Trump finds consistent foil in 'Squad'

President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive landmark moments of testimony to Congress Lindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight Democrats sharpen their message on impeachment MORE’s tweet saying Israel should deny entry to two of his domestic political opponents was just the latest example of him elevating “The Squad,” the group of four progressive congresswomen he wants to make the face of the Democratic Party.

Trump has repeatedly gone after the four outspoken Democratic freshmen — Reps. Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibSanders: Fighting anti-Semitism 'is very personal' Bloomberg run should push Warren to the center — but won't Justice Democrats official denies that progressives struggle with electability MORE (Mich.), Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarSanders 'very concerned about what appears to be a coup' in Bolivia Overnight Defense: Protests at Trump's NYC Veterans Day speech | House Dems release Pentagon official's deposition transcript | Lawmakers ask Trump to rescind Erdogan invite Ilhan Omar blasts Pete King as an 'Islamophobe' after he announces retirement: 'Good riddance' MORE (Minn.), Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyJustice Democrats official denies that progressives struggle with electability The Hill's Campaign Report: Bloomberg looks to upend Democratic race Progressive freshmen jump into leadership PAC fundraising MORE (Mass.) and Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezSanders 'very concerned about what appears to be a coup' in Bolivia Trump celebrates resignation of Bolivia's president Sanders touts big crowds in Iowa rallies with Ocasio-Cortez MORE (N.Y.) — who have carved an outsized presence on Capitol Hill since their arrival in January.

The back-benching quartet, who are notably all racial minorities, has little power to speak of in a caucus dominated by seasoned veteran lawmakers.

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But Trump's strategy is designed to hoist them up as the driving force behind the Democrats’ policy agenda in hopes of animating his conservative base — and, perhaps, alienating independent voters — heading into the polls next year. 

“There is no longer any doubt that ‘The Squad’ is solidly in control of the Democrat Party,” Tim Murtaugh, a Trump campaign spokesman, told The Hill, echoing the president’s public comments.

The latest example arrived Thursday when Trump said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin NetanyahuBenjamin (Bibi) NetanyahuMORE should block Tlaib and Omar, both Muslim women who’ve been critical of Israel, from a planned visit this weekend. Israel then did so, despite vows by officials last month to welcome any members of Congress to the country. 

About an hour before Netanyahu’s government announced its decision, Trump was again casting the Democrats as enemies of Israel.

“Representatives Omar and Tlaib are the face of the Democrat Party, and they HATE Israel!” Trump tweeted.

It marked the second time in as many months that Trump singled out members of The Squad. In July, he tweeted that the four progressive women should “go back” to the “crime infested places from which they came.” 

All four are U.S. citizens, and only Omar was born abroad. 

Democrats cried foul and called the tweets blatantly racist; even Republicans, normally hesitant to criticize the president, said the remarks were out of line. But at a North Carolina campaign rally, as Trump began discussing Omar, the crowd started chanting, “Send her back! Send her back!”

The president allowed the chants to go on for 13 seconds.

The new attacks are an escalation for Trump.

Previously, he’s been more focused on highlighting the congresswomen’s progressive policies, including the Green New Deal, Medicare for All and impeachment.

“The Green New Deal, done by a young bartender, 29 years old,” Trump told House Republicans at a fundraiser, referring to Ocasio-Cortez, who worked as a bartender in New York before her stunning rise on the national stage.

The House Democratic caucus includes a spectrum of ideologies, from liberals in the Progressive Caucus to the conservative-leaning Blue Dogs. The largest sub-group is the business-friendly New Democrats. 

But Trump wants voters to identify Democrats — especially the party’s presidential nominee in 2020 — with The Squad.

Congressional Republicans are taking cues from Trump, seeking to paint all Democrats in the “socialist” mold of their most liberal freshman members. 

“The new socialist Democrats are embracing policies that are in direct conflict with the needs and priorities of the American people: more taxes, more spending, more government, and less freedom,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyCongress hunts for path out of spending stalemate This week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry Nunes pressed on Fox News about comparing impeachment inquiry to a 'coup' MORE (R-Calif.) said Friday, announcing a new initiative to boost the prospects of GOP candidates challenging vulnerable Democratic incumbents.  

“Simply put, this is theft,” he added. 

Republicans are attempting a balancing act of their own, amid concerns that Trump’s frequent attacks on minorities and women could alienate suburban voters in states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, which were crucial to his 2016 victory.

And Democratic leaders are desperately trying to turn the tables on Republicans, tying them to one of their own, Rep. Steve KingSteven (Steve) Arnold KingWhy the GOP march of mad hatters poses a threat to our Democracy MSNBC's Donny Deutsch: 'Pathetic' Republicans who stormed closed hearing are 'boring, nerdy-looking white guys' Overnight Defense: Trump lifts sanctions on Turkey | 'Small number' of troops to remain by Syrian oil fields | Defense official's impeachment testimony delayed five hours after Republicans storm secure room MORE (R-Iowa), who earlier questioned why white supremacy is offensive and this week suggested the human race wouldn’t exist without rape and incest. Some Republicans quickly called on King to resign. 

Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsDemocrats sharpen their message on impeachment Impeachment week: Trump probe hits crucial point This week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry MORE (R-N.C.), the leader of the conservative Freedom Caucus who frequently discusses policy and politics with Trump, said he doesn’t see the president’s focus on the four congresswoman as a deliberate, calculated 2020 campaign strategy. But Meadows does think Trump’s message, what Republicans believe are extremist views, is resonating with voters.

“I have witnessed moderate Democrats across the country agreeing with a Republican president that many of The Squad’s views are extreme and fail to support American ideals,” Meadows told The Hill.

While Ocasio-Cortez generated more media attention when she first arrived in Washington, it seems Trump now has his sights set on Tlaib and Omar, the latter of whom has repeatedly come under fire from Republicans and Democrats alike for making anti-Semitic remarks.

Referring to Democrats who take money from AIPAC, Omar tweeted in February, “It’s all about the Benjamins, baby!” Days later, she suggested that powerful Jews inside and outside of Congress are pushing “allegiance to a foreign country.” In response to the latter, the House approved a resolution in March condemning hatred in all forms. Trump’s recent attacks on Omar have put Democrats in the odd spot of defending her right to visit Israel just months after that vote.

Trump’s Israel-focused attacks on Omar and Tlaib could play well in a key state Trump needs to win reelection: Florida, which is home to more than a half million Jewish Americans. In 2016, Trump won the Sunshine State — and its 29 electoral votes. And his team believes they’re in good position to repeat, given that Republicans won both the governor’s mansion and a Senate seat there last fall. 

Trump also believes the attacks could give him and fellow Republicans a boost in Minnesota and Michigan, the home states of Omar and Tlaib, respectively, that also will be key swing states in 2020. Trump won Michigan by just 10,700 votes or 0.2 percent, and narrowly missed winning Minnesota by about 45,000 votes or 1.5 percent.

“I watched just this morning this Tlaib from Michigan, right? That's a great state. We won Michigan. There's no way she stands for the values of the people of Michigan,” Trump said at a conservative student summit last month. “But I watched her this morning, she's vicious. She's like a crazed lunatic. She's screaming … this is not a sane person, folks.”

During that same Turning Point USA event, Trump predicted he would win Minnesota next year because of Omar. 

“And you know why I'm going to win the state?” Trump asked the crowd. “Because of her. I almost won it last time.”