President Trump’s instinct for exploiting America’s deep cultural divisions could help Republicans nullify the Democratic resistance in the midterm elections, saving the party’s vulnerable congressional majorities.
Trump on Tuesday accused House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., of being in league with a violent Hispanic street gang and used a disagreement with the Super Bowl champions the Philadelphia Eagles to question the patriotism of the mostly African-American professional football players who last season knelt during the National Anthem to protest racial injustice.
Republican strategists, in a perpetual state of anxiety over what the president might say next, didn’t flinch.Trump’s habit of ignoring the economic message preferred by House and Senate Republicans in favor of the culture war tropes that propelled him to the White House is increasingly seen as an asset. Though provocative, the president’s rhetoric resonates with the base, offering Republicans a vehicle for matching the Democrats’ critical voter enthusiasm edge.
“Not all of Trump’s cultural cudgels work this cleanly for him politically, but this one is pretty much all upside for him,” said Brad Todd, a Republican consultant who explored this issue in The Great Revolt; Inside the Populist Coalition Reshaping American Politics, a book he co-authored with the Washington Examiner’s Salena Zito.
“I see no evidence in survey data that the [National Football League] flap hurts Republicans with any voters who would otherwise consider voting Republican. Independents disapprove of the way the NFL handled the protests,” Todd added.
Trump seems bored with the historic $1.3 trillion tax overhaul he signed into law late last year. Republicans in Congress credit the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act with accelerating economic growth and job creation and see it as the key to survival in the midterm. But Trump appears more interested in illegal immigration, gang violence, and patriotism.
Trump gravitated to patriotism this week after the Philadelphia Eagles informed the White House that only a few players would attend the team’s Super Bowl celebration, citing a scheduling conflict.
Rather than try for a new date, the president canceled the event entirely, and replaced it with a ceremony to honor America and its patriotic symbols. Trump accused the Eagles of canceling because they refused to meet his demands for showing proper reverence to the anthem. Republican insiders close to the president say this isn’t some grand strategy.