Opinion: AOC and the Democrats gave Trump the fight he was looking for

Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) held a news conference in the Capitol on Monday to respond to President Trump's tweet that they should go back to their "broken" countries.
(J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

President Trump is a gut-level politician who often seems to act on unfiltered impulse.

But his string of recent tweets about the self-styled “Squad” of liberal House Democrats feel calculated, not caffeinated. And, despite what a number of GOP pundits have argued, they were not politically stupid. Demeaning, offensive, nativist, unbecoming a president — yes to all that too. But Trump offends for a reason, and his motives for this latest fusillade of foulness are pretty obvious.

In 2016, Trump could run against Washington and the elites who had failed to deliver for middle America. But now he is Washington, so he needs to find something else to run against. Granted, he talks up the economy incessantly, and there are plenty of Republicans who love him for the tax cuts and deregulation. There are many others on the right and in the middle, though, who wonder how much better we all would be doing with a more rational chief executive who didn’t wage costly trade fights and drive off once-reliable U.S. partners.

So Trump wants to run against something scarier than he is, which is why he has been trying so hard for months to paint Democrats as radical socialists — or worse. You think tariffs are bad? How would you like five-year plans?


That’s where Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez et al come in. Trump wants the most liberal and controversial House members to become the face of the Democratic Party so he, the most disruptive and norm-violating president of modern times, will seem like the political equivalent of comfort food, or at worst the devil you know.

So he launched a sustained attack on the four Squad members knowing full well that Democrats would rally around them, which they did. Last week, the Washington press corps was chronicling the rift between the far left House Democrats and the House Democratic leadership; this week it’s all about how Trump brought them back together. Perhaps that was the point?

Witness his tweet Tuesday morning:

That penultimate sentence is the money quote.

Soon the House will vote on a resolution condemning Trump for his comments about the four women (all of whom, not coincidentally, are minorities), a vote intended to put House Republicans in what Democrats think will be the awkward position of choosing between defending the indefensible and criticizing the most popular figure in their party. But actually it’s a pretty easy vote for Republicans — the vast majority represent districts whose constituents stopped caring long ago about Trump’s sharp and offensive tongue. And the ones in swing districts get the chance to vote for the resolution and show voters back home they’re not blind to Trump’s failings.

Democrats are being played here. They can’t ignore Trump’s attacks and hang the Squad out to dry. But if they become the party of socialism lite, they open the door to another four years of Trump and, potentially, a return to complete GOP control of Congress.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) has worked hard to remind her caucus and the nation that Democrats are a broad, mainstream party, not just a wish-fulfillment fantasy of the left. As they try to move forward, working on such crucial issues as healthcare affordability and the surge in migrant families, they’ll need to find a way to put the heart of the party on display. Not just the four faces that Trump wants the public to see.