The 2020 election will probably be uglier than 2016, so buckle up

It's painfully obvious that Trump isn’t trying to win over swing state voters. He's just trying to fire up his base

Published September 3, 2019 10:26AM (EDT)

US President Donald Trump smiles during a phone conversation with Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto on trade in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC on August 27, 2018. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump smiles during a phone conversation with Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto on trade in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC on August 27, 2018. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

As ugly as the presidential election of 2016 was, 2020 is likely to be even uglier. President Donald Trump does not want to go down in history as a one-term president, and a key part of his re-election strategy is trying to fire up his base as much as possible — which has obviously been a high priority this summer. When Trump tells four Democratic congresswomen of color they should leave the U.S. (Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rep. Ilhan Omar, Rep. Ayanna Pressley and Rep. Rashida Tlaib), attacks the predominantly black city of Baltimore as a “disgusting, rat- and rodent-infested mess” or claims that Jews who vote for Democrats are being “disloyal” to Israel, it is painfully obvious that he isn’t doing it to win over swing voters: he is trying to fire up his base. And things will only get worse between now and Election Day 2020.

Here are some ways in which the 2020 election is likely to be even uglier than 2016:

1. More racism

Trump was widely criticized for telling the Squad (Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, Pressley and Tlaib) they should go back to the countries they originally came from despite the fact that three of them were born and raised in the U.S. and Omar (a Somali immigrant) has been a naturalized U.S. citizen since 2000. But Trump didn’t back down; instead, he attacked the congresswomen even more. And when Trump supporters were chanting, “Send her back, send her back” in reference to Omar at a campaign rally in North Carolina in July, it was obvious that Trump’s attacks on The Squad had accomplished their intended purpose: exciting his base. And the more Trump wants to rally his base in the 2020 election, the more he will resort to racist attacks.

It remains to been seen who the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee will be, but whether the nominee is former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Bernie Sanders or someone else, it is most unlikely that the Democratic ticket will consist of two white males. 2018 Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams has been mentioned as a possible running mate should Biden or Sanders win the nomination; so has Sen. Kamala Harris — and if an African-American woman is on the ticket, the Trump campaign would do doubt resort to intense fear-mongering around blacks.

2. More fear-mongering over Latinos

There is a reason why Trump continues to push for a U.S./Mexico border wall and insists that an “invasion” of Latinos is illegally pouring into the U.S.: it fires up his base. When Trump claims that Ocasio-Cortez doesn’t embrace American values and paints her as an outsider — even though she’s every bit as American as he is — it the type of red meat that his base devours. In the Trump era, there have been countless examples of Latinos being harassed for speaking Spanish in public; that type of thing will only get worse as the Trump campaign continues to use anti-Latino attacks to whip his base into a frenzy.

3. More emphasis on the Culture War  

Trump was never a Christian fundamentalist: he was raised Episcopalian, and Episcopalians are Mainline Protestants — not fire-and-brimstone evangelicals. But Trump is wildly popular among the Christian Right, and in 2020, he will do everything imaginable to get far-right white evangelicals to the polls. This means that Culture War issues, including abortion, will be a top priority for the Trump campaign — and it is only going to get nastier and more hateful in the months ahead. If the economy continues to slow down and Trump cannot campaign on the economy, he will prioritize the Culture War. And the overall Republican message will, in effect, be: vote Democrat, and you’re voting for socialist baby killers who want to eliminate the white race and turn the U.S. into Somalia. 

4. More voter suppression

In close elections — and 2020 could turn out to be a real nail biter — turnout is everything. The successful party will be the one that turns out its base as aggressively as possible while winning over swing voters at the same time. The last thing Republicans need in 2020 is a heavy turnout in Democratic parts of swing states, and as odious as the GOP’s voter suppression tactics have been, they will only get worse in the months ahead. Republicans will do everything they can to suppress non-white voter turnout, all the while claiming that their concern is “voter fraud.”

5. More violence

In the past, Americans of different political stripes managed to come together, moreless, after some very dirty campaigns. President George H.W. Bush’s 1988 campaign resorted to outright racism with the notorious Willie Horton ad; yet Bush 41, knowing that a lot of Democratic voters and Reagan Democrats crossed party lines and voted for him, made a concerted effort to reach out to Democrats in Congress after he was sworn in as president. Bush 41 talked a lot about bipartisan cooperation. But in 2019, the U.S. is a much more divided country than it was back in the late 1980s — and Trump has exploited those bitter divisions. The nerves of many U.S. voters are absolutely raw.

On Aug. 1, Arizona Central ran an article with the headline, “Could the 2020 election turn violent?,” and sadly, the answer to that question is “yes.” A long list of white nationalist terrorist attacks have occurred in recent years, and those who resort to such attacks believe they are trying to save the U.S. from the imminent doom that will come about should liberals and progressives prevail. White nationalists don’t simply view liberals and progressives as wrong on the issues: they view them as an existential threat to the future of the U.S.

By Alex Henderson

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