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Trump’s Strategic Racism is Not Just Falling Flat, It’s Backfiring

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Tired of his divisiveness, Americans want to come together to solve big challenges

 In the face of Trump’s focus on urban unrest in hopes of deflecting from his epic failures on the pandemic, the economy and racial injustice, new polls show that the lead Biden and Democrats have built in swing states is durable. Trump’s go-to of strategic racism – demonizing the non-white “other” in hopes of scaring white voters into voting for him – is not working. 

This should not come as a surprise. The Republican exploitation of racism and xenophobia didn’t work in contested races from 2017-19 either. Here is some commentary from recent days:

  • Sahil Kapur in NBC News, “Trump’s alarms on crime fell flat in 2018. Now he’s betting re-election on it”: “In 2018, the chosen narrative was a caravan of muscular young Latin men in “gangs” preparing to overrun the U.S. border. In 2020, the portrait features “thugs” operating in “dark shadows” waiting to control Democratic nominee Joe Biden if he’s elected president … New post-convention polls indicate that the country isn’t currently sold. The latest surveys suggest crime ranks low on the minds of Americans, and that most are sympathetic to protests against racial inequality after high-profile police shootings of Black men.”
  • Heather McGhee on MSNBC’s Meet the Press: “This is his playbook. But what we know now is that it’s not working, and in fact, it’s backfiring. Because of his ham-fisted and demonizing and divisive reactions to the peaceful demonstrations across this country, the Black Lives Matter movement, which seems to be the largest protest movement in American history, it looks like Donald Trump is on track to do something with white voters that hasn’t been done since Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act and Republicans started their sort of racialized strategy, which is actually lose the white vote. Joe Biden is now leading with white voters. And why is that? It’s not in spite of the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s because of it. Because it’s enormously popular, it’s made a moral awakening in this country and he’s losing the suburbs because of it. He’s losing the suburbs because he’s still trying to race bait and divide us at a time where, you know, you’ve got big suburban houses with lawn signs that say, ‘Black Lives Matter.’”
  • Greg Sargent in The Washington Post: “As the wildly hyped imagery of urban unrest and up-is-down coronavirus propaganda at the GOP convention showed, the convention’s primary aim was to create the illusion that President Trump has decisively crushed the virus — and that the only thing left for White suburbanites to fear is the radical left’s efforts to violently push the country into civil collapse. Three new polls suggest that neither of those notions proved particularly persuasive.”
  • David Graham in The Atlantic: “Perhaps Kenosha will prove a turning point for this presidential campaign, but if it does, it’s far more likely to be because it has turned voters against Trump than because it has rallied them to his support.”
  • Brian Klaas in The Washington Post: “In the 2018 midterm elections, the Republican closing message featured a series of fearmongering anti-immigrant ads. Many worried that it would work, refocusing the campaign on race rather than results. In the end, the result was a historic landslide defeat of Republicans … Swing voters in Midwestern states are not the caricature that Trump and some pundits believe them to be. And Trump’s gambit, which relies on that caricature reflecting reality, might just backfire. Biden should work to make sure that it does.”

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice: 

We did not panic, nor are we surprised. We have been studying the impact of Trump’s white power rhetoric and campaigning, and it’s been clear for some time now that a powerful multiracial majority is gearing up to reject the racism and xenophobia of the President and his party. 

While Trump cynically deploys racial scare tactics in an effort to change the subject and deflect from his failures, Americans are tired of his incitement of division, hate and violence. They want leaders who bring us together to tackle and resolve the big challenges of our time: the public health crisis, economic inequality, racial injustice, immigration reform, and more.

On immigration, we have watched as Trump forced a choice, and a majority have chosen to oppose his harsh rhetoric and policies. He targets immigrants as criminals while many are doing the essential work to keep America going during the COVID-19 crisis. He separates families, attacks DACA and fetishizes a costly, offensive and ineffective border wall. He closes off virtually all legal immigration channels when support for increasing immigration has never been higher. 

Trump is running as if it’s 1968. It’s not. It’s 2020, America has changed, and the GOP playbook of using dog-whistle tactics and racist wedge issues is not only failing, it’s backfiring.