Donald Trump embraces anti-socialism message in 2020 re-election campaign

March 5, 2019 GMT

President Trump campaigned on Making America Great Again. Now, he’s running to Keep America Capitalist.

Even as he courts deals with communist leaders in China and North Korea, Mr. Trump sees the “socialist” label as a potent weapon against Democratic foes in 2020, saying their leftward lurch threatens to undo everything America stands for and put handouts ahead of hard work.

When Sen. Bernard Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, leaped into the race, Mr. Trump’s campaign said it didn’t matter, “because every candidate is embracing his brand of socialism.”

Courting Venezuelan expats in Miami, Mr. Trump decried “socialism” or “socialists” more than a dozen times, saying those who have fled despotic, leftist leaders should know he’s taking the U.S. in the opposite direction.


It’s a message that could resonate with voters who have been leery of Mr. Trump, his personality and his chaotic tenure yet are old enough to remember and still take sides in the ideological clash of the Cold War, said pollster John Zogby.

“This is clearly an effort on his part to try to move beyond the base and to go where the Democrats aren’t going,” Mr. Zogby said.

Those Democrats are trying to re-create the Obama coalition of youths, minorities and women leaving Mr. Trump room to rally everyone else, and to try to peel off some of the Democratic coalition who might not be able to define socialism exactly, but know they don’t want it grabbing a foothold in America.

Ideas such as a government-run health-care system that could displace private insurance, tuition-free college and massive government mandates to reel in greenhouse gases, while redistributing income to the poor, have gained steam in the Democratic field. Mr. Trump says that’s bad and amounts to socialism.

“Everywhere socialism has been, everywhere it’s been implemented, it’s produced poverty, misery, repression and despair,” Mr. Trump told rallygoers in El Paso, Texas. “You take a look no matter where. Yet, there are those trying to implement socialism right here in the United States.”

His message hasn’t been subtle, and he’s deploying it anywhere he can from the hallowed halls of Congress to red-state MAGA rallies.

“It’s sort of a malleable message you can take anywhere. It’s a message for all seasons and all people,” said Jeanne Zaino, a senior public policy consultant at Applied Techonomics and politics professor at Iona College in New York.

It’s also an obvious line of attack for a business tycoon who made his fortune in a heavily regulated, blue-state environment such as New York.


“The president knows better than anyone else what an overbearing government does,” said John McLaughlin, a pollster who has worked for Mr. Trump’s campaign. “I mean, look what New York just did to Amazon.”

The online giant had its plans for a second headquarters in New York City squelched by a left-wing backlash led by freshman Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, a self-described democratic socialist, helped inject socialism into last year’s congressional elections with her upset primary win over a 20-year Democratic incumbent.

Republicans tried to capitalize, with the White House issuing a 72-page report last year on the ideology’s failings and warning the U.S. would become “the next Venezuela.”

It didn’t take hold, though. The GOP’s economic message was overshadowed by talk of migrant caravans and the party suffered a rout in the House.

The presidential election is a different playing field, likely to feature Mr. Trump versus a single Democratic candidate running on a platform that will be decidedly left-wing by the time the party’s primary is over.

Already, Democrats are being forced to pick labels.

“I’m a progressive Democrat. I am a Democrat, I’m a proud Democrat. I’m not a socialist,” Sen. Kamala Harris, California Democrat, told CNN last month.There are some wrinkles in Mr. Trump’s plan.

For one thing, free-market proponents say the president may be a flawed messenger, having embraced tariffs and then government bailouts for farmers who suffered. And he has refused to touch entitlements such as Medicaid and Social Security, which conservatives of days past said were the beginnings of socialism.

Mr. McLaughlin argues that such hypocrisy is fine because blue-collar workers who form Mr. Trump’s base feel they’ve contributed to those programs and deserve its fruits.

“Taxpayers who pay into it feel strongly they should benefit from their years of contributions,” he said.

Perhaps the biggest stumbling block is whether voters view “socialism” as warily as Mr. Trump thinks they do.

Young voters who did not witness the Soviet bloc and its decrepitude may favor the idea of using government to lift all boats, looking longingly at Western European nations that are much further along that spectrum than the U.S.

It’s particularly enticing for millennials who say they’ve been saddled by a wobbly job market and rising college debt, and who sing the benefits of tuition-free universities and experiments in guaranteed incomes.

Stephanie L. Mudge, an associate professor of sociology at the University of California-Davis, said it’s not so much age as circumstances that serve as the dividing line.

“People’s sense of economic and financial security, and their happiness or frustration with current American politics, are probably more important,” she said.

The professor said there’s been a range of “socialisms” Christian, utopian, democratic, Marxian so it’s hard to say it’s any one thing, though each share a primary concern with equality.

To that end, a Gallup poll from October found the biggest share of Americans 23 percent say the concept of socialism relates to equality, or “equal standing for everybody, all equal in rights, equal in distribution.”