Trump vs. Sharpton is the quintessence of American political culture in 2019, the battle-of-the-con-men that this country deserves. Or, if you prefer Philip Klein’s formulation, “it’s 1980s/early90s NYC politics — just on the national stage.”
They were friendly in a different time, as Trump himself suggested in his last tweet:
Trump at NAN Convention 2006 telling James Brown and Jesse Jackson why he respects my work. Different tune now. pic.twitter.com/mvNQmPdLUh
— Reverend Al Sharpton (@TheRevAl) July 29, 2019
How friendly? Enough that Sharpton attended Trump’s roast at the Friars Club in 2004. This too, via Jeryl Bier:
— Reverend Al Sharpton (@TheRevAl) February 16, 2015
Their bases are different as can be but personality-wise they’re peas in a pod, two New York BS artists skilled at identity politics and preternaturally good at self-promotion. Doubtless deep down each respects the other as an indefatigable hustler who knows his marks well.
I missed what Sharpton said to set Trump off this morning. He tweeted that he was on his way to Baltimore, presumably to protest POTUS’s comments about Elijah Cummings over the weekend, but normally that wouldn’t be enough to spark a Trump tirade. Sharpton’s been criticizing him since Inauguration Day, after all. So why punch back now?
Maybe it’s strategic:
The assault on Cummings, chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, prompted immediate condemnations from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. Young and several other top Democrats.
The outburst also undercut efforts by many Republicans over the past two weeks to defend Trump and insist that his earlier attacks were based in ideology rather than race.
But Trump’s advisers had concluded after the previous tweets that the overall message sent by such attacks is good for the president among his political base — resonating strongly with the white working-class voters he needs to win reelection in 2020.
This has prompted them to find ways to fuse Trump’s nativist rhetoric with a love-it-or-leave-it appeal to patriotism ahead of the 2020 election, while seeking to avoid the overtly racist language the president used in his tweets about the four congresswomen.
If the goal is to get blue-collar whites fired up by picking fights with minority political figures, he couldn’t choose a juicier target than Sharpton. The Tawana Brawley and Crown Heights episodes alone will give him weeks of material about Sharpton’s racial demagoguery. There’s a bank-shot criticism of the media wrapped up in it too, namely, how does the press justify rehabbing Sharpton to the point where he’s now considered a sort of elder statesman of the Democratic Party? Here he is just this morning opining on arguably the most influential political talk show in America, where he’s a recurring guest:
Sharpton says he won't be dragged into "side show" of Trump insults pic.twitter.com/ErwdeEzHL0
— TPM Livewire (@TPMLiveWire) July 29, 2019
The Federalist remembered today that Scarborough once co-sponsored a resolution in the House denouncing Sharpton’s practices, “which seek to divide Americans on the basis of race, ethnicity, and religion.” Now this. It’s quite a legacy for “Morning Joe” to have helped make Sharpton and Trump respectable to mainstream American politics.
Anyway, Trump’s obviously trying to goad prominent Democrats into siding with Sharpton in this spat, hoping to tar them by association the same way he’s trying to make Ilhan Omar a leading face of the party. Too bad for him that serious Dem politicians are too smart to take the b—- [record scratch]
.@TheRevAl has spent his life fighting for what's right and working to improve our nation, even in the face of hate. It's shameful, yet unsurprising that Trump would continue to attack those who have done so much for our country.
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) July 29, 2019
Boy, Kamala Harris really wants some attention from Joe Biden’s base of black voters, huh? This is emblematic of her approach to the primary writ large, though: Say and do whatever you need to in order to win the nomination and then worry about cleaning up all the messes you’ve made later, in the general. If playing Trump’s game by elevating a sleaze like Rev. Al helps her win over some black Democrats, so be it. She can always do the “Al who?” shtick next summer.
Here’s Sharpton at a presser this morning with a passable zinger about Trump. It’s true that Trump surrounds himself with loads of shady characters but they tend to fall into formal or informal advisory roles. His cabinet, by comparison, is pretty professional.
"I made trouble for him with Central Park. I made trouble with him for birtherism. I'm going to keep making trouble for bigots." Sharpton said of Trump's attacks on him.
— POLITICO (@politico) July 29, 2019