To the extent that there was a coherent thread through his remarks, it was that he and his supporters are victimized by elites in the press and the tech industry who don’t like their politics. “But with amazing creativity and determination, you’re bypassing the corrupt establishment—and it is corrupt—and you’re bypassing the very, very corrupt media,” he told his audience.
In practical terms, nothing Trump did or said over the past few days changed much of anything.
Trump’s social-media summit seems to have been nothing more than a chance for him and his internet army to vent.
Read: It’s 2016 all over again
Regarding his Plan B for the census, his explanation made little sense: If he could acquire citizenship data “in greater detail and more accurately” from federal agencies—as he said in the Rose Garden on Thursday—why did he fight in court to get a citizenship question added to the census in the first place?
His attacks on the congresswomen—Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan—are uniting a Democratic caucus that has been at odds over policy and whether to launch impeachment proceedings against Trump. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has traded criticism with the congresswomen, immediately came to their defense, tweeting that Trump’s comments demonstrate that his real goal is “making America white again.”
And there is no evidence that yesterday was the starter gun for the massive Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids he promised. It seems likely that Trump’s purpose wasn’t to actually deport more people so much as to telegraph to his base that he wanted to deport more people. The intention might be enough. “For him, he wants to say, ‘Look, I’m out in front on this. I told you I would do this, I’m doing it. Here we go.’ From a political perspective that’s certainly the case,” says Erin Corcoran, the executive director of the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies and an expert on immigration law.
Taken together, Trump’s actions suggest he’s confident he can get reelected through his base alone. Past presidents have sought to expand their core support ahead of reelection, with some success. Republican George W. Bush, for example, increased his support among Latinos by about 10 points between 2000 and 2004, leading to a more comfortable margin of victory the second time around.
Trump’s strategy amounts to a gamble. He won 46 percent of the popular vote in the 2016 election (compared with 48 percent for Democrat Hillary Clinton) and his job-approval rating, according to Gallup, has never exceeded that number over the two and a half years he’s been in office. Trump won last time by narrowly flipping three states that had reliably delivered for Democrats for the past two decades: Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan. “He managed to draw an inside straight in 2016, and won three critical Rust Belt states,” Ayres said. “If that’s the strategy for 2020, the question is whether you can draw an inside straight two hands in a row.”
Trump must hope that a diversifying America is no match for an energized base that both delights in his attacks on political opponents and shares his vision for the more racially and ideologically homogeneous country they knew in their youth. He hasn’t changed much in the past three years, and he’s betting the electorate hasn’t changed much, either.