His ominous remarks were a concession to his political standing: trailing in the polls, lacking a booming economy or a positive message to campaign on, and leaning on culture wars to buoy his loyalists.
WASHINGTON â With his support falling even among Republicans as the coronavirus makes a frightening resurgence across the country, President Trump used a weekend dedicated to patriotism to signal that he will spend the final four months of his re-election effort digging deeper into the nationâs racial and cultural divides, creating an enemy for his supporters in what he branded the ânew far-left fascism.â
Standing in front of Mount Rushmore on Friday night, participating in an official presidential event funded by taxpayers that looked more like a campaign rally, Mr. Trump promoted a version of the âAmerican carnageâ vision for the country that he laid out during his inaugural address â updated to include an ominous depiction of the recent protests over racial justice.
He signaled even more clearly that he would exploit race and cultural flash points to stoke fear among his base of white supporters in an effort to win re-election. As he has done in the past, he resorted to exaggerated, apocalyptic language in broadly tarring the nationwide protests against entrenched racism and police brutality, saying that âangry mobsâ sought to âunleash a wave of violent crime in our citiesâ and that those seeking to deface monuments want to âend America.â
Though Mr. Trump avoided references on Friday to the symbols of the Confederacy that have been a target of many protests, referring instead to monuments of Americaâs âfounders,â he has in the past defended statues honoring Confederate soldiers as âbeautiful.â And he has resisted renaming military bases named after Confederate generals, even as military leaders signaled their support for such a move.
Mr. Trump was expected to follow up with a second Independence Day address on Saturday from the South Lawn of the White House, from where he could view a military flyover and a large fireworks display on the National Mall. Mr. Trumpâs administration pushed for the celebration, despite the warnings of local officials that it was still unsafe to bring people together in large crowds.
His remarks at Rushmore were also a concession to his political standing as he nears the end of his first term in office: trailing former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the presumptive Democratic nominee, in national and battleground polls; lacking a booming economy or a positive message to campaign on as he tries to assign blame elsewhere for the spread of the coronavirus; and leaning on culture wars instead to buoy his base of white supporters.
Sticking closely to the remarks on his teleprompter, with none of the joking and sarcastic asides that pepper his rally remarks, Mr. Trump delivered his speech in a grim monotone that he often employs when reading from a script.
The speech was drafted for Mr. Trump by his regular team of writers in the West Wing who are led by Stephen Miller. Some of those officials were also in contact with campaign advisers, who said on Saturday that they believed the speech struck exactly the right note for the moment.
âJuly 4 is the perfect time for a speech affirming American greatness from the president of the United States,â said Tim Murtaugh, the Trump campaign communications director.
Campaign officials have repeatedly said they expect backlash against the progressive âcancel cultureâ movement to help the presidentâs standing with white suburban female voters frightened by images of chaos in the city streets. That backlash has yet to reveal itself in polls. A recent New York Times/Siena College survey showed that 75 percent of moderates and even 53 percent of somewhat conservative voters have a favorable opinion of Black Lives Matter.
Central to Mr. Trumpâs approach, however, is a belief he and some of his advisers share that voters are misleading pollsters about their support for the nationwide protests, several allies said. As he has sought to present himself as the candidate of law and order, Mr. Trump has rejected suggestions from some aides who have urged him to do more to address racism in America, in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd in the custody of police officers in Minneapolis.
Instead, he has intensified his criticism of the Black Lives Matter movement. In a post last week on Twitter, he called the words Black Lives Matter a âsymbol of hateâ as he criticized plans by the mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio, to paint the phrase on Fifth Avenue outside Trump Tower.
In this election, Mr. Trump is campaigning in much different circumstances: As an incumbent president, he will be judged more on his record than his rhetoric.
The searing tone he has adopted is in large part aimed at consolidating support within his own party. Private Republican polling indicates the president is slipping in red states, in large part because conservative-leaning voters are unsettled.
A recent Pew survey found that just 19 percent of Republicans said they were satisfied with âthe way things are going,â down from 55 percent of Republican respondents in a previous version of the same poll.
âTrump needs â or thinks he needs â fear of âthe otherâ to motivate his base and create enthusiasm,â said Christine Matthews, a Republican pollster. âRight now, people are fearful of Covid-19, but that is inconvenient for Trump, so he is trying to kick up fear about something he thinks will benefit his re-election: angry mobs of leftists tearing down American history.â
Ms. Matthews noted that his rhetoric does little more than solidify the voters who were already likely to return to his corner. âHe has no interest at all in expanding his base or even pulling back in those who have departed,â she said.
Patrick Murray, the director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, said that past presidents have typically sought to diffuse cultural battles, âgiving people this amorphous kind of middle where they can continue to live.â Mr. Trump, however, is unlike any of his predecessors.
âDonald Trump does not give you that choice â you are either with him or against him,â said Mr. Murray, whose latest survey this week showed Mr. Biden leading 53 percent to 41 percent. âHe is forcing people to take sides. And when they take sides, more of them are moving to the other side.â
In Mr. Biden, Mr. Trump also faces a centrist opponent who is not easily branded as a radical liberal, but rather one who is seen as a palatable alternative to some older voters and Republicans in a way that Hillary Clinton was not. Mr. Biden, for instance, has said he does not support defunding the police, and has made careful distinctions between tearing down monuments to the countryâs founding fathers and those commemorating Confederate leaders.
That hasnât stopped the Trump campaign from claiming that in the black-and-white world it wants to present to voters in November, Mr. Biden is on the side of violent looters. âThe first instinct of Joe Biden and his party is to agree with the agitators that there is something fundamentally wrong with America and that there always has been,â Mr. Murtaugh said.
The question for Mr. Trump and his political advisers is whether branding Mr. Biden as a puppet for far-left extremists will work. In a statement issued on Saturday in response to Mr. Trumpâs speech, Andrew Bates, a Biden campaign spokesman, said: âJoe Biden is running on the opposite values â to win this battle for the soul of our nation, bring the American people together and rebuild the middle class stronger than ever before, bringing everyone along.â
Mr. Trumpâs Friday night speech also revealed the presidentâs concern about his standing with evangelical voters and conservatives, who were crucial to his victory in 2016. On the list of great Americans that he said he wants to erect a statute to honor was the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a conservative favorite.
In some ways, the divisive place that Mr. Trump has landed on Independence Day is where he has always felt most comfortable campaigning. âHeâs totally opportunistic,â said William Kristol, the conservative writer and prominent âNever Trumpâ Republican.
He noted that Mr. Trump had never weighed in on the immigration debate before he made building a wall along the Mexican border the signature issue of his 2016 presidential campaign because he saw that it worked. âIf you donât care about damaging the country and abandoned normal guardrails of presidential discourse,â Mr. Kristol said, âyou just keep trying things and hope something sticks.â
News – At Mt. Rushmore, Trump Updates âAmerican Carnageâ Message for the Election