Washington―With a 2020 campaign launch painting opponents in almost apocalyptic terms, President Donald Trump showed Democrats the scorched earth treatment they can expect in his fight for reelection.
And Democrats―barring Trump’s most fiery leftist rival Bernie Sanders―showed Thursday how they might respond: with a collective shrug.
Even for a showman president renowned for exaggerating achievements, insulting opponents and making wildly inaccurate claims, Trump’s speech to 20,000 people at an Orlando, Florida arena stood out.
From the opening minutes, he attacked journalists at the venue, encouraging the excited crowd to hurl verbal abuse.
He branded Democrats “driven by hatred” and bent on “radical socialism.”
He claimed that illegal immigrants threaten working class Americans, “cutting off their path to the American dream.”
Over nearly 80 minutes, the president delivered no new ideas. Neither did he make the slightest effort to reach beyond his right-wing base.
This was about firing up Republican shock troops for what will be a toxic campaign.
“He excited the base and it sends a pretty strong message to the Democrats that this is going to be a pretty tough race,” Committee to Defend the President chairman Ted Harvey said on Trump’s go-to TV channel Fox News.
Trump later dismissed his Democratic candidates in a television interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity on Wednesday night.
“I look at some of them, I don’t see George Washington. I don’t see Churchill. I don’t see anybody in particular that I worry about,” he said.
He also justified his use of social media by claiming “it’s really a way of getting the truth out because the media has just gone loco, they have lost all control”, adding that without it “I don’t know that I would’ve been successful”.
The 23 Democrats vying for their party’s nomination in the November 2020 vote are facing the conundrum of how to compete with such a rule-breaking player.
Do they get down in the pit and wrestle? Do they debate the false claims? Or do they stay completely aloof?
Sanders, sometimes compared to a leftist version of the bomb-throwing right-winger Trump, went for the first option. No doubt his passionate supporters would have been disappointed with anything else.
“An hour-and-a-half speech of lies, distortions and total absolute nonsense,” Sanders said in an immediate video rebuttal.
“Our job is to defeat the most dangerous president in the modern history of this country.”
The current Democratic front runner Joe Biden, who was vice president under Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama, went more for the second option, zoning in on the president’s claim to have brought an economic miracle.
“Let’s be clear: President Trump inherited a growing economy from the Obama-Biden administration,” Biden’s campaign tweeted. “Now, he’s in the process of squandering it.”
But most Democrats responded with silence, or at best a formulaic tweet -- something that Trump, who seems to thrive on being at the center of attention, might find especially galling.
Democratic strategist Dee Dawkins-Haigler, speaking on Fox, said that kind of calm response might be just what mainstream voters really want.
“We have seen nothing but craziness in this country for the last two years and we have to get back to normalcy,” she said.
“The way we’re going right now with all this polarization, we’ve got to come to the center.”