- The next four months before Election Day will see the president hammering away at leftist “mobs” who Trump claims are trying to tear down America’s history, Insider has learned.
- This isn’t a strategy targeting Joe Biden so much as it is about connecting with Trump supporters who fear the US is falling apart.
- “It is the new stump speech,” a Republican operative close to the Trump campaign said. “People feel like they’re losing their country.”
- Trump’s pivot took root last Friday night during the three-hour flight from Washington, a trip that notably didn’t include Jared Kushner. The president’s son-in-law has cautioned against fighting a culture war, but didn’t go to South Dakota because he’s an Orthodox Jew who observes the Sabbath.
- The 2020 strategy raises fresh concerns that the president is trolling for support from white supremacists whom Trump and his aides have tried in recent years to keep at a distance.
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President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign sees a path to victory in 2020 that involves both inciting and fighting a culture war in America, Insider has learned.
The plan: Spend the next four months before Election Day hammering away at leftist “mobs” who the president claims are trying to tear down America’s history.
It is a distinctly dark and combative view of the US that Trump insiders acknowledged in interviews this week isn’t so much about Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.
Instead, the latest shift in messaging represents a concerted strategy to connect with blue-collar white voters living in critical swing states from New Hampshire to the Rust Belt battlegrounds of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
“It is the new stump speech,” a Republican operative close to the Trump campaign said. “People feel like they’re losing their country.”
The next iteration for Trump should come on Saturday when he travels to a Granite State campaign event at the Portsmouth International Airport to deliver a speech that his aides said would sound a good bit like the remarks that the president delivered around the Fourth of July holiday at both Mount Rushmore and the White House.
Trump aides said they recognized that such an overt and direct appeal to such a specific racial segment of the country has its perils, including that it stokes renewed support from white supremacists, whom the president and his aides have tried to keep at a distance.
But the GOP operative said it was needed to motivate voters who didn’t necessarily “fear” Biden the same way they did Hillary Clinton in 2016.
“What they do fear,” the Republican said, “is this absurd mob.”
The racially tinged campaign focus comes as Trump’s poll numbers in critical battleground states keep sinking.
On Wednesday, the election forecaster Amy Walter predicted a “Democratic tsunami” would hit the country come November.
Public polling since the protests against police brutality started more than a month ago also have shown widespread support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
But Trump advisers are taking some consolation from a new Monmouth University poll conducted in late June and released Wednesday found support for protesters softening somewhat among Republican voters.
The president’s advisers cautioned that for Trump to succeed at this new plan he’ll have to keep his reelection message tightly trained on Black Lives Matter protesters going too far.
It means avoiding mistakes like the one earlier this week, when Trump used Twitter both to attack NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace and to signal support for the Confederate flag. The twin flubs knocked Trump and his surrogates on the defense coming out of the holiday weekend.
Trump’s advisers see the culture war fight as their best option given the dire circumstances suggesting voters will reject the president’s attempt to win a second term.
“When the dust settles, who do you want in charge of your country — the radicals who want to take Mount Rushmore down and stop you practicing your way of life?” the Republican close to the campaign said.
The Trump campaign did not return requests for comment Wednesday.
A notable absence on Air Force One en route to South Dakota
The president’s pivot took root last Friday during the three-hour flight from Washington to Mount Rushmore.
On Air Force One, Trump rehearsed a speech that had been crafted for him by his senior White House speechwriters and adviser Stephen Miller, who most notably wrote the “American Carnage” inauguration address from January 2017.
Trump insiders said one person was conspicuously absent on the flight who could’ve pulled the president back: Jared Kushner.
But the president’s son-in-law — an uber-adviser who pushed for the new administration to take a leadership role on criminal-justice-reform policies and cautioned against fighting a culture war — skipped the trip to South Dakota because he’s an Orthodox Jew who observes the Sabbath.
Ultimately, the speech on Trump’s teleprompter when he took the stage before the fabled granite sculpture of four American presidential icons orientated toward fighting a culture war where Republicans like him were competing for the soul of the nation.
“As we meet here tonight, there is a growing danger that threatens every blessing our ancestors fought so hard for, struggled, they bled to secure,” Trump said to boos from the crowd.
“Our nation is witnessing a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values, and indoctrinate our children.”
Driving home his point, Trump and his advisers seized on unsubstantiated reports that activists were planning to deface Mount Rushmore.
“Today, we pay tribute to the exceptional lives and extraordinary legacies of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt,” Trump said.
“This monument will never be desecrated, these heroes will never be defaced, their legacy will never, ever be destroyed, their achievements will never be forgotten, and Mount Rushmore will stand forever as an eternal tribute to our forefathers and to our freedom.”
It’s a ‘law and order’ message through November 3
Trump advisers said the “law and order” message he seized on would be a winning one because protesters have overreached in their newfound focus on the nation’s founding fathers and even a statue of famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass.
The initial anti-police-brutality protests that started after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis have sparked considerable change, including the recognition of Juneteenth as a national holiday and the removal by government officials and protesters of dozens of statues depicting Confederate generals around the US.
But the president’s campaign is trying to capitalize on what it sees as an opening after protesters started targeting other historic monuments.
It has singled out the fight over a statue memorializing Lincoln in a neighborhood near the US Capitol and monuments celebrating an abolitionist and a woman dubbed “Forward” dedicated to social progress that protesters tore down in Madison, Wisconsin.
Noah Weinrich, spokesman for the conservative nonprofit Heritage Action for America, said that protesters targeting such historic statues are in danger of losing the broad public support they enjoyed throughout June.
“Some Americans may sympathize with protesters, and they may have even been planning to vote Democrat, but particularly in the swing states and Rust Belt area, they aren’t on board with this,” he said.
“These folks may not be the traditional culture warriors of the right, but they’re clearly not on board with the mob mentality and anti-American sentiment being pushed by the far left around the country.”
With his Mount Rushmore speech, Trump walked a fine line that sounded to many close observers like the remarks he gave in August 2017 blaming “both sides” for the deadly violence that spun out of a white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia.
While the president’s remarks in South Dakota never explicitly said minorities were inherently less than white people, he did nonetheless rely on language popular among hate groups, said Jennifer Mercieca, a communications professor at Texas A&M University who has spent the last four years studying the president’s rhetoric and that of white supremacist organizations like The Daily Stormer.
“It wasn’t racist in the sense that it denigrated a race of people, but it was racist in that it rejected the concerns that a majority of Americans have about systemic racism,” said Mercieca, the author of “Demagogue for President: The Rhetorical Genius of Donald Trump.”
“Trump labeled those people as traitors and fascists while proclaiming America’s history as exceptional.”
“It was, as white supremacist Andrew Anglin wrote on Daily Stormer, a speech designed to make white people feel good about themselves,” she added.
After Trump’s Mount Rushmore speech, Anglin, a white supremacist and publisher of the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer, said he was elated.
“President Trump took the advice of Tucker Carlson and I and stood in front of a monument dedicated to the nation’s heroes and said that he would defend the people, our identity and our history,” Anglin wrote on his site in reference to the top-rated prime-time Fox News host.
“He condemned white guilt, and called those trying to make us guilty ‘evil.'”
Trump delivered a similar version of his Mount Rushmore speech the next day, on the Fourth of July, at the White House. Advisers told Insider they were happy with how the speech turned out, which is why the president is expected to repeat the message again Saturday in New Hampshire.
‘That racial stuff plays well there’
The president’s advisers have long worried about his slide in the polls in the critical Rust Belt states that Democrats traditionally had carried before Trump’s historic 2016 upset over Clinton.
A culture war, these insiders say, is the best way to win back the white blue-collar voters there.
“He’s doing that to get his numbers up in white Wisconsin and white Michigan, that racial stuff plays well there,” said a second Republican close to the campaign.
But not everyone agrees with that assessment.
Charles Franklin, a longtime Wisconsin pollster, cautioned against reading too much into the data and conventional wisdom coming out of the 2016 White House race that Trump’s appeal to the “forgotten man” of the Rust Belt helped him tear down the Democrats’ “blue wall.”
White voters in Wisconsin are supportive of the police but don’t seem to join with the president in his assessment that “mobs” are tearing apart the nation’s very fabric, he said.
“There is this foundational support for the police, even at same time a majority of whites have a favorable view of Black Lives Matter and approve of the protests,” Franklin said.
“These protests have resulted in some remarkable shifts in what people are publicly willing to defend and support, and Trump has chosen to support some of those things that are on the losing side, as were some of the Confederate generals on the losing side.”
The latest RealClearPolitics average of battleground state polls has Trump behind Biden by an average of 7.5 percentage points in Michigan and down by an average of 6.5 percentage points in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Kushner’s sinking stock
Trump’s hard turn to embrace a culture war marks a distinct departure from just a month ago, when advisers like Kushner were urging the president to embrace black voters and tout his accomplishments for them.
During an event in June at the White House, Trump heeded his son-in-law’s advice in highlighting the criminal-justice reform bill he signed into law in 2018 and also for providing additional support for historically black colleges and universities.
But some advisers said Trump has grown increasingly circumspect about following Kushner’s advice. It’s an awkward dance if ever there was one since the top White House aide is married to the president’s oldest daughter, Ivanka, and the 2020 reelection campaign apparatus is stocked with staffers loyal to Kushner.
Other aides insisted Kushner was in no danger of being replaced as one of the president’s top staffers.
“Jared is supportive of free speech, law and order, and our monuments being protected,” a senior Trump administration official told Insider while disputing the notion that Kushner was being increasingly marginalized.
Behind the scenes, Republicans have been grumbling for months that Trump is on a path toward a colossal loss in November.
“Shitty,” one of the Republican operatives close to the Trump campaign replied when asked about the president’s current political position.
Many are girding just to protect their narrow hold on the US Senate. Even some Republican donors have been keeping their distance from Trump for fear of being tied too closely to him if he loses. One GOP money man contacted by Insider said he had been avoiding calls from Trump fundraisers for months now.
The situation for Trump, according to most professional campaign watchers is dire, to say the least.
“This election,” Walter, the national editor of The Cook Political Report, wrote Wednesday, “is looking more like a Democratic tsunami than simply a Blue wave.”