HOUSTON — As the Democratic debate was about to commence, a small airplane flew low and loud over the campus of Texas Southern University trailing a banner that read: “Socialism will kill Houston’s economy! Vote Trump 2020.”
The airplane was hired by the Trump reelection campaign in what is likely a preview of how the president will treat his eventual opponent: as a leftist dangerous to ordinary Americans.
Democrats were certainly aware of Trump’s gaze. “I have a few words for Donald Trump, who we all know is watching,” Sen. Kamala Harris of California said in her opening statement. She charged him with fostering a national atmosphere of “hate, intimidation, fear,” before dismissing him with a quip about his favored network: “And now, President Trump, you can go back to watching Fox News.”
Trump was actually in Baltimore. But the Trump campaign certainly was watching, and it used the debate to mock, needle and criticize the Democrats.
“President @realDonaldTrump would crush any one of these radical ‘top tier’ Dems!” tweeted national press secretary Kayleigh McEnany during the debate. In fact, polls show the opposite to be true, but if the 2020 Trump campaign learned anything from its 2016 predecessor, it is not to trust polls, which uniformly predicted a Hillary Clinton victory.
At the same time, Trump’s reelection campaign is a vastly more professional enterprise than the one that helped him win three years ago. Throughout the night, the campaign sent emails rebutting the Democratic candidates, who variously depicted Trump as divisive, dangerous and incompetent. The Trump campaign rebuttals took liberties with the truth, as did some of the Democrats.
“While the Democrats are debating Medicare for All and a ‘public option,’ only one fact matters: all of these proposals will kill private health insurance plans,” one of the Trump “rapid response” emails said. Such messages, commonly sent by campaigns, are meant as rebuttals to be used by the press. The one on health care, for example, accused former Vice President Joe Biden of “lying” about allowing Americans to keep their private insurance plans should they choose to do so.
Another of the debate-night emails struck out at Pete Buttigieg, the young mayor of South Bend, Ind., who has been something of a star in the primary campaign, even if that star has dimmed some in recent weeks. The Trump campaign sought to dim it even further.
“We know Pete Buttigieg is busy jetting around the country in style as he runs for president, but every once in a while he should probably consider paying a visit to the town he pretends to manage,” the email said, linking to a newspaper story about Buttigieg’s struggles with race relations and policing. The story was published in the New York Times, an outlet Trump routinely denounces as “fake news.”
There were similar counterattacks on energy, China, African-American unemployment and gun control.
“So the conclusion to the Democrat debate,” Trump’s campaign manager, Brad Parscale, wrote as the long evening was coming to a close. “We are taking away your healthcare. We are taking away your guns. We are taking away your paycheck. A vote for any of these Democrats is a vote to eliminate your freedom!”
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