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What Is Trump’s Strategy?

2020-08-28 10:31:50

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The goal of this week’s Republican convention wasn’t always clear. At times, it presented President Trump — as a champion of immigrants, a promoter of racial justice and a defender of women — in ways that obviously conflicted with his entire time as a public figure.

Trump’s campaign doesn’t really think it can reinvent him in the minds of most voters at this stage, does it? No, it doesn’t. But it doesn’t have to, either. And there was indeed a method to the through-the-looking-glass messages that the convention was offering this week.

Trump’s record on diversity and national unity — on race, immigration and gender — is a problem for him. It makes him anathema to many progressives, who would never vote for him, of course. But it also weighs on some swing voters and disaffected Republicans who haven’t yet made up their minds, polls suggest.

This group includes people who voted for Trump in 2016 and flipped to the Democrats in the 2018 midterms. It includes people who didn’t used to express concern about racism but have begun doing so in recent months. It includes whites and a significant number of Latinos, among others.

To these voters, the question of Trump’s racism or sexism isn’t binary. They know he can be ugly — or “unfiltered,” as his daughter Ivanka Trump put it last night. But these swing voters have their limits. To vote for Trump in 2020, they want to believe that he is different from the worst version of himself.

One of the Republican Party’s main goals of the past four nights was giving these voters permission to believe that.

That’s why the convention included testimonials to his personal character — as well as a parade of female, Black and Latino speakers (unlike many recent White House meetings). “I can tell you, he really cares,” Ja’Ron Smith, the highest-ranking Black official in Trump’s White House, said from the stage last night. For the same reason, the Trump campaign has already been aggressive in spending money on Spanish-language ads, especially in Arizona, Florida and North Carolina.

“What the Republicans know is they don’t need to win a majority of our vote,” Chuck Rocha, a Latino strategist and the author of “Tío Bernie,” about Bernie Sanders’s outreach efforts, told my colleague Ian Prasad Philbrick. Trump won about 30 percent of the Latino vote in 2016 and is trying to do slightly better this year. The main target, Rocha added, is “Latino men who care a lot about law and order and keeping their families safe.”

Trump’s overall campaign strategy came into focus this week. It looks like this:

Sand off the worst parts of his image with voters who haven’t yet made up their minds. Offer a misleading defense of his records on the coronavirus. Remind people of the growing pre-virus economy. And define Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as politically correct establishment figures who will refuse to stand up to rioters or socialists.

Jacob Blake, the Wisconsin man shot by the police, is handcuffed to his hospital bed despite being partially paralyzed, his father said. “He can’t go anywhere. Why do you have him cuffed to the bed?” Blake’s father told The Chicago Sun-Times, adding that he did not know why his son had been arrested.

Political reaction: Trump made only a glancing reference to Kenosha last night. Joe Biden condemned acts of vandalism and violence, affirmed protesters’ right to demonstrate peacefully and accused Trump of “pouring gasoline on the fire.”

And in sports: N.B.A. players have decided to resume the playoffs, after boycotting games as a protest against police violence.

Still, the destruction and storm surge were less severe than many had feared.

This week’s Republican convention appeared to violate the Hatch Act, the law barring federal employees from engaging in political activities while on the job. The convention included live White House events as well as a speech from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during a diplomatic trip.

No previous convention, by either party, has so flagrantly flouted the act, as Peter Baker — who has covered every president since Bill Clinton — explained in this story.

The apparent violations have sparked a debate among legal experts, writers and others: Are these violations truly alarming (as experts largely agree that Trump’s use of the government to profit himself and his family have been)? Or are they instead a less subtle version of what every president has done?

The case for outrage: The Hatch Act is meant to give Americans confidence that officials won’t treat them differently based on politics — and the government is not a personal extension of the president. Brazenly flouting the law is a declaration that having a fair, trustworthy government doesn’t matter, Susan Hennessey and Scott Anderson write in The Washington Post.

Keeping government and politics separate is one of those traditions — like past presidents generally avoiding outright lies — that democracy depends on, Trump’s critics say. Trump’s approach is “an abuse of the office,” Tom Ridge, a Republican former Cabinet member, said.

The case against: Some experts argue that Republicans were careful to find loopholes in the Hatch Act and avoided violating it. Pompeo, for instance, said he did not use State Department resources to record his speech. And past presidents have used government resources to help their campaigns, organizing trips and policy announcements around visits to swing states.

National Review’s Dan McLaughlin argued that the Hatch Act should apply fairly strictly to “civil servants who are not political appointees.” But doing so “makes a lot less sense when dealing with people everybody knows to be political actors,” he added.

Breakfast for dinner always feels a little naughty, if not downright weird. Eggs — when it’s dark outside?

So start the weekend off with some culinary mischief. For your main course, make a cheesy polenta casserole with cured meat, spinach and dollops of bright egg yolk. For dessert, microwave a molten chocolate mug cake. It takes five minutes, start to transgressive finish.

Food news: Dawn Davis, a Simon & Schuster executive and one of the few Black gatekeepers in the book world, is the next editor in chief of Bon Appétit, the Condé Nast brand where workers have spoken out against discrimination.

Katy Perry is no longer the center of the pop music universe. But her new album, “Smile,” has enough feel-good energy to help cure end-of-summer gloom. “All I’m asking of a Katy Perry song is for it to make me feel marginally happier than I did three and a half minutes prior,” Lindsay Zoladz writes in The Times.

In The Independent, Helen Brown calls much of the album boring, but one track — “Never Really Over” — is Perry’s “most emotionally compelling single” in years.


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