The president had been intending to campaign on a strong economy and facing a socialist opponent but scapegoating foreigners has worked for him before
Donald Trump had been intending to run a re-election campaign based on a strong economy and a socialist opponent. Both have vanished in the past month. But the US president still has his ultimate weapon: xenophobia.
Trump this week announced in a late-night tweet that he would temporarily suspend immigration into America. Two days later, when he signed an executive order, it only applied to people seeking green cards to move to the country permanently, not to temporary workers, and there were plenty of loopholes.
But by then the headlines had been written, the outrage expressed and the objective achieved: Trump was cracking down on immigration again because, he claimed, he was putting America and its workers first. The exercise was arguably less about policy than politics.
A nativist, populist message helped him win the presidency in 2016. He tried it again in the 2018 midterm elections for Congress with mixed results. Now, with his handling of a deadly pandemic under scrutiny and the economy in freefall, critics say he is ready to bet the White House on his ability to stir nationalist and racist sentiment with little subtlety.
This is a president who doesnt use the dog whistle of Republicans in the past, and even Democrats in the past who used dog whistle politics to talk about race in code, said Juan Cartagena, president and general counsel of Latino Justice, a civil rights organisation. This guy talks about it openly. Under normal circumstances he would have been a one-term president, but his base is pretty loyal and were still talking about a country that barely comes out in large turnout numbers.
Apart from antipathy towards globalised trade, Trump is said to be a man of few core political beliefs and little ideology. But when he descended an escalator at Trump Tower in New York in June 2015 to declare his long-shot candidacy for president, he started as he meant to go on. Mexico, he complained, was not sending its best people across the border. Theyre bringing drugs. Theyre bringing crime. Theyre rapists.
Trump also announced his signature issue: I would build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me, and Ill build them very inexpensively, I will build a great, great wall on our southern border. And I will have Mexico pay for that wall.