Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

As Democrats prepare for a second round of presidential primary debates in Detroit starting Tuesday night, one issue is dominating the political discourse: President Trump and racism.

Why it matters: Aides told Axios' Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen following Trump's "go back" tweets attacking 4 congresswomen of color that race-baiting is central to his 2020 strategy. He has since expanded targets to include Rep. Elijah Cummings, calling the majority-black Baltimore-area district he represents "a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess," and Rev. Al Sharpton.

  • Sharpton told MSNBC's "'The Rachel Maddow Show" that Trump has "decided he's going to have a race-based campaign by going after high-profile blacks."

The big picture: As TIME notes, while Democrats may want to highlight key policies at their debates, Trump’s tweets have reset the narrative. Several 2020 candidates have already called out the president for racism over the past week.

What they're saying
  • Former Vice President Joe Biden tweeted: "[Sharpton] is a champion in the fight for civil rights. The fact that President Trump continues to use the power of the presidency to unleash racist attacks on the people he serves is despicable. This hate has no place in our country. It's beneath the dignity of the office."
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren told reporters: "The president’s tweets are ugly and racist. ... Elijah Cummings is one of my dearest friends. He is a good man through and through, and he fights for what is just in this country. To be attacked by a President issuing racist tweets is beyond insulting, it is disgusting."
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders tweeted: "Here's what's really going on: Rep Cummings has been busy revealing the failures of the Trump administration and exposing the greed of Trump’s friends in the pharmaceutical industry, and our racist president doesn't like it."
  • Sen. Cory Booker told CNN: "The reality is this is a guy who is worse than a racist. He's actually using racist tropes and racial language for political gain. He's trying to use this as a weapon to divide our nation against itself and this is somebody who is very similar to [segregationist] George Wallace. ... He's using the exact same language."
  • Mayor Pete Buttigieg told CNN: "Look at the pattern. This is a kind of terminology that he reserves for places and situations where there are a lot of minorities involved. We can debate over how strategic it is, how intentional it is, but on its face, it is racist."
  • Sen. Kamala Harris tweeted: "I am proud our campaign headquarters is in Rep. Elijah Cummings' district. Baltimore has become home to my team and it's disgraceful the president has chosen to start his morning disparaging this great American city."

Go deeper: Trump plants racial explosives in the urban-rural divide

Editor's note: This piece has been corrected after it misattributed a portion of a quote by Sen. Cory Booker to Sen. Bernie Sanders, where Booker was comparing President Trump to George Wallace.

Go deeper

The apocalypse scenario

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Democratic lawyers are preparing to challenge any effort by President Trump to swap electors chosen by voters with electors selected by Republican-controlled legislatures. One state of particular concern: Pennsylvania, where the GOP controls the state house.

Why it matters: Trump's refusal to commit to a peaceful transfer of power, together with a widely circulated article in The Atlantic about how bad the worst-case scenarios could get, is drawing new attention to the brutal fights that could jeopardize a final outcome.

Federal judge rules Trump administration can't end census early

Census workers outside Lincoln Center in New York. Photo: Noam Galai/Getty Images

A federal judge ruled late Thursday that the Trump administration could not end the 2020 census a month early.

Why it matters: The decision states that an early end — on Sept. 30, instead of Oct. 31 — would likely produce inaccuracies and thus impact political representation and government funding around the country.

Caitlin Owens, author of Vitals
2 hours ago - Health

Where bringing students back to school is most risky

Data: Coders Against COVID; Note: Rhode Island and Puerto Rico did not meet minimum testing thresholds for analysis. Values may not add to 100% due to rounding; Cartogram: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Schools in Southern and Midwestern states are most at risk of coronavirus transmission, according to an analysis by Coders Against COVID that uses risk indicators developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The big picture: Thankfully, schools have not yet become coronavirus hotspots, the Washington Post reported this week, and rates of infection are lower than in the surrounding communities. But that doesn't mean schools are in the clear, especially heading into winter.

Get Axios AM in your inbox

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!