Why Trump's bigoted tropes won't work in 2020

President TrumpDonald John TrumpZuckerberg launches public defense of Facebook as attacks mount Trump leaning toward keeping a couple hundred troops in eastern Syria: report Warren says making Israel aid conditional on settlement building is 'on the table' MORE’s weekend tweets, telling four duly elected congresswomen of color to go back to the countries they came from, remind us once again of the president’s apparent belief that he can wield the normally undesirable qualities of racism and xenophobia to his political advantage. 

That is not new. And while I believe his recent language crossed a line, it should not surprise anyone that he went there. It also should not surprise anyone that the Republican Party has been mostly silent in the wake of these egregious statements — even though, ultimately, it may be the biggest victim of them — and will continue to support Trump no matter what he says.

Why? 2020. 


But what Trump and the GOP don’t understand or don’t believe is that there will be a political price to pay, both for the language and actions of this president and for the deafening silence of a cowardly, complicit party. 

The 2020 election is the reason Trump is taking a well-known strategy a step further, albeit in a much harsher, more insidious manner. That strategy is to continue painting all Democrats with the same broad brush as he and the GOP like to paint the four congresswomen targeted by Trump.  

On Monday, Trump parroted Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamZuckerberg launches public defense of Facebook as attacks mount Graham: 'Stupid' for Trump to ask China to investigate Biden Turkey sanctions face possible wall in GOP Senate MORE (R-S.C.), who said on Fox News that Trump should “aim higher” than the insults he hurled at the congresswomen (while insulting them himself by calling them “socialists” who hate America). 

Trump and the GOP want to paint all Democrats as being socialist and unpatriotic, as hating America, wanting open borders and treating “illegals” better than Americans.

The GOP has used this tired meme for decades. When President Roosevelt passed Social Security as part of the New Deal, when President Johnson passed Medicare and Medicaid, both were lambasted by Republicans as socialist programs that would destroy the U.S. economy. Today, these programs are pillars of it. 


By making these four young congresswomen the faces of the Democratic Party, Trump and the GOP aim to define the party generally as one that is pushing socialist policies on Americans, even though nothing could be further from the truth.

Trump’s tweets also remind his base — many of them nativist and xenophobic — that they have a president who is fighting for them against the “other.” It was an ugly, bigoted trope that worked for Trump in 2016, and undoubtedly he will unleash it again for his reelection fight in 2020.

The problem for Trump and Republicans is two-fold: This strategy worked in 2016, when many Democrats didn’t come out for Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonClinton trolls Trump with mock letter from JFK to Khrushchev Trump-Graham relationship tested by week of public sparring Sunday shows — Mulvaney seeks to tamp down firestorm over quid pro quo comments, Doral decision MORE and allowed just enough room at the margins for Trump to squeak by with a thin win. But it did not work in 2018, when Trump’s racist language and policies led to brutally separating children from their families at the border and demonizing asylum-seekers as caravans full of criminals invading our country.  

Those tactics not only super-energized the Democratic base, but they turned off massive numbers of suburban college-educated women who turned their back on the GOP and helped give Democrats control of the House of Representatives. 

I do not believe Trump’s trumped-up strategy will work in 2020 either. The country is more diverse now than in 2016. 


Trump’s latest words crossed a new line, sounding more clearly like something out of a white supremacist handbook demanding that people of color “go back” to their home countries. Never mind that three of the four women Trump attacked were born here. Never mind that their families may have been in the U.S. longer than Trump’s own family has. 

This is language with which Trump’s own party is uncomfortable, although the majority will remain silent. They know that, long term, it’s political kryptonite for Republicans.

Ron Brownstein of The Atlantic has a smart analysis that shows Trump’s strategy for winning is to trade younger voters for older ones, urban voters for rural ones, voters of color for white ones. Yet, all three groups on which the GOP is betting are shrinking, while the others are growing. So, while that tactic worked in 2016, it is a recipe for political annihilation in the future.

The other problem for Republicans is that Trump’s tweets unified Democrats after weeks of reported infighting. He reminded Democrats of the bigger, much more important fish they need to fry. House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTurkey sanctions face possible wall in GOP Senate Trump lashes out at Pelosi as she visits Jordan to discuss Syria Thomas D'Alesandro III, brother of Nancy Pelosi, dies at 90 MORE (D-Calif.) and the Democratic leadership quickly came to the defense of the four congresswomen. Now there’s a resolution from Speaker Pelosi seeking to condemn Trump’s vile tweets. 

A unified Democratic Party, with constant reminders of what the country is up against with this commander in chief, will be a formidable challenge for Trump going into 2020, especially since his approval rating has never reached 50 percent. 

As an immigrant from Colombia, I have lived — as many others have — with bigotry, xenophobia and racism; I was often told to “go back to Mexico.” And this is what Trump has unleashed since he announced his candidacy: He enables people to express their racism, xenophobia and bigotry in the open, to hurt or denigrate other Americans who look or sound foreign or those seeking to come here for a better life.

But as infuriating and hurtful as Trump is on a daily basis, reason must prevail so that we can focus on the real battle for the country we truly are. 

This requires an understanding of Trump’s and the GOP’s tactics, what drives them and, more importantly, how to fight them. Most of all it requires remembering, deep down, that neither their reasoning nor their tactics are sustainable in the long run. 

Maria Cardona is a principal at the Dewey Square Group, a Democratic strategist and a CNN/CNN Español political commentator. Follow her on Twitter @MariaTCardona