Is Trump's latest race-baiting a 2020 campaign strategy?
If you were relieved, as I wanted to be, by President Donald Trump's next-day repudiation of the "Send her back!" chant directed at a Somali-born congresswoman during his North Carolina rally, perk down.
The vitriol that welled up so visibly and disturbingly in that crowd Wednesday night symbolized the unusual place that Trump's own rhetoric has gotten him into.
We have watched Trump's "instincts" steer him to a comfort zone that causes discomfort, even to many of his own supporters. In essence, it is a politics of division that pits Americans who feel anxious about racial and cultural changes against those who, like me, do not.
The ugliest side of those anxieties showed itself when the crowd at the Wednesday rally in Greenville interrupted Trump by chanting "Send her back!" about Rep. Ilhan Omar, as if the Minnesota Democrat and former refugee was an ill-fitting pair of mail-order shoes.
Even Trump appeared to be taken aback by the eruption. "I didn't say that," he said. "They did." But he didn't try to stop it either.
He singled out Omar while attacking the quartet of progressives now widely known as "the squad" -- Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Omar. He denounced them as "left-wing ideologues" and "hate-filled extremists," although he and his rally crowd did not come across as a garden of love either.
The next day Trump sounded more contrite as he tried to distance himself from the chant, if not from the people who chanted.
But the crowd clearly had picked up the message from the president's weekend tweets that the squad should "go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came." Reaction? His net approval rating among Republicans rose 5 percentage points after that tweet to 72 percent, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll.
By the way, all four are citizens and only Omar was born in another country. But when has Trump let facts get in the way of a good rant?
Can we expect more of the same dog whistling in the 2020 campaign? Judging by new polls, we can count on it.