President Donald Trump’s four-day campaign against four freshman Democratic congresswomen reached its perhaps inevitable conclusion Wednesday night as he paused to allow a raucous North Carolina crowd to call for the deportation of a lawful American citizen.
“Send her back,” the crowd chanted about Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., a Somali American immigrant who has been accused of no crimes, including by Trump’s own Justice Department.
The parallels to the 2016 election were inescapable. Back then, it was Hillary Clinton whose lack of prosecution Trump decried as insufficient and even corrupt. Soon his crowds began chanting, “Lock her up” at basically every rally, with Trump encouraging them. By the general election, he explicitly told Clinton at a debate that if he were to become president, “you’d be in jail.”
Fast-forward nearly three years, and it was Omar, who recently became the first Muslim American woman in Congress. On Sunday, Trump’s tweets urged her and three other nonwhite freshman congresswomen to return to their countries to fix their ineffective governments — never mind the fact that the other three were actually born in the United States.
Given the tenor of the tweets, it was always Omar who was likely to be his eventual focus. And Trump erased any doubt about that in the intervening days and hours.
Omar has a history of making controversial comments about Israel, including admitting that she promoted anti-Semitic tropes that included suggesting U.S. politicians were “all about the Benjamins baby” when it came to supporting Israel. She apologized in two instances; in a third, progressives came to her defense and overcame even Democratic Party leaders who tried to get Omar to back down. Omar also has other issues, including potentially violating the law by filing joint tax returns with a man to whom she was not legally married.
But Trump, as he is wont to do, has stretched her liabilities beyond any real evidence. In recent days, he has accused her of supporting al-Qaida, a claim for which The Washington Post’s Fact Checker gave him a maximum four Pinocchios. Then, shortly before his speech Wednesday night, he cited long-standing, unsubstantiated internet rumors that Omar had married her brother. These rumors popped up in her 2018 campaign, during which she called them “disgusting lies.”
The fact that these allegations have entered into any national news stories whatsoever is a testament to a president who is willing to traffic in innuendo and unfounded conspiracy theories. And they hark back to Trump’s regular questioning of whether President Barack Obama had lied about his birthplace, a baseless theory that led to many Republicans believing Obama was not just ineligible to be president but was also a secret Muslim. A poll just this week showed one-third of Americans continue to believe Obama was “probably” born in Kenya.
Given that backdrop and what happened in 2016, it’s no surprise what transpired Wednesday night in North Carolina. The president of the United States married two of his favorite political pastimes — innuendo about Muslims and goading his supporters into an extrajudicial fever over female political opponents who law enforcement has accused of no crimes — and allowing his supporters to take it from there.
And both reinforce this fact about Trump’s political tactics: He doesn’t have to say it explicitly to get his crowds to say it for him — and loudly.
There can be no doubt he knows what he’s doing.
Opinion editor’s note: As the Star Tribune reported in June, the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board ruled “that Omar had improperly used campaign money to pay a lawyer to fix her tax filings.” She had “filed federal taxes in 2014 and 2015 with her current husband, Ahmed Hirsi, while she was still legally married to but separated from” another man. The paper’s search of public records “could neither conclusively confirm nor rebut the allegation that he is Omar’s sibling.”