Donald Trump is the best thing to happen to the American Right in a good long while. The second-best thing to happen to the American Right is Ilhan Omar.
If Omar had been elected to Congress under previous Republican administrations, she would stand as yet another example of how Democrats’ hypocrisy regularly flies under the radar as it is dismissed by the mainstream media and Democratic leadership without a second thought.
But in the age of President Trump, the freshman from Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District has proven just how effective Republicans can be if they hold their rivals’ feet to the fire over their own bigotry—with the added bonus of forcing the media to talk about it.
Where Republicans Failed
Omar should have been cause for immediate concern the moment she won the nomination to succeed departing congressman and Democratic National Committee deputy chairman Keith Ellison. It was a monumental feat to see a girlfriend-beater, a supporter of Antifa, and a friend of Louis Farrakhan upstaged by his successor in the hate department, but Omar managed to pull it off.
The Somali-born Muslim has been as open as possible about her own anti-Semitism, dating back to a (now-deleted) tweet in 2012 in which she declared that Israel had “hypnotized the world,” and she hoped that Allah would “open the world’s eyes” to the “evil” of Israel.
And who can forget the suggestion that Omar may have married her brother in order to manipulate the American immigration system and gain citizenship; a move that would have made Caligula blush.
And yet even as Omar won her election and was sworn in on the Koran, Republicans in Congress instead chose to focus all their energy on what they do best: attacking one of their own. Rather than go after the real anti-Semite, House Republicans caved to media pressure over veteran Representative Steve King (R-Iowa). King appeared to endorse white nationalism in an interview with the New York Times.
King explained himself later on the House floor. He charged the Times with deliberately taking his words out of context, changing the punctuation to give his words a different meaning. It didn’t matter. Republican leadership could not abandon him fast enough. They worked overtime to bow down to the media and the Left, passed a meaningless resolution basically calling King the devil, and stripped him of all his committee assignments.
And while the media and the GOP engorged themselves in the feeding frenzy over King’s comments, Omar sailed right into Congress, hijab and all.
Where Trump Succeeded
But then, after another round of anti-Semitic comments accusing members of Congress of being paid off by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Omar made a grave mistake that differed from the ones she made in her previous vile comments: She dared to make such a public statement in the age of President Trump.
Trump responded swiftly, not bothering to wade into the mess of semantics and second-guessing. Instead, Trump simply declared that Omar should be removed from her committee assignments and resigned. By doing this, he skipped right over the pointless question of whether her comments were anti-Semitic and turned it into “She’s clearly anti-Semitic; the question is what should be done with her?”
And that’s exactly what happened. For the next month, the national coverage of the story was not focused on whether or not Omar was guilty; it was focused on the deep internal divides that her comments had generated, and the response from both sides in the Democratic Party’s civil war. A similarly pointless resolution was passed condemning anti-Semitism was amended many times over to remove mentions of Omar’s name. Of course, it had to include examples of other forms of bigotry and was largely seen as insincere. Some even turned to the question of whether or not Democrats should support Israel in the first place. The debate also drew clear lines between the Democratic presidential candidates, with some supporting Omar and others criticizing her. Similar divides emerged in the House Democratic caucus.
And just like that, Trump had turned the media narrative away from the oft-repeated lie that Republicans are “the party of Hitler,” and instead forced that same media to discuss the ways in which Democrats are plagued with anti-Semitism.
But even after manipulating the news cycle and the national debate surrounding Omar and the Democrats for an entire month, Trump still isn’t finished with the most vile member of Congress. As public opinion shifted further against Omar and manifested in massive protests outside her appearance at an event with the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), Omar proceeded happily to throw fuel on herself even as she was already burning. Discussing alleged “Islamophobia” in America, she described 9/11 in a terrifyingly casual and dismissive tone—as “some people did something.”
The backlash was swift enough on its own, but then the New York Post issued a blistering cover story, including an image depicting the second plane crash into the World Trade Center, with Omar’s quote as a caption followed by “Here’s your ‘something.’ 2,977 people dead by terrorism.”
It wasn’t long before the divides emerged again, as the helpless Omar ran for cover behind her much louder and more social media-savvy friend, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).
The socialist poster child immediately responded by calling the Post’s cover “horrifying [and] hateful,” before launching into several absurd tangents in a shoddy effort to defend Omar’s comments; among them were the laughably hollow claim that Omar’s prior co-sponsoring of the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund (yet another largely symbolic move) somehow excused her comments, a false equivocation claiming that the GOP’s refusal to support socialized healthcare is somehow as bad as neglecting 9/11 families and survivors, and even the perpetuation of the idiotic conspiracy theory that right-wing extremism is on the rise in America (hint: it’s not).
President Trump once again seized this golden opportunity to get ahead of the media and frame the debate himself, posting a gut-wrenching video on Twitter that contrasted Omar’s comments with the horrifying images and sounds of that fateful day.
And once again the floodgates of internal Democratic division were opened, as there was no shortage of prominent Democrats—from the 2020 field to the halls of Congress—who rushed to the defense of someone who literally downplayed the severity of 9/11, just to score political points against Trump. The trap was set, and many a gullible quarry were caught.
All Politics is Local
Trump’s handling of every single stupid comment that Omar makes is twofold. On the national scene, he is shining a spotlight on her bigotry and anti-Americanism in order to keep the Democrats on defense, as they are forced time and again to answer for the vile rhetoric of their most radical member of Congress. This already is a lose-lose for them: They either condemn her and anger their growing far-left base, or they begrudgingly excuse her and lose moderate voters as they expose their true colors.
But his strategy is also effective at the local level too, primarily because of the fact that his target in this latest battle is in the House of Representatives, and thus from a small portion of a larger state. That state, of course, is Minnesota; a state that Trump only narrowly lost in 2016, coming closer to winning it than any Republican since Ronald Reagan in 1984.
As one look at the state’s electoral map will tell you, the vast geographic majority of the state is dominated by rural counties, populated by farmers and other working-class voters, AKA Trump Country. And yet these days, Minnesota is only ever in the news not because of the conditions of the working class or the benefits that Trump’s protectionism have brought about for its population, but because of the stupidity of Ilhan Omar making the state as a whole look bad. There is arguably no greater tactic for really firing up the Trump base in this crucial Rust Belt state going into 2020, with 10 electoral votes at stake.
The importance of local politics as a result of Omar’s latest slurs may even provide the long sought-after silver bullet that could finally take down Ocasio-Cortez, who is the true political threat from the socialist wing of the Left.
Previous Republican efforts to criticize her over such trivial matters as her “three chambers of Congress” gaffe have been remarkably ineffective, and understandably so. But Ocasio-Cortez has made the very grave mistake of focusing more on her own national profile than on representing her own district. Just ask Eric Cantor (R-Va.), or even Ocasio-Cortez’s predecessor Joe Crowley (R-N.Y.), how that worked out.
It goes without saying that New Yorkers can be quite nativist when it comes to their city’s identity being attacked by outsiders; just see the response to Ted Cruz’s “New York values” comments against Trump during the 2016 Republican primaries. And there is no greater subject that can possibly tug at the heartstrings of New Yorkers more than the wounds of 9/11.
And yet here we are, for the first time ever, seeing a member of New York’s congressional delegation unapologetically agreeing with someone who said that 9/11 essentially wasn’t that bad. Ocasio-Cortez, for all her boasting about being “a poor girl from the Bronx” (not really), has proven eager to eschew her supposedly beloved identity as a New Yorker in favor of defending a member of her “squad,” morality and reality be damned. Her potential opponents in 2020, both in the primary and the general election, could not ask for a greater gift with which to really whip up voters into an anti-AOC frenzy.
Trump Takes More Pawns
It is all too clear that in the post-Mueller era of this presidency, President Trump has truly been unchained and is finally free to go entirely on offense against his political opponents, without having to worry about defending himself against a bogus investigation.
As such, we are now frequently treated to the Trump we saw on the campaign trail, uninhibited by conspiracy theories of collusion and with multiple targets around him all ripe for a sniping. The master persuader is back and ready to start framing the latest national debates on his terms, and whether or not Democrats are ready to admit it, this is a battle for which they are not prepared in the slightest.
Whether it’s the latest garbage spewed by Ilhan Omar, or the Democrats’ blindingly fast 180-degree turn on sanctuary cities, Trump is once again ready and able to prove that he will outsmart the Democrats at every political maneuver, taking out their chess pieces one by one as they scramble wildly around the board.
And as the 2020 presidential election draws closer and these battles have a clear impact on the crop of Democratic candidates vying for the nomination, their continued displays of hypocrisy, radicalism, and obnoxiously insincere self-righteousness will further drive moderate voters away from them while also firing up Trump’s base. The subsequent results will leave the Democrats even more humiliated than they were two years ago.
Photo credit: Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images