Donald Trump stokes fear and conspiracy on path to 2020

Posted Friday, 12 July 2019 ‐ CNN

Washington (CNN)President Donald Trump spent Thursday feeding the fires of fear and conspiracy he thinks he needs to keep burning to stay in power beyond 2020.The administration finalized plans to target undocumented families in mass raids announced in advance -- perhaps for maximum political effect -- which are sowing anxiety in 10 cities.Covering up a reversal in his bid to add a citizenship question to the census, Trump said liberals want to hide "illegal aliens in our midst" and questioned the loyalty of his opponents."This is part of a broader left-wing effort to erode the rights of the American citizen," he said.At a "social media summit" of invited conservatives, Trump tried to redefine free speech as information favorable to him and warned Democrats were attempting a communist takeover."Some of you guys are out there. I mean it's genius, but it's bad," Trump told a crowd including fringe social media personalities and conspiracy theorists who carry his message.It was a glimpse of the bunker mentality shaping Trump's reelection campaign, rooted in themes of national identify and patriotism, the singling out of outsiders and the demonization of Democrats as extreme radicals who want to destroy America.Trump's bet is that a fired-up base will counter the liberal enthusiasm stirring in the Democratic presidential primary and offer him a narrow but genuine path to a second term.In many ways, Trump's entire presidency has been an exercise in base management, given his aversion to the political center. And the President is a master of distraction -- the tumult he stirred all day meant that the focus shifted from his Labor Secretary Alex Acosta's struggles to explain a non-prosecution agreement he approved a decade ago for accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein.Yet Trump's political maneuvering was especially flagrant on Thursday, recalling the scorched earth phase of campaigning in 2016 when populist guru Steve Bannon was an adviser and Trump's stark convention and inaugural addresses.Commentators have often remarked that Trump has authoritarian instincts. US democratic safeguards and a robust public square prevent the repression that sustains dictatorships. But Trump's language and deliberate tearing at cultural and political divisions have few parallels in modern American politics, even if on most days -- unlike Thursday -- his rhetoric has lost the power to shock.There is no guarantee this will work in 2020. Moderate voters outside Trump's red state heartlands were alienated by his explosive tone on immigration in the midterm elections. The President's strategy could also inflame Democratic base turnout. But his political course was set years ago, meaning that a maximum grass-roots turnout is his best and perhaps only hope of reelection. There is a method in his polarization.When a loss is a political win Thursday brought a fresh lesson that even Trump's defeats have a political purpose. The abandonment of an attempt to ask a citizenship question on the census was humiliating.But the President got days of mileage out of the effort. The checks and balances of the political system merely play into his narrative that establishment forces are combining to undermine his popular uprising. And his crusade against the media means accurate reports of his loss will be discounted by Trump supporters."I'm here to say we are not backing down," the President said, in his latest appearance meant to put a triumphant spin on defeat that recalled his capitulation after a government shutdown early this year.Trump's day of extremes unfolded against a backdrop of other political and economic trends that may weigh heavily on the President's hopes of reelection.The Dow Jones Industrial Average hit 27,000 points for the first time, underscoring the strength of that part of the economy. A more conventional President might spend every hour hammering into the number as part of a traditional reelection message.A fight for the political soul of the Democratic Party intensified on Capitol Hill, offering potential openings for Trump to probe as 2020 looms and he warns of leftists on the march.Democratic front-runner Joe Biden proposed an antidote to Trump in a major foreign-policy speech that promised to counter his nationalism by holding of summit of world democracies.And, offering a reminder that presidential best-laid plans can founder on outside events, New Orleans braced for serious flooding and potential hurricane landfall this weekend.An inflammatory face saver

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