When President Donald Trump officially kicks off his re-election campaign in Orlando on Tuesday night, expect the worst. Trump knows he won in 2016 by spewing racism and bigotry; now he’s behind in the 2020 polls and has the power of presidency to amplify his vicious messaging. This will be more hateful than anything we’ve seen yet, or than most of us have even imagined.
This weekend, Trump gave a foul taste of what’s to come when he retweeted a notorious right-wing bigot in England who’d attacked the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, for creating “Londonistan”—a place that in reality is much safer than most big U.S. cities but in this telling is full of murderous Muslims.
Katie Hopkins is banned from entering South Africa for her racist views, shared the stage with Holocaust deniers, and called for a “final solution” of Muslims in the U.K. after the 2017 Manchester bombing. She recently promoted an event featuring American Jared Taylor, a white supremacist, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, who has praised Trump for his efforts slowing “the dispossession of whites.”
Trump has played this card before. During the 2016 campaign, Trump retweeted and even thanked several people openly spewing white-supremacist views for their support. Stunningly, in the case of the person using the Twitter handle “White Genocide,” which is a signature white-supremacist rallying cry, Trump didn’t just retweet the person, he manually copied the words “White Genocide” to his tweet before quoting the rest of the person’s comment slamming then-GOP rival Jeb Bush.
After David Duke declared that voting against Trump is “treason to your heritage,” Trump refused to denounce Duke, or white supremacy for that matter, days later when asked to point-blank by CNN’s Jake Tapper.
In 2016, when Trump campaigned against immigrants with lies that Mexico was sending rapists and called for a complete Muslim ban because “Islam hates us,” he wasn’t expecting to win, and had little to lose, and no real power. Now, he is the sitting president—and faces the humiliation of become the first to lose a re-election campaign since 1992. As ugly as things have been, they’re about to get much uglier.
And if Trump made occasional efforts in 2016 to expand his base, he’s now committed only to them—and to discouraging others from showing up at all. That’s why he bragged, inaccurately, while in London this month about how popular he is among Republicans, not Americans: “I have a 90 percent—94 percent approval rating, as of this morning, in the Republican Party.” (In reality, Trump’s overall approval ratings are the lowest for any modern-day president at this time in his term, except for Jimmy Carter.)
Before the 2016 campaign, few people foresaw a candidate calling for a total ban on Muslims, retweeting white supremacists, refusing to denounce David Duke, etc. and still win. To get a sense of what Trump might do in 2020, we need a political version of Hannibal Lecter to predict the unthinkable.
What makes Trump more dangerous in 2020 is that he can go beyond just demonizing minorities by way of executive order and turn his hateful rhetoric into policy to deliver red meat to his base. He has done this in the past with his executive orders implementing the limited Muslim ban and his ban on transgender Americans who want to serve in our military and his rollback of Obama-era regulations designed to ensure equality for the LGBT community.
And he gave us a new chilling example on the eve of his 2020 campaign kickoff when he tweeted Monday night that, “Next week ICE will begin the process of removing the millions of illegal aliens.” Obviously Trump could’ve ordered that at any time over the past two plus years in the White House, but instead he chose to do this now in the hopes of animating his xenophobic base for 2020 by promising to deport “millions” of brown people.
If Trump continues to remain down in the polls, he will double down, again and again, on fear and hate to animate his base. As ugly as things have been, they’re about to get much uglier.