The new campaign strategy of Donald Trump is the same of 2016: radicalize his base with an inflammatory immigration speech and divide the vote of the opposition. What is new is the nemesis.
In the campaign that led him to the presidency, Trump promised to "drain the swamp" of DC, to remove establishment politicians, and the lobbyists turned Government officials and all those who represented the political and corporate corruption of the political system. It seemed to made sense. That year his rival were 15 Republicans with long careers, and Hillary Clinton, the poster girl of the American political system since she arrived at the White House back in 1993.
This time the president found another enemy: socialism, and particularly New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, one of the rising stars of the progressive wing.
According to an internal poll by the Democratic Party published by Axios, AOC has become "the face of Democrats" for a key group of moderate voters.
The group that leaked the poll told the outlet that there was a concern that these voters associate the Democratic Party with the socialist policies promoted by Ocasio and her group of allies in Congress. "If all voters hear about is AOC, it could put the [House] majority at risk", said a top Democrat who is involved in several 2020 congressional races. "[She's] getting all the news and defining everyone else races."
In conversation with LPO, Dick Morris, political commentator and former Bill Clinton campaign manager, said Trump saw the opportunity to not only put Ocasio and Omar as the face of the Democratic Party but to make Pelosi and the rest of the party come out to defend them. Trump believes this play makes the voters put all the party in the same basket.
Ocasio's influence is not limited to the polls and her ubiquitous media presence. In the second quarter, the socialist firebrand raised $ 1.2 million for her 2020 reelection campaign. This number exceeded what New York mayor and Democratic presidential candidate Bill De Blasio raised (only $ 1.1 million). Even more impressive is that Ocasio does not take corporate donations. More than $ 1 million of the funds came from donations of less than $200.
As a comparison, the powerful Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi raised $ 1.3 million during the same period.
Ocasio and Pelosi have repeatedly clashed over legislative and messaging issues. Recently they exchanged comments when Pelosi supported a budget package for border security sent by the Senate. Ocasio criticized the proposal for excluding protections for the children detained at the border, while the Democratic leader pushed her caucus to approve it.
Another central point is that Ocasio and her allies, in particular, three freshmen representatives who call themselves The Squad, support impeachment against the President. Pelosi has stated she would rather beat Trump in the ballots. Democratic leadership fears to alienate centrist and moderate voters who may not hate Trump and end up costing them the control of the House they won last year, or the presidency in 2020.
Trump took advantage of this apparent division in the opposition. Last weekend, in the middle of the debate over the treatment of migrants in detention centers, the president unleashed his attack on the Squad.
"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 [...] 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" the president tweeted. "I'm sure Nancy Pelosi will be very happy to arrange her trips! "
The attack was against the whole squad, but with a special dedication to Congresswoman Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, who emigrated from Somalia with her family at the age of 10, after spending several years in a refugee camp in Kenya.
The President's strategy seems obvious: paint the progressive wing of the party as "radical", and thus conquer the undecided and moderate vote.
The question is: Will Trump's strategy succeed?
The survey published by Axios reveals that 74% of respondents knew who Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is, and only 22% had a positive opinion of the congresswoman. Omar was identified by 53% of respondents, and only 9% saw her in a positive light, an alarming number for the congresswoman. 18% of the participants said they had a positive view of socialism, while 69% saw it negatively. 56% saw capitalism as something positive against 32%. Omar was identified by 53% of respondents, and only 9% saw her positively.
In an interview with journalist Ryan Grim, Democratic pollster Celinda Lake criticized the poll released by Axios. She warned that, by hiding who commissioned the survey, what the methodology was and who conducted it, the media violated basic journalistic guidelines.
The problem is that Trump has already tried the same strategy of painting Democrats as radicals last year to sway the midterm elections. He failed. On November 6 the Democrats snatched 40 seats from the Republicans. The third largest change of seats since the Watergate scandal in 1974. But beyond the number of seats, the Democratic Party won 9 million more votes than the Republicans, the largest margin in the history of midterm elections.
A month before the 2018 elections Trump published a column in USA Today to alert voters on the dangers of American socialism and said, referring to candidates like Ocasio, Omar and the rest of the progressive wing: "The new Democrats are socialist radicals who want to model the economy of the United States based on Venezuela."
There is a sector, however, where the president's warnings against AOC and socialism could echo: the Latino vote. Voters of Cuban and Venezuelan origin, who in Florida total almost 3 million votes, repudiate socialism. The majority arrived in the US fleeing socialist regimes. Venezuelans support Trump because they hope he will end the Nicolás Maduro regime.
Democratic candidates are well-aware of that aversion. The mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, who is one of the leaders of the Bernie Sanders campaign, said in an interview with Jorge Ramos that therefore they avoid using the term "socialism" when the candidate speaks in front of Latin audiences, especially in Florida.
According to a March survey by McLaughlin & Associates, 44% of Latinos surveyed said the country was on the right track, while 49% said they were going the wrong way. But the most revealing number of this survey is the one that has to do with the approval of Donald Trump.
Among Latinos, 50% said they approved of the president's work, and 48% disapproved. More than one specialist has insisted that the main problem of the Democrats is the belief that the only issue that matters to the Latino community is immigration. The numbers seem to support this belief.
Morris, who also runs a polling firm, says that for two-thirds of the Latino population - those who are second or third generation - the immigration issue is not in their top 3 priorities. "First there's the economy, then education, then healthcare, and in fourth place comes the immigration issue."
The former Clinton consultant, who is now working in Republican politics, points out that, according to several studies, the Latino and African-American populations have seen an improvement in their income under Trump. "It should not surprise anyone if they decide to vote with this in mind in 2020."
It still remains to be seen how effective it is for Trump to pick a fight with Ocasio. Her attacks against Senator Elizabeth Warren ended up being quite useful for the presidential hopeful by raising her name recognition to the national level. Warren is now one of the top three Democratic candidates in almost every single poll.
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