During a Cabinet meeting yesterday, President Trump holds up tweets about Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo watches. Photo: Leah Millis/Reuters

It might seem like improvisational madness when President Trump tells American citizens in Congress to "go back" where they came from, but those close to Trump say there's a lot of calculation behind his race-baiting.

Why it matters: It’s central to his 2020 strategy, they say. Trump's associates predict more, not less, of the race-baiting madness.

The rough calculation goes like this: 

  1. Trump knows that in 2016, he won the white vote by 20+ points. 
  2. He hopes he can crank their turnout even higher, especially among older, white evangelicals. He knows most of those voters are unlikely to ditch him, no matter how offensive his comments.
  3. He watches Fox News and knows AOC, in particular, is catnip to old, white voters, especially men. She is young, Hispanic, female and a democratic socialist — a 4-for-4 grievance magnet. Last week, AOC got nearly as much online attention as all 2020 Democrats combined.
  4. Trump believes he did better than Mitt Romney among Hispanic voters because many who came here and went through the legal process agree with his views. 
  5. Axios sat in on a focus group in Michigan where white swing voters agreed with Trump on immigration. Carlos Algara, a political scientist at UC Davis, told the N.Y. Times that a forthcoming analysis of the 2018 midterms found that even without Trump on the ballot, "white Democrats with high levels of racial resentment were likely to vote ... Republican."
  6. Facebook is often his incubator. He has spent three times more than all Democratic contenders combined on Facebook, with a mix of message-testing immigration lines to appealing to Hispanics who seem susceptible to his worldview. 
  7. So Trump calculates that (white voters + some Hispanic voters) * (tough immigration rhetoric + race-baiting language) = narrow 2020 win. 

The bottom line: Trump sees the four progressive women in The Squad as perfect foils until he gets a Democratic nominee to run against.

  • N.Y. Times: "He has told aides ... that he is pleased with the Democratic reaction to his attacks, boasting that he is 'marrying' ... Pelosi and the Democratic Party to the four congresswomen known as 'the Squad.'"
  • Then, he will try to do the same to the nominee.

Go deeper: Axios' Jim VandeHei and Dan Primack discussed the president's rationale in the Pro Rata Podcast ...

Go deeper

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