In Attacking Ilhan Omar, Trump Revives His Familiar Refrain Against Muslims

Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA, via Shutterstock

As long as President Trump has focused on what he said was the danger lurking at the southwestern border, he has also talked about the supposed threat from one specific group already in the country: Muslims.

During the 2016 campaign, he would not rule out creating a registry of Muslims in the United States. He claimed to have seen “thousands” of Muslims cheering on rooftops in New Jersey after Sept. 11, a statement that was widely debunked. After deadly attacks in Paris and California, Mr. Trump called for a moratorium on Muslims traveling to the United States.

“I think Islam hates us,” Mr. Trump told Anderson Cooper, the CNN host, in March 2016.

Now, with 19 months until the 2020 election, Mr. Trump is seeking to rally his base by sounding that theme once again. And this time, he has a specific target: Representative Ilhan Omar, Democrat of Minnesota and one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress.

Mr. Trump and his team are trying to make Ms. Omar, one of a group of progressive women Democratic House members who is relatively unknown in national politics, a household name, to be seen as the most prominent voice of the Democratic Party, regardless of her actual position. And they are gambling that there will be limited downside in doing so.

On Monday, Mr. Trump will visit Minnesota — a state that some of the president’s aides speak of as a place to expand his electoral map — and will hold an economic round table. The event is outside Ms. Omar’s congressional district, but the president’s decision to appear there is a calculated choice.

His Minnesota appearance comes after his tweet of a video interspersed with Ms. Omar speaking and the burning World Trade Center towers. Ms. Omar’s critics have claimed a portion of the remarks, in which she highlighted Islamophobia faced by Muslims after Sept. 11, were dismissive of the terrorist attacks.

Mr. Trump is banking on painting the entire Democratic Party as extreme. And Ms. Omar has become a point of contention for some members of her own party, after remarks she made about the Israel lobby were condemned as anti-Semitic by some long-serving Democrats, as well as by Republicans and Mr. Trump.

But Mr. Trump’s electoral success in 2016 was based partly on culture wars and fears among an older, white voting base that the country it knew was slipping away. Like his hard line on immigration, his plays on fears of Muslims — including inaccurately conflating them with terrorists — proved polarizing among the wider electorate, but helped him keep a tight grip on his most enthusiastic voters. In the South Carolina Republican primary in February 2016, for instance, exit polls showed that 75 percent of voters favored his proposed Muslim ban.

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