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There He Goes Again: Unhinged Trump Deploying the “Divide and Distract” Political Strategy

 

President Trump’s unhinged, unfiltered speech in Tampa last night, following days of stoking the threat of an immigration and wall-funding related government shutdown, exemplifies what we’ll see for the remainder of this election cycle: a Trump-led and Republican-supported effort to whip up xenophobic fears and scapegoat familiar targets, such as immigrants and the media. The goal? To divide and distract the electorate from core bread and butter issues.

Of course, Trump’s policy of ripping kids from their parents with no plan to reunite them defines him on immigration now, and voters outside the Trumpian base are seeing through the Trump/GOP strategy. But don’t expect that to dissuade them – Trump has already announced that he plans to hit the road to campaign “six or seven days a week when we’re 60 days out.” That means that the speech in Tampa is just a sign of things to come.

The following is a statement from Matt Hildreth, Political Director for America’ Voice:

What we saw last night in Tampa fits alongside the ongoing Twitter rants and shutdown threats – it’s a full-throttle attempt to incite his base by scapegoating immigrants, attacking the media, and dividing and distracting the country away from the fact that he’s rewarding the wealthy elite as wages are declining and healthcare costs are rising.

We need to call out the GOP’s 2018 strategy for exactly what it is: racist, xenophobic and hateful. This kind of fear-mongering has no place in our country. That’s why voters from all walks of life are taking a stand saying they will not tolerate candidates – or anyone – who will not recognize that every single one of us is first and foremost a human being, with value and rights who deserve respect and dignity.

Other observers are making similar points – see analyses from Philip Bump and Greg Sargent of the Washington Post, for example.

As Bump assesses in a piece titled, “Trump’s two-track strategy: The rich get richer, and the poor get distracted”:

For years, many Republicans have worked to effect sweeping cuts and benefits for the wealthiest Americans while maintaining a non-wealthy voting base by engaging in robust cultural fights. Trump has nearly perfected it.

…The president’s core policy priorities are centered on the sort of fearmongering that past Republicans often considered only more obliquely. Illegal immigration, criminal gangs, crime in general: These are the core problems Trump points to in his appeals to voters.

And as Sargent assesses about last night’s Tampa speech:

Trump plainly sees political gain in provocation on as many fronts as possible. When Trump pardoned former sheriff Joe Arpaio despite his lawless and racist civil rights abuses, Trump had grown persuaded that it was “a way of pleasing his political base.” When Trump refused to unambiguously condemn white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, choosing instead to stoke racial tensions further, Stephen K. Bannon candidly declared that those tensions would help Trump politically.

…The provocations, of course, also take the form of policy, with severe human consequences: Trump’s hard-line immigration agenda is spreading fear and suffering in immigrant communities, and lest you think this is merely rooted in good-faith differences over how to handle immigration enforcement, Trump also layers the ritual dehumanization of immigrants on top of that cruelty. All this has crystallized in his horrible family separation policy, and even here, Trump reportedly claimed that “my people love it.”