Sen. Bernard Sanders says President Trump may be crazy, but he’s not stupid when it comes to crafting a message and sticking to a strategy that could boost his reelection chances next year.
That theory could help explain why Mr. Trump is going after the four minority congresswomen known as “The Squad,” who have come to embody a liberal brand of politics that hurt their party’s ability to woo voters in swing districts next year.
“He wants to make ‘The Squad’ the face of the Democratic Party as a placeholder until they know who the nominee is,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist who communicates regularly with the White House.
“He wants to keep it on celebrity versus celebrity, and ideology versus ideology, rather than solutions because he wants to tell you their ideology is going to creep into the policy solutions that the eventual 2020 Democratic presidential nominee puts forward,” Mr. O’Connell said.
That could prove to be a smart move for Mr. Trump, whose approval rating has been underwater.
Polls suggest the president could be on better footing than the liberal foursome who have become the center of attention in Washington: Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts.
The latest Real Clear Politics average of polls shows 44% of voters approve of the job Mr. Trump is doing and 52% disapprove.
Top Democrats, meanwhile, leaked a poll last week that showed Ms. Ocasio-Cortez is well known — but not well-liked — among likely general election voters who are white and have two years or less of college education.
Among the 74% of voters who recognized her, just 22% had a favorable view.
More than half of the respondents knew Ms. Omar, but only 9% had a favorable view of her. Most voters also said they disapproved of socialism.
It was more of the same in a March poll from Quinnipiac University that found 36% of voters had a negative view of Ms. Ocasio-Cortez and 23% held her in a positive light. Almost 40% did not have an opinion.
The survey also showed that 33% said Ms. Ocasio-Cortez has been good for the Democratic Party and 36% said she has been bad for the party.
Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, said at the time that “all is definitely not A-OK for AOC.”
“Most voters either don’t like the firebrand freshman congresswoman or don’t know who she is,” Mr. Malloy said.
Mr. O’Connell said Mr. Trump has been itching for the chance to tie Democrats to the group. The opportunity appeared last week when Ms. Ocasio-Cortez accused House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of singling out minority members of the Democratic caucus.
Mr. Trump pounced. He said that whenever liberal Democrats are confronted they “call their adversaries, including Nancy Pelosi, ‘RACIST’ ” and that the four lawmakers don’t like the United States and should return to their home countries.
Democrats rallied behind the women and demanded that Mr. Trump apologize for his “racist” and “xenophobic” remarks. They noted that Ms. Omar, a Somali refugee, was the only one born outside of the United States.
Mr. Trump, meanwhile, painted an entirely different picture.
“The Dems were trying to distance themselves from the four ‘progressives,’ but now they are forced to embrace them,” he tweeted. “That means they are endorsing Socialism, hate of Israel and the USA! Not good for the Democrats!”
He said the four liberals received a “free pass and a big embrace from the Democrat Party” and that “Democrats are afraid to take them on. Sad!”
“Omar is polling at 8%, Cortez at 21%,” Mr. Trump said. “Nancy Pelosi tried to push them away, but now they are forever wedded to the Democrat Party. See you in 2020!”
Amy Walter, of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, said the fight with “The Squad” “is exactly where Trump wants 2020 to be fought.”
“The more media/Dems engage him, the better for him,” Ms. Walter said in a Twitter post. “All this fight does is re-polarize the partisans and leaves the up-for-grabs voters (who want to hear about bread-butter issues) tuned out.”
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