In 2016, Donald Trump fueled his improbable presidential victory with an arsenal of catch-phrases designed to incite and excite the Fox News and Breitbart audience that lives in fear of America’s diversity and inevitable demographic changes. “Make America Great Again” and “Build the Wall” were staples of Trump’s road show. As the 2020 campaign comes into focus, Trump is looking to recreate the success of 2016 by refreshing his xenophobic rhetoric and channeling it toward China.
The coronavirus has presented the president with an adversary unlike any other he has confronted. It cannot be intimidated by angry tweets. It cannot be dismissed with a nickname. It cannot be diminished by calling it a “hoax,” as he did in February. And as the death toll rises, while Trump’s poll numbers fall, a new, old strategy is taking shape.
Trump’s offensive past rhetoric
Candidate Trump declared in 2016 that Mexico was “sending bad hombres and people that have lots of problems” to the United States. “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists,” he claimed. He declared that “They’re taking our jobs…They’re taking our money,” creating an “us-vs-them” dynamic to justify his foray into anti-immigrant hate-speech.
Four years later, Trump and his Republican enablers are offering the country what amounts to a remix of 2016, this time replacing Mexico with China. On April 18th, the president tweeted, “China wants Sleepy Joe sooo badly. They want all of those billions of dollars that they have been paying to the U.S. back, and much more. Joe is an easy mark, their DREAM CANDIDATE!”
Following Trump’s lead, the campaign arm for Senate Republicans circulated a 57-page memo that instructed GOP candidates to “attack China” and to attack Democrats for being “soft on China.” The memo pointedly says, “China caused this pandemic by covering it up, lying, and hoarding the world’s supply of medical equipment.”
During her first White House press briefing, Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany reiterated the president’s “displeasure with China” and defended his statements that he has a “high degree of confidence” that the coronavirus originated in a laboratory in Wuhan, China, directly contradicting an on-the-record statement from his own intelligence community.
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