3 things to watch: Trump returns to trail after racist ‘send her back!’ chant

President holds rally days after saying he expects to face ‘Sleepy Joe’ Biden in general election

A supporter of President Donald Trump displays a campaign flag before his “Salute to America” celebration in front of the Lincoln Memorial on July 4. Trump goes to the swing state of Ohio for a rally Thursday night. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)
A supporter of President Donald Trump displays a campaign flag before his “Salute to America” celebration in front of the Lincoln Memorial on July 4. Trump goes to the swing state of Ohio for a rally Thursday night. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted August 1, 2019 at 1:24pm

President Donald Trump returns to the campaign trail Thursday night in Cincinnati with his first political rally since his supporters in North Carolina chanted “send her back!” about a Somali-born House Democrat.

That chant was directed at Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar — who has been critical of U.S. policy, Israel and Trump — by a crowd in Greenville. It prompted a rare instance of the president criticizing, though lightly, his conservative base, saying the next day he disagreed with the chant. He also falsely claimed he quickly tried to shut down the chant, a contention that was undone by video showing him standing silent behind his podium for more than 10 seconds.

The Greenville crowd was playing off Trump’s own declaration that Omar and three other progressive House Democratic female first-year members — all minorities — should “go back” to countries in which he claimed they were born. (Only Omar was born on foreign soil; all four are U.S. citizens.)

And it was followed weeks later by the president’s Twitter-based campaign against House Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah E. Cummings after the Maryland Democrat’s panel voted on party lines to subpoena communications by White House aides using personal electronic accounts. If the subpoena succeeds, Cummings would get access to messages penned by presidential daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner; both are West Wing staffers.

[Forget ‘MAGA’ or ‘KAG,’ Trump just tweeted Hillary‘s 2016 slogan]

Trump this week told C-SPAN he often has no script for his rallies, instead preferring to work off a few notes, ad-lib much of what’s on his teleprompter, and play off the crowd’s reactions. That means the president likely will make it a game time decision on just how hard to press on the country’s centuries-old racial scars and tensions. Here are three things to watch Thursday evening.

‘Squad’ squeamishness?

Few things become lasting political problems for this White House — in part because the former reality television star-turned-president is so adept at creating new controversies and starting new feuds. (See: the Cummings flap.) Trump’s approval rating hovers around 40 percent, and has for years.

Republican Party officials and his campaign aides acknowledge internal concerns about Trump’s sudden race-based tactics. There are reasons to wonder if his attacks on the all-female House “squad” faction could hurt him at the ballot box. That’s because polls show suburban women poised to vote against him next year and all Americans giving him low marks on his handling of race relations.

A recent CNN/SSRS poll conducted in April found that 56 percent of those surveyed disapproved of the way the president has handled race relations.

Trump since has turned his ire on Cummings, another minority member, while using what some Democratic members and operatives say are racial code words to criticize conditions in Baltimore, which the chairman represents. The president, in a Sunday tweet, even wrote this on Twitter about its residents: “No human being would want to live there.” (Blacks comprise 62.8 percent of Baltimore’s population, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.)

The president last spoke at length about Omar and company on July 22, when he was asked this by a reporter in the Oval Office: “On your tweets — why are you escalating your feud with the four congresswomen and racial tensions in so doing?”

Trump responded by returning to his pre-chant rhetoric: “Well, I think they’re very bad for our country. I really think they must hate our country. I think the four congressmen we’re talking about — the congresswomen, what they’ve said about Israel, what they’ve said about our country, when they talk about ‘disgusting people,’ when they talk the way they talk — when the one mentioned that ‘brown people should speak for brown people,’ and ‘Muslim people should speak for Muslim people,’ and you hear all this — it’s not what our country is all about.”

How will the president weave the “squad” into his Cincinnati remarks, especially when his aides have confirmed they want to make the liberal lawmakers part of their message that a vote for any Democratic candidate is a vote for socialism?

Discrediting Democrats

A big part of Trump’s political strategy is to paint his opponents as too old, too unintelligent, too corrupt, too Washington, etc., to defeat him or hold high office. He was at it again just after midnight as cable news networks breathlessly analyzed the second night of the second Democratic primary debate.

“The people on the stage tonight, and last, were not those that will either Make America Great Again or Keep America Great! Our Country now is breaking records in almost every category, from Stock Market to Military to Unemployment,” the president tweeted.

“We have prosperity & success like never before,” Trump wrote, yet again making a historic claim without providing any supporting data or noting that some economists say the U.S. economy has been stronger under other chief executives. (And the field of 2020 Democrats agree on this much: They claim policies like the GOP tax law he signed in December 2017 have almost exclusively helped large corporations and the richest Americans.)

But the president wasn’t finished. He cast the 2020 election as something of a historic inflection point, telling his Twitter followers that it “will soon be time to choose to keep and build upon that prosperity and success, or let it go.”

One Trump campaign official on Thursday singled out former Vice President Joe Biden, the current Democratic frontrunner, and Sen. Kamala Harris of California, who is among the other few candidates consistently polling in double digits. Both had “horrendous” debate performances, that official said.

And Brad Parscale, Trump’s 2020 campaign manager, tweeted an image of Trump, before he became president, dancing as he declared his boss won the second Democratic debate. Biden’s campaign team fanned out on cable news Thursday to contend their boss was the clear winner, stressing his more moderate health care plan is more likely to resonate with voters.

Oh, Ohio

Democratic and Republican political strategists see Trump largely trying to chart the same path to a second term as he did to secure his first. That includes Ohio and its always-coveted 18 Electoral College votes.

Polls suggest the 2020 Buckeye Battle again will be a close one. A recent Quinnipiac University poll of registered voters in the state gave Biden an 8 percentage point lead in a hypothetical one-on-one race with the president, while Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren trailed Trump by 1 point. Harris was tied with the president in Ohio.

Trump signaled he knows the stakes in the state, firing off a late-morning tweet in which he described the evening rally as “BIG,” before declaring: “Our Country is doing GREAT!” He won Ohio last time, besting Clinton 51.3 percent to 43.2 percent. Though she won Cincinnati’s Hamilton County (52.7 percent to 42.4 percent), the president and his campaign team are eager to use the rally to drive up turnout in the deep red counties surrounding the state’s third-most populous city.

What’s more, the “Queen City” is also within driving distance of and its television market includes counties in northwest Kentucky. That includes Kenton and Campbell counties.

[Trump turns dour on trade pact because Chinese leaders ‘don’t come through’]

The president won both in 2016. But unlike other counties in the Cincinnati area, he failed to break 60 percent of the total vote in either place. (He won Kenton with 59.7 percent of voters and Campbell with 58.9 percent.) Trump and his team are counting on a big turnout in Ohio and other battleground states. And, to be sure, his supporters are standing by him despite a list of scandals and controversies.

Ohio resident Joel Guthrie traveled to Washington last month just to see Trump’s Independence Day “celebration” on the National Mall. As his white hair fluttered in a passing storm’s breeze from beneath his bright red “Make America Great Again” ball cap, Guthrie said most of his friends back home also remain staunchly behind the 45th commander in chief because of his tough talk and conservative policies.

“See, he is trying to bring all people to the problems,” Guthrie said, even as the Democratic candidates spent parts of the two-night debate railing against Trump for using racial rhetoric and other tactics to further divide the country. “But the others in Washington, D.C., are just fighting him at every step.”

Guthrie listed Washington’s spending habits as something he wants Trump to change. But don’t expect the president to talk much Thursday night about a $320 billion spending measure the Senate approved that afternoon that averts a federal debt default. That’s because it riled some House and Senate conservatives by again raising defense and domestic spending caps put in place by the often-circumvented 2011 Budget Control Act.

Despite his own panning of federal spending levels as a candidate, President Trump has done little to change Washington’s ways. In fact, shortly before the Senate sent the measure to his desk, the leader of the GOP used a tweet to try rallying on-the-fence Republican senators to vote “yea.” He dubbed the measure “phenomenal for our Great Military, our Vets, and Jobs, Jobs, Jobs!” before adding: “Go for it Republicans, there is always plenty of time to CUT!”