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Why suburbs are suddenly the focus of Trump's campaign pitch

For much of Trump's presidency, he barely mentioned American suburbs. Seeing an opportunity, he's suddenly eager to talk about little else.
Image: President Donald Trump speaks about administration efforts to curb federal regulations during an event on the South Lawn of the White House
President Donald Trump speaks about administration efforts to curb federal regulations during an event on the South Lawn of the White House, July 16, 2020.Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

For much of Donald Trump's presidency, he barely mentioned American suburbs. There was a grand total of one tweet that referenced the suburbs in his first three years in office, and according to the Factbase database, the Republican's presidential speeches also made little mention of suburban communities.

That is, until very recently. All of a sudden, Trump is preoccupied with suburbs and their pending doom. On Tuesday, for example, during a campaign event in the White House Rose Garden, the president said Democrats are "going to abolish the suburbs."

Yesterday, he went a little further.

"Joe Biden and his bosses from the radical left want to significantly multiply what they’re doing now. And what will be the end result is you will totally destroy the beautiful suburbs. Suburbia will be no longer as we know it.... The suburb destruction will end with us."

He added, "Our plan is to protect the suburbs from being obliterated by Washington Democrats, by people on the far Left that want to see the suburbs destroyed -- that don’t care. People who have worked all their lives to get into a community and now they’re going to watch it go to hell."

Naturally, Trump has echoed the sentiment with tweets this week.

It's easy to imagine what led to Trump's sudden fixation on all things suburban. In fact, it seems pretty obvious: after barely ever uttering the word for most of his presidency, Trump was almost certainly told that polls show him hemorrhaging support from voters in suburbs. It coincided with the president's belief that a message based on racial grievances and racial animus will help give his struggling campaign a boost.

And so, Trump is tying the two threads together. NBC News' Jonathan Allen explained yesterday, "President Donald Trump says Joe Biden wants to 'abolish the suburbs.' But what he appears to mean is that Biden wants to stop suburban segregation.... Watching Trump talk about the issue is like playing a documentary on the civil rights movement in reverse slow motion."

The president has earned a reputation for speaking in racial codes, but this latest push doesn't require a cypher.

At issue is a policy called the Affirmatively Further Fair Housing rule (AFFH), which is designed to help implement provisions of the Fair Housing Act of 1968. As a Washington Post fact-check piece explained this week:

The rule, which was finalized in July 2015 and been in limbo since Obama left office, is designed to push “meaningful actions, in addition to combating discrimination, that overcome patterns of segregation and foster inclusive communities free from barriers that restrict access to opportunity based on protected characteristics.” Put simply, it was designed to help state and local officials provide better access to opportunity, following the original 1968 guideline.

What Trump is describing as a policy intended to "abolish" suburbs is actually a federal rule designed to counter segregation in housing.

It's a subject the Republican ought to know well: the Justice Department accused Trump of violating the Fair Housing Act several decades ago as part of the future president's discriminatory practices against African-American renters.

Nearly a half-century later, Trump's views on discrimination in housing are every bit as offensive.