If there’s one thing mainstream-media pundits agree on, it’s that Donald Trump’s GOP has given up trying to appeal to anyone outside of the president’s base. In an earlier era of American politics, one would expect the Republican nominee to pivot toward the center of the ideological spectrum in the general election. Instead, the Republican National Convention spent its opening night following a base-mobilization strategy in which speakers and videos spoke to the keenest fears of Trump voters. And this, we are told, is a sign of a dysfunctional campaign and party that’s setting itself up for a big loss in November.
But there’s another possibility. What if, instead of adjusting his message to appeal to people who are currently inclined to vote for Joe Biden, Trump is trying to persuade these voters to change their minds and come to him? What if, rather than treating voter preferences as static and adjusting his message to match them, Trump is trying to convince voters that their current preferences are out of sync with reality?
What if Trump is trying to expand his base not by moderating his positions but by radicalizing the electorate?
That’s what the relentlessly ominous message of Monday night was all about. Trump is telling a story that is very scary but that makes perfect sense of rapidly accumulating accounts of riots and violent crime in cities across the country: Urban progressivism has wrecked Seattle and Chicago and Denver and New York — and if Joe Biden and Kamala Harris take over in January, the chaos and violence will come right to your doorstep. If you give them a chance to govern, your neighborhood will soon look just like Portland.
We don’t know yet if the message will work. Reality is, of course, more complicated, and Trump is doing plenty to inflame the tensions himself. But we should recognize the attempt for what it is: An effort to turn a larger share of the electorate into Trump voters. Damon Linker