Donald Trump’s blatantly racist tweets urging sitting U.S. congresswomen to “go back” to the “crime infested places from which they came” have at least temporarily united Democrats in condemnation of the white supremacist-in-chief’s behavior.
But they also serve as a reminder of how easily Trump can exploit fissures between moderate and progressive members of the Democratic Party to pursue his goal of dividing the country along racial—and racist—lines.
The latest evidence of this can be seen in comments responding to a tweet condemning Trump by the House Democratic Caucus on an account run by Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York.
It’s the type of response one would expect following such a despicable statement from the president of the United States. But Democrats certainly have not been fighting together lately. Several commenters accused Democratic Party leaders, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, of opening the door to Trump’s attack on Sunday by spending a lot of time going after progressive lawmakers like Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley, instead of Republicans.
Less than 48 hours earlier, the same House Democrats Twitter account targeted Saikat Chakrabarti, Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff, for comments he made last month about Rep. Sharice Davids of Kansas. Chakrabarti, criticizing Democrats’ support of a blank check bill providing nearly $4.59 billion in emergency border funding without strict oversight as to how the money would be spent, compared moderate Democrats supporting the bill to Southern Democrats.
“I don’t believe Sharice is a racist person, but her votes are showing her to enable a racist system,” Chakrabarti wrote in late June, before deleting the tweet.
Last Friday, the House Democrats account tweeted, “Who is this guy and why is he explicitly singling out a Native American woman of color?” It added: “Keep her name out of your mouth.”
Chakrabarti responded on Saturday by tweeting, “Everything I tweeted 2 weeks ago was to call out the terrible border funding bill that 90+ Dems opposed. It gave Trump a blank check to continue caging people in horrendous conditions. Our Democracy is literally falling apart. I’m not interested in substance-less Twitter spats.”
Part of the beef is that Democratic leaders believe legislative aides like Chakrabarti should keep their comments private, behind closed doors. Meanwhile, freshmen progressive Democratic lawmakers and their staff are quite skilled at social media, and they bring new tactics to prompt the broad change that an increasing number of Democratic voters want, as Vox’s Tara Golshan and Ella Nilsen pointed out.
Not to oversimplify a complex situation or downplay legitimate ideological differences—there are entrenched interests on the line—but this is exactly the type of internecine warfare that Russian troll farms and Donald Trump love to exploit. And we can see the result in Trump’s tweets today, whether he planned it that way or not.
The Democratic Party needs to change, because the old way of doing business isn’t getting the job done. And the immediate focus needs to be on taking back the Senate and ousting Donald Trump in 2020. If this important goal becomes lost in all of the noise, things will become much, much worse than they already are.