After consultations with Tucker Carlson’s White Power Hour, Donald Trump has decided what the marginal voter is looking for at this point in American history is open racism and plenty of it:
That last bit isn’t mere conjecture. On Wednesday, three Trump confidants told Axios that the president regrets heeding Jared Kushner’s advice to broaden his appeal by embracing milquetoast police and criminal-justice reforms; as one source summarized Trump’s thinking, he wants “no more of Jared’s woke shit.”
This account of Trump’s private reasoning comports with his public actions in recent days. Just this week, the president has:
• Described New York’s plan to paint “Black Lives Matter” down Fifth Avenue as a plot to affix a “symbol of hate” onto the city’s “greatest street.”
• Threatened to end an Obama-era policy that bars local governments from accessing federal housing funds unless they make affirmative efforts to track and reduce racial segregation in their communities. Trump said that he was reviewing this regulation on behalf of the “great Americans who live in the Suburbs,” and lamented that the policy is “not fair to homeowners.”
• Vowed to veto the Defense Authorization Act unless an amendment requiring the renaming of U.S. military bases that presently honor Confederate generals is stripped from the bill. (In announcing this position, Trump made sure to note that the amendment was sponsored by “Elizabeth ‘Pocahontas’ Warren.”)
If one imagines Trump to be a rational political actor, it is difficult to make sense of these actions. According to Axios, Trump soured on Kushner’s calls for triangulation on criminal justice out of concern that indulging such reforms might be “seen as undercutting police” — as though anti-reform cops and Blue Lives Matter bumper-sticker owners were swing constituencies. George Floyd’s death has created plenty of political challenges for Trump. But one thing it absolutely hasn’t done is jeopardize the Republican Party’s grip on single-issue, “unshackle the police” voters.
In truth, Trump’s approach to the 2020 campaign is no more rational than his approach to COVID-19. The president has as much reverence for political empiricism as he does for the public-health variety. To gauge the efficacy of a given campaign tactic, Trump does not turn to polling crosstabs; he turns on Tucker Carlson. The mogul’s religious devotion to right-wing media was a source of genuine strength in the 2016 Republican primary. Other GOP candidates pandered to Red America’s legions of Fox News grandpas, but only the billionaire was authentically one of them.
It’s not easy to get well to the right of the Mississippi legislature on questions of racial equality, but he’s done it! And it seems likely to keep working exactly as well politically as it has this year, which is to say extremely badly.