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Is Trump Succeeding At Dividing The Democratic Party?


President Trump spent a good part of his time this week attacking four Democratic congresswomen. His attacks, both verbal and on social media, have made these lawmakers - Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashid Tlaib - the most visible Democrats in the country; more visible, in fact, than the 20-plus Democrats who are running for president.

Democratic analyst Jamal Simmons is with us now. He's worked as an adviser for several Democratic candidates. He also hosts a show on Hill.TV. It's called "Why You Should Care." Good morning, Jamal.

JAMAL SIMMONS: Good morning, Noel.

KING: All right. Let's revisit some of what has happened this week because it has been a busy week. The president held a rally in North Carolina on Wednesday, and the crowd started chanting about Congresswoman Omar. This is what they were saying.


UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) Send her back. Send her back. Send her back. Send her back.

KING: They're shouting, send her back. Omar is a U.S. citizen, but she was born in Somalia. Democratic leaders and some Republicans condemned that chant. But GOP strategist Scott Jennings was on the show yesterday, and he told us that he doesn't like this message because she's an American - but that message is working to destabilize Democrats.


SCOTT JENNINGS: I think he is unifying his party, and he is helping to fracture the Democratic Party. And so if you're thinking of it purely tactically, yeah, I think fractured Democrats help President Trump get reelected in 2020.

KING: Do you think he's right?

SIMMONS: I don't think it's destabilizing the Democratic Party. What it - we're doing here is - while the president is going after Democrats, he is also energizing Democrats so that Democrats are really coming together around this idea of standing up against xenophobia. You know, what we've seen from the Chinese Exclusion Act to the ship that was turned around, the St. Louis, when the shipload of Jewish refugees showed up to the United States to what we saw in Charlottesville just in 2017, the president's actions are in a long line of xenophobic reaction this country has had to immigrants and to people who were diverse. And so Democrats recognize that. And what you saw, that 235-member vote in the House, tells you Democrats aren't fractured. In fact, all Democrats in the House of Representatives voted against the president's words to defend the four women that the president attacked.

KING: They voted to condemn his remarks as racist, yeah. Let me ask you something about Democratic unity or disunity. This all started because, last week, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi got into a kind of spat with these congresswomen. They opposed her approach to a border funding bill, and then she criticized them in The New York Times. Do you think that rift is really over?

SIMMONS: Listen; progressive Democrats are trying to do something, which is very different than, I think, what Nancy Pelosi is up to. Nancy...

KING: Yeah.

SIMMONS: ...Pelosi is concerned about passing bills, right? And so when she says they only have four votes, in Nancy Pelosi's world, that's what matters. In the world of Ayanna Pressley and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the other women, what they're doing is laying out something - it's a different course for Democrats that may be a little bit more long term. It appeals to people out in the country. And I think a lot of people in the country may be responding to that.

Because for - you can like it, or you could not like it; you can think it's real or not real - but the Green New Deal is now something that people are recognizing that the Democrats have a climate change policy. And people can decide how much of that climate change policy they want to be for or against. That's something that Democrats across the country have been hungering for, which is to have big, bold ideas and big plans that may not pass this year but may be something Democrats could achieve in the long term.

KING: That's interesting because moderate Democrats will say, look; those kind of progressive ideas will not win over Trump voters. You think they might be missing something.

SIMMONS: Well, the question is, which Trump voters are you going after? And I'm not exactly sure all Trump voters are equal (laughter).

KING: Fair enough.

SIMMONS: If you talk to somebody like Stephanie Schriock over at EMILY's List, who runs that organization focused on electing women, she would say - you think of the guy sitting at the counter with the lunch pail in Pennsylvania or Ohio. But maybe you should think about the guy - maybe you should think about the woman who's serving him the coffee at that lunch counter, right?

When Democrats won in 2018, they won because they had a huge turnout from base Democrats, and then they were able to sway a bunch of women to come over and vote, particularly non-college-educated white women, who were willing to go along with the broader Democratic agenda. That is - that's the target population for Democrats in an election. And of course the party will try to appeal to as many people as possible, but the party should not let up on things like being pro-immigration, worried about police brutality, worried about some of the more progressive issues that are on the docket in order to try to woo some voters who there just may not be that many of these guys who would ever vote for a Democrat under any circumstance.

KING: You've advised many Democratic campaigns. And I wonder - if you were in that position today, what would you tell one of the people who are running for president? Because that person is supposed to be the voice of the Democratic Party. But these congresswomen, because of the president's attention, are taking up that space. What should a White House hopeful do?

SIMMONS: Well, let me tell you something. The person running for president will not have to worry about any individual member of Congress.


SIMMONS: They all have so much money and attention focused on them that they will dwarf any other voice and become the standard-bearer for the party. So...

KING: Even if the president keeps on talking about these congresswomen...


KING: ...'Cause he's the one giving them the attention.

SIMMONS: Yeah, the president is going to say what the president is going to say. What Democrats have to do is offer a clear, compelling and concise vision for the future, an alternative to what Donald Trump is going to say. We can't be in the position of only reacting to Donald Trump.

KING: Jamal Simmons is a Democratic strategist, and he also hosts a show on Hill.TV called "Why You Should Care." Thanks, Jamal.

SIMMONS: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.