to an angrier and more destructive level at the Netroots Nation conference.

Representative Ayanna Pressley, an African-American Massachusetts Democrat, appeared to argue that Democrats who were critical of the freshmen Democrats — including members of the Congressional Black Caucus — were not authentic representatives of their respective minority groups:

We don’t need any more brown faces that don’t want to be a brown voice. We don’t need black faces that don’t want to be a black voice. We don’t need Muslims that don’t want to be a Muslim voice. We don’t need queers that don’t want to be a queer voice.

Maureen Dowd unveiled a column for Sunday that tore into the “Justice Democrats” aligned with Ocasio-Cortez as enraged radicals who accuse anyone not aligned with them as racists.

The progressives act as though anyone who dares disagree with them is bad. Not wrong, but bad, guilty of some human failing, some impurity that is a moral evil that justifies their venom…

[Saikat Chakrabarti, A.O.C.’s 33-year-old chief of staff] sent shock waves through the Democratic caucus when he posted a tweet about the border bill comparing moderate and Blue Dog Democrats — some of whom are black — to Southern segregationists in the ’40s.

Rahm Emanuel told me Chakrabarti is “a snot-nosed punk” who has no idea about the battle scars Pelosi bears from the liberal fights she has led.

African-American Democratic representative Gregory Meeks is talking about attempting to recruit a primary challenger to AOC.

As discussed at the end of last week, this sort of party-destroying fight is how an idea like identity politics begins to die — when its own practitioners start to realize how inherently divisive it is, how subjective the definition of racism can become, how bad-faith arguments can flourish, how quickly the accuser can become the accused, and how it reorganizes all discourse into a hierarchy of competing grievances, making cooperation almost impossible.

Republicans were, to tweak Noah Rothman’s joke, on the verge of schadenfreude overdose.

There is an old maxim, sometimes attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte: Never interfere with the enemy when he is in the process of destroying himself. Sunday morning, President Trump chose to interfere, just as Democrats were in the process of destroying themselves.

These are his Sunday morning tweets, in their entirety, because many of the president’s defenders insist he is being quoted out of context:

So interesting to see “Progressive” Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly……

…and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run. Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how….

….it is done. These places need your help badly, you can’t leave fast enough. I’m sure that Nancy Pelosi would be very happy to quickly work out free travel arrangements!

The only member of the squad who “originally came from countries” beside the U.S. is Ilhan Omar, born in Somalia. Ocasio-Cortez was born in New York City, Rashida Tlaib was born in Detroit, and Ayanna Pressley was born in Cincinnati. Three of the four “originally came from” the United States of America, and presumably Trump doesn’t mean that our government is “a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world.”

It is fair to read his remarks as contending that Tlaib should return to the Palestinian territories (her parents immigrated from there), that Ocasio-Cortez should return to Puerto Rico (where her mother was born; Puerto Ricans have been U.S. citizens since 1917), and that Pressley should return to someplace in Africa, even though her mother and father were both U.S. citizens and, to the extent she has discussed her family, her ancestors “immigrated” many generations ago — involuntarily if they were slaves.

Whether or not Donald Trump believes immigrants are not “real Americans” — the man did twice marry immigrants, after all — he certainly has no problem with making statements and arguments that feed into the notion that immigrants are not “real Americans.” He certainly seems to think that AOC, Tlaib, and Pressley have some sort of obligation to fix problems in the lands of their ancestors before attempting to change laws in the United States, and that Omar must do the same in a land she left when she was six years old. Or perhaps the way to interpret Trump’s remarks is that someone born in America to immigrant parents, like Ocasio-Cortez or Tlaib, doesn’t meet his personal definition of “real Americans.”

There’s a small mountain of legitimate gripes about AOC’s “squad.” Beside the “snot-nosed punk” traits driving other, more experienced Democrats crazy, Ocasio-Cortez and her allies have received far too little criticism for their theoretical fantasyland policy ideas, in which the United States can replace 88 percent of all of its energy sources in a decade and that in that same time period, all 120 million buildings in America can be either upgraded or torn down and replaced with more energy-efficient construction. They want economic security for those unwilling to work, an eventual ban on air travel, and for the Federal Reserve to loan the federal government $10 trillion.

In an act of political stupidity that is simply jaw-dropping, Trump manages to focus in on the least-legitimate lines of criticism, that these women supposedly come from some other country and that they are “loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run.” They’re all elected members of Congress. Love them or hate them, they all legitimately won House races in heavily Democratic congressional districts. Each one has the same one vote out of 435 that every other member has.

At the exact moment that Democrats are realizing the toxicity of identity politics, Donald Trump endorses the notion that these women are defined by where they come from.

Not only did he attack the “squad,” he managed to do it in a way in which no other prominent Democrat can continue to criticize them publicly, lest they be perceived as echoing the president’s contention that they should go back where they came from. At the exact moment the accusations and counter-accusations were set to do lasting damage, Trump just had to jump in and give them an attack that would unify them all. It often seems like Trump would rather have a bad news cycle that focuses on him than a beneficial news cycle that focuses on someone else.

Trump could have and should have stayed quiet and let the Democratic infighting worsen and intensify. Failing that, it would have been easy to make a jab free of any xenophobia — something like, “Interesting to see ‘Progressive’ Democratic congresswomen contending Nancy Pelosi is racist and that the Congressional Black Caucus doesn’t represent black voices. I’m sure Pelosi would be happy to send them on some long foreign trip to get them out of her hair and out of the headlines!”

Instead, Trump made a comment that unites Democrats of every stripe and reminds them of their primary objective in the 2020 cycle, winning back the White House. The biggest change from the 2014 and 2016 elections and the 2018 midterms is that the suburbs, and in particular, suburban women, recoiled from Trumpism. Trump fans can argue, “ignore the tweets, focus on his policies,” until they’re blue in the face. Significant numbers of voters in key demographics in key states aren’t willing to compartmentalize like that. Everyone around the president can read a poll and knows that his rage-tweeting is a liability; it is perhaps the biggest liability in a presidency that, with prosperity and a perception of peace, ought to be comfortably cruising to reelection.

Trump fans will insist that this is all just kvetching from a guy who never liked the president. They’ll insist that because they like Trump’s rage-tweeting (and perhaps the suggestion that AOC, Omar and the rest aren’t really Americans), a majority of the country does also. They’ll insist that the polls are wrong, and that Trump will overperform his current numbers. (To keep the presidency, Trump will need to overperform his current level of support by ten percentage points in places like Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania.) They’ll insist that because AOC and Omar and the rest are unpopular — and they are — that no one will mind Trump’s contention that they should go back to other countries.

Democratic divisions may well derail the party’s effort to defeat Donald Trump in 2020. But if that scenario occurs, it will come about in spite of the president, not because of him. Some might argue that all that Trump needs to do for the next fifteen months or so is just let the Democrats destroy themselves with radicalism and identity politics and endless accusations and counter-accusations.

Trump’s supporters seem more committed to doing what’s necessary to ensure his reelection than he is.

ADDENDA: Was New York City better or worse off that Mayor Bill de Blasio was off in Iowa when the blackout hit Saturday night?

As he’s learning, and Pete Buttigieg learned after that police shooting in South Bend, sometimes there’s a real risk to running for president when you’re still serving in an executive office. The U.S. Senate might not miss a half-dozen members of the Democratic caucus off campaigning in primary states, but residents of cities tend to ask where the mayor is when a crisis hits.

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