Trump finds consistent foil in 'Squad'

President TrumpDonald John TrumpJulián Castro: It's time for House Democrats to 'do something' about Trump Warren: Congress is 'complicit' with Trump 'by failing to act' Sanders to join teachers, auto workers striking in Midwest 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 TlaibMarkey fundraises ahead of Kennedy primary challenge The Hill's Campaign Report: De Blasio drops out | Warren gains support from black voters | Sanders retools campaign team | Warning signs for Tillis in NC Omar says she hopes Netanyahu not reelected MORE (Mich.), Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarGOP Senate candidate said Republicans have 'dual loyalties' to Israel Hillicon Valley: Zuckerberg to meet with lawmakers | Big tech defends efforts against online extremism | Trump attends secretive Silicon Valley fundraiser | Omar urges Twitter to take action against Trump tweet Omar asks Twitter what it's doing in response to Trump spreading 'lies that put my life at risk' MORE (Minn.), Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyDemocrats blast HUD for removing LGBT language from grant competition Hillicon Valley: Zuckerberg to meet with lawmakers | Big tech defends efforts against online extremism | Trump attends secretive Silicon Valley fundraiser | Omar urges Twitter to take action against Trump tweet Omar asks Twitter what it's doing in response to Trump spreading 'lies that put my life at risk' MORE (Mass.) and Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezMarkey fundraises ahead of Kennedy primary challenge The Hill's Campaign Report: De Blasio drops out | Warren gains support from black voters | Sanders retools campaign team | Warning signs for Tillis in NC Progressives push for changes to Pelosi drug pricing plan 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 McCarthyClarence Thomas, Joe Manchin, Rudy Giuliani among guests at second state visit under Trump Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers say Zuckerberg to 'cooperate' on antitrust probes | Dems see victory after McConnell backs election security funds | Twitter takes down fake pro-Saudi accounts Lawmakers say Zuckerberg has agreed to 'cooperate' with antitrust probe 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 KingIowa Steak Fry to draw record crowds for Democrats Ocasio-Cortez rips Steve King after he shares video drinking from toilet-fountain hybrid at border Steve King says he drank from toilet at detention center 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 MeadowsClarence Thomas, Joe Manchin, Rudy Giuliani among guests at second state visit under Trump The Hill Interview: Sanford says Trump GOP doing 'serious brand destruction' GOP signals unease with Barr's gun plan 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.”