‘Send her back’ is Trump’s latest campaign chant: Why the tone isn’t new

The United States got a taste of Donald Trump’s re-election rally cry on Wednesday night, but the song isn’t anything new and not everyone is singing along.

At a North Carolina rally, Trump doubled down on his attacks against four Democratic congresswomen, accusing them of hating America.

“They never have anything good to say,” he said of Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley and Ilhan Omar. All were born in the U.S. except for Omar, who became a U.S. citizen after her family fled Somalia.

“That’s why I say, ‘Hey if you don’t like it, let them leave. Let them leave.”

While Trump took jabs at each of the Democrats individually, Omar got the brunt of his speech.

His criticism of Omar seemed to excite the crowd. Many chanted “Send her back! Send her back!”

The fresh attacks came one day after Democrats passed a House resolution to condemn Trump’s “racist comments” against the first-term congresswomen, all of which are women of colour. Trump had taunted them over the weekend, telling them in a series of tweets to “go back” to the “totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came.”

He refused to back down, later tweeting “I don’t have a Racist bone in my body!”

Trump seems satisfied with his clash against the so-called “Squad” of freshman Democrats — which has racial tensions at its core — telling reporters he’s “enjoying” it and that he’s “winning the political fight” by “a lot.”

But will a race-baiting strategy win him the 2020 election?

The approach would generally be seen as a stain on a political campaign but Trump is yet again putting the “Us versus Them” theory to work.

The “Us versus Them” mentality, or social identity theory (SIT), feeds off the discrimination of one group by another, typically to enhance self-esteem and identity. Coined in the 1970s by Henri Tajfel and John Turner, the theory uses categorization to foster belonging.

You have two choices — the in-group (us) or the out-group (them). According to the theory, those in the in-group will latch onto characteristics of the out-group — largely seen to them as “negative” aspects — in order to boost their own self-image.

Trump has applied the theory to a laundry list of topics in the past, from economic relationships with foreign countries to his fight against the “fake news” media.

He took up the same tone in 2016 with then-opponent Hillary Clinton. The chant heard around the world then was “lock her up.”

The rhetoric is not entirely new, said Matthew Lebo, the chair of political science at Western University.

“American politics has a long, long history of racist politics and using code words to get white people mad and scared and get them out to the polls,” he told Global News.

“Richard Nixon had a strategy of prying whites away from the Democratic Party in the south in the 1968 election… He used white resentment and anti-civil rights feelings to draw all those disaffected white voters.”

The language then and now is still group politics, Lebo said.

“These kinds of rallies and nastiness were part of Trump’s 2016 campaign,” he said. “But there are new targets now.”

In some ways, the “Us versus Them” lines have already been drawn ahead of the 2020 election.

The four Democratic congresswomen embroiled in a fight with the president have labelled him a “racist” and bully who seeks to denigrate immigrants. They’ve said his attacks are a distraction and don’t reflect American values.

Trump claims their take is merely a “socialist” agenda.

“It’s really important to understand that in politics, you win with coalitions,” Tim Alberta, the chief political correspondent for Politico and author of American Carnage, told Global News.

“Republicans will not be able to win the White House in the very near future without a much broader and more diverse coalition of voters than Donald Trump has right now.”

Alberta said that while appealing to his “unfailingly loyal” demographic of supporters worked for Trump in 2016, this tactic “is not mathematically sustainable” anymore.

“He risks alienating some of the other people he needs to win re-election — namely suburban Republicans who are much more moderate with their cultural views,” he told Global News.

“These are the people that when they hear crowds chanting ‘send her back,’ they’re scared. They’re turned off. They might even be disgusted by that.”

So far, reactions from Republican lawmakers on the chant have overall been muted.

Though Trump later disavowed the crowd’s cries, the episode is being seen as the latest in a pattern of aggressive race-based rhetoric from the president.

But are the chants and tweets enough to redirect votes?

Lebo isn’t convinced of that, noting that most people likely already know who they’re voting for, but he did point to other language from Trump as a sign of things to come.

“He’s started throw around the word communist a little bit, and the word socialist more often,” he said.

“They’re going to try to get those white, Midwestern voters who hated Donald Trump but hated Hillary Clinton a little bit more to think, ‘Well, I don’t like Donald Trump much, but he’s not a communist, or a socialist, or a baby killer. That’s what the screaming is going to be about.”

— With files from Jackson Proskow and The Associated Press

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