Lot going on here, starting with the fact that this story is almost two weeks old. Why’s he tweeting about it now?
One is always tempted with presidential tweets to go looking for “eight-dimensional chess” explanations, but it’s a mistake. He probably saw a NASCAR commercial on Fox today and realized that he hadn’t ventilated this particular grievance yet so he fired away. Trump usually operates on impulse.
Anyway, NASCAR’s ratings aren’t down…
…and it’s still an open question whether this was a “hoax.” I took my best shot to formulate a conspiracy theory for that scenario in this post and couldn’t come up with anything. Even if it was a hoax — and how could it have been when the “noose” rope was there since late 2019? — it doesn’t seem to have been Wallace’s fault. According to the man himself, the person who discovered it was an African-American crew member who was at the garage in Talladega. Wallace himself wasn’t there due to concerns about COVID-19. The driver apparently walked around to other garages at the track to see if their pull ropes were also tied like nooses. When he saw that they weren’t, he informed NASCAR. It was the president of NASCAR, Steve Phelps, who told Wallace about the noose and claimed that a “hate crime” had occurred, not vice versa.
If all of that’s true, it sounds more like a misunderstanding than a hoax. And if anyone should apologize for hyping it, it’s Phelps, not Wallace.
Wallace responded to Trump’s tweet this afternoon, denouncing “hate”:
Another NASCAR driver initially tweeted this at Trump before deleting it…
…although he’s since retweeted this to make his point instead:
There is nothing to apologize for when:
–Taking a perceived threat seriously
–People show support for one another
–Making policy to be more inclusive & more welcoming
–Doing what you feel is right, regardless of any perceived business consequences
— Bob Pockrass (@bobpockrass) July 6, 2020
More interesting is Lindsey Graham also wanting no part of this conflagration:
“…they all rallied to Bubba's side, so I would be looking to celebrate that kind of attitude more than being worried about it being a hoax."
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) July 6, 2020
“So what I would tell people from outside of South Carolina that NASCAR is trying to grow the sport and one way you grow the sport is you take images that divide us and ask that they not be brought into the venue. That makes sense to me,” Graham said
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) July 6, 2020
Graham is more keyed in on the very end of Trump’s tweet, where he suggested that banning the Confederate flag at NASCAR events was a bad idea. His usual defense of Confederate monuments is that they’re part of our history; to tear them down is to obliterate history itself. That’s a harder argument to make in defense of gratuitously displaying the Confederate flag at sports events. If there’s any strategic explanation for his tweeting about Wallace it’s that it’s part of a general culture-war reelection campaign that’s turning increasingly scattershot in its targets. One minute it’s Confederate monuments, the next it’s Wallace and the rebel flag, the next it’s sports teams changing their nicknames:
Apparently the Trump campaign was so eager to fundraise on the left’s threat to American and religious icons that they included a photo of Brazil’s statue of Christ the Redeemer in an email this weekend with the tagline, “WE WILL PROTECT THIS.” As one Trump advisor eloquently put it to the Daily Beast, “the statue sh*t” is now a core part of the campaign:
Both sources independently said they intended to gently implore Trump to take a different approach. One of the sources said they had already told Trump in recent days that making statue fetishization a cornerstone of the re-election pitch amounted to a “distraction” that wouldn’t help move the necessary votes into the president’s column by the election in November.
“The question now is, Is the statue sh*t going to work?” said a senior Trump campaign adviser, adding that current polling was “inconclusive” at best…
“One issue is that the president and some of his people see something on Fox News and then take that to mean that that issue will resonate with most voters: Republican, independents, even some Democrats or former Democrats,” said one Republican operative close to the White House. “That is what is happening with the hyper-focus on this [statues] issue and it doesn’t always work out. Look at the caravan during the  midterms.”
The through-line on everything from Confederate statues to the flag ban at NASCAR to Wallace and his “hoax” to the Redskins changing their name is the sense that older white Americans are having to yield on aspects of the culture with which they might be comfortable with but which younger, browner Americans aren’t. It’s the idol-smashing stage of a long cultural retreat and defeat, the sort of thing Trump was elected to stop but ended up presiding over. (Tucker Carlson’s willingness to point that out is why his ratings are up lately.) He’d be on firmer ground if he stuck to defending icons of the Founding Fathers, about whom opinion isn’t as polarized. But that would miss the point: Precisely because that subject is less divisive, there’s less hay to be made of it electorally. Even Biden and Pelosi have called for leaving statues of Washington and Jefferson in place.
This is also why, although Trump didn’t praise any Confederates in his Mt. Rushmore speech, the media got away with implying that he did. It’s not just that they’re biased against him (although they are), it’s that Trump himself typically draws no line around the Founding Fathers relative to his more dubious cultural sacred cows. Washington, Jefferson, Robert E. Lee, CSA generals who have U.S. military bases named after them, the U.S. flag, the Confederate flag — it’s all pretty much the same to him. (He has that much in common with wokesters. It’s all pretty much the same to them too.) His speechwriters for Mt. Rushmore were more careful than he usually is, but you never get the real Trump from his speeches. Twitter Trump is the real deal.
The strangest thing about “the statue sh*t” is that he has far richer political material to mine if he’s trying to claw back suburbanites and older voters. His positive argument for reelecting him is the economy: “I’ve built the best economy ever once, I can do it again, just look at the jobs reports lately.” That’s straightforward. But he has an increasingly strong negative argument too: Trends in crime. There are three posts on this site today alone tracking how menacing the situation has become in Chicago, Atlanta, and New York City, where crime had been shrinking essentially nonstop for 25 years until recently. That’s a trickier pitch for Trump than the economy pitch since, after all, crime is rising on his watch as president, but he’s a “law and order” candidate of longstanding and doubtless would poll better than Biden if you asked Americans whom they trust more to deal with crime. (Especially during a “defund the police” push on the left.) He should dial back the statue chatter and drill down on that a bit more. I bet it would help.
I’ll leave you with this oldie but goodie from 2013: