Shortly before Donald Trump left for a campaign rally in North Carolina, the president stopped for a brief Q&A with reporters, some of whom asked about his recent attacks on young congresswomen of color, including Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.). The Republican quickly set the tone for the rest of the day.
"Well, there is a lot of talk about the fact that she was married to her brother," Trump said. "I know nothing about it. I hear she was married to her brother." (The Minnesota Democrat is on record calling these rumors "disgusting lies.")
A few hours later, the president took the stage in Greenville, where he continued his offensive against Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Omar, Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), accusing them and their party of supporting "the destruction of our country."
The event devolved from there.
"Omar laughed that Americans speak of al Qaeda in a menacing tone," he said. "You don't say America with this intensity. You say al Qaeda makes you proud. Al Qaeda makes you proud. You don't speak that way about America," he added, referring to her remarks in a 2013 interview.The crowd broke into a chant of "Send her back!"
Yes, this is American politics in 2019: a president eager to maximize division for his own purposes, lies about an elected congresswoman, and then basks in the adulation of rabid followers who chant in unison about deporting the American lawmaker.
I imagine that Trump's allies will argue today that the president did not personally say, "Send her back." That's true, though it doesn't make the display in North Carolina any less sickening: Trump peddled unsubtle lies, exploiting racism and fomenting hate, leading his base to his desired destination.
The president even paused to appreciate the chant, interrupting his remarks with silence, not to dissuade his followers, but to enjoy them.
Responding to the chant, Ron Brownstein asked, "If 20 high school students chanted this at a classmate how many would be expelled? If 20 employees yelled this at a colleague how many would be fired? If 20 Army soldiers aimed this at a platoon mate how many would be discharged?"
The questions answer themselves.
Jon Chait added that the developments at the rally also stepped all over days' worth of White House talking points.
While most the party apparatus is committed to the pretense that Trump was merely inviting left-wing America-haters to move to a more congenial place, Trump and his crowd are perfectly aware of what he meant. "Send her back" is not describing voluntary emigration.Likewise the pretense that his targets were selected on the basis of ideology. ("Our opposition to our socialist colleagues isn't because of their race, religion, or gender," insists Liz Cheney, "It's because their policies are dangerous, wrong, and would destroy America.") Yet somehow, when Trump launched a long riff attacking Bernie Sanders for his socialist ambitions, insisting they would never be fulfilled, neither Trump nor his audience said anything about sending him to another country.
It's possible, if not likely, that the president is quite satisfied this morning, seeing these developments as a tactical victory. His base is enthralled and his targets -- whom he's convinced will hurt the Democratic Party -- are up front and center.
But no one is focused right now on the congresswomen, their records, their ideology, or their ideas. Rather, the spotlight is shining on Trump, his racist messages, his slander of elected lawmakers, and a chilling chant that the president enjoyed a bit too much.