Donald Trump has turned his attention to a new audience. He calls them the “suburban housewives of America” — and he says they are in danger.
The threat, the president has suggested, is posed by his Democratic presidential rival Joe Biden and the prospect that his push for affordable housing will involve American suburbia. Mr Trump is vowing to hold the line.
In a tweet to “the Suburban Housewives of America”, Mr Trump linked to a newspaper opinion piece about his opponent’s housing plans and said: “Biden will destroy your neighbourhood and your American Dream.”
In a subsequent Twitter message, Mr Trump added: “I am happy to inform all of the people living their Suburban Lifestyle Dream that you will no longer be bothered or financially hurt by having low income housing built in your neighbourhood.”
The appeals were made as Mr Trump faces declining poll numbers in the suburbs, particularly among women. But political analysts say his response may be backfiring, raising the question of whether the president is out of touch with an increasingly diverse suburban electorate that largely supports the Black Lives Matter protests.
Lara Brown, director of the Graduate School of Political Management at The George Washington University, said the Trump campaign was essentially trying to turn back to the clock to 1968, when Republican Richard Nixon’s “law and order” appeals carried him to victory.
“It is surprising to me that they think they could just import this strategy and that it would work now,” she said. “We have a country that is much more diverse. We have a country that is much more progressive.”
The stakes are high for the president. Suburban voters have historically favoured a more conservative economic and social agenda than their urban counterparts, providing a base of support for the Republican party. They narrowly supported Mr Trump in 2016. But most national polls show them backing Mr Biden, the former vice-president, by double digits.
Women voters, and particularly college-educated women voters, are even more likely to reject the president. The latest NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll showed two-thirds of suburban women said they disapproved of the job Mr Trump was doing. More than half said they “strongly” disapproved.
“He is just a racist, plain and simple,” said Gloria Ron-Fornes, a 61-year-old retired corporate executive in Summit, New Jersey, a leafy suburb about 25 miles west of New York City. “Everyone should have the opportunity to live in the suburbs.”
Ms Ron-Fornes reflects the challenges facing Mr Trump in suburbia this year. A registered Republican until 2016, she became a founding member of Summit Area Indivisible, one of the grassroots groups that helped Democrats win enough seats in suburban districts during the 2018 midterm elections to reclaim control of the US House of Representatives.
“It makes your stomach turn that is who is sitting at the White House, saying those kinds of things,” added Ms Ron-Fornes, a mother of two grown sons. “We can’t tolerate that any more. We have to move on.”
Similar sentiments were expressed by Leslie Bockol, a 50-year-old former children’s book editor from nearby West Orange, New Jersey, who serves as co-executive director of a local activist group called NJ 11th for Change.
“In my particular neck of woods, my friends and neighbours see those as dog whistles,” she said of the Trump tweets, as well as television ads from the president’s campaign that say: “You won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America.”
“Rather than helping Trump . . . I think they hurt his reputation,” Ms Bockol added.
The question for Mr Trump is whether he can improve on his party’s suburban results in the 2018 midterms, which Ms Brown of The George Washington University called a “referendum” on his presidency.
“Both parties are well aware of the fact that college-educated whites are really an important swing demographic, and women, more so than men, have left the president’s fold,” she said. “Many of the college-educated voters who perhaps gave him a chance, or voted for a third party in 2016, decided they were not interested in continuing to support the Republicans who were running for Congress.”
It is a pattern Democrats are hoping to repeat this year, particularly in battleground states that are key to winning the Electoral College. The choices of voters living outside of cities like Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Detroit, Michigan; and Phoenix, Arizona, could prove decisive.
Kelly Dittmar, director of research at the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, said the president’s message did not match the moment, especially given the continued concerns about Covid-19.
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“His message about protecting the suburbs, and these protests, how does that jibe with concerns around coronavirus?” asked Ms Dittmar. “That strategy for stoking fear about violence may be less effective when the bigger threat is the pandemic.
“Every parent, especially mother, that I know, is freaking out about what they do their kids in the fall,” when schools open in the US. “There is fear, and fear is motivating their politics, but it is motivating their politics to say we need leadership that is going to make this right, that is going to get us through this crisis,” she said.
When asked for comment, the Trump campaign provided a statement from Lara Trump, the president's daughter-in-law.
“While Joe Biden continues to lump all women into one voting bloc, President Trump is delivering on an array of issues that really matter to women across the country,” said Ms Trump. “Women across the nation can trust in President Trump to put them and their families first.”
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