President Donald Trump delivers remarks on the crisis in Venezuela to the Venezuelan American community at Florida International University in Miami on February 18. Photo by Gary I Rothstein/UPI | License Photo
Last week, in his brief pep rally in Miami, President Donald Trump set a trap for 2020. The prey are the Democrats who have declared or will declare themselves candidates for president. And the bait was "socialism."
While the president may often have the touch of an enraged elephant, Democrats too easily may take the bait and undervalue the power of his message. The president's new "axis of evil" is Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua. To a southern Floridian and large Hispanic audience, his words were enticing and intoxicating.
Few would disagree with the disastrous consequences of the Hugo Chavez-Nicolas Maduro regimes and the suffering of the vast majority of Venezuelans caused by this incompetent, autocratic leadership. Similarly, Cuba remains a bete noir for many Floridians. And Daniel Ortega's Nicaragua fills out this troika of tyrants.
But by claiming socialism is the evil foundation for these regimes, the president is unsubtly attacking the leftish somersaults of Democrats who like lemmings are pouring over a political cliff. The linkage among socialism, failed regimes and Democrats was unmistakable. And the more cannon fodder Democrats provide for the president with the Green New Deal, embracing Democratic Socialism, promising free medical care, education and guaranteed wages for all and squeezing the super rich with taxes to pay for these entitlements, the more the president will obliterate them.
Using socialism as a hammer (and replacement for banned four letter words), the president has created a brilliant weapon to flay Democrats. Instead of offering political solutions for improving government and addressing crucial domestic issues such as a crumbling infrastructure, massive and growing debt and destructive foreign policies inspired by the president's "America first" slogan, the Democrats will be trapped either defending "socialism" or explaining why they and their ideas and proposals are not socialist. Game and possibly match to Trump.
It will not be "lyin" Hillary. It will be Socialist Bernie or Elizabeth or Kamala -- whose first name will be distorted to Camel-O or other pejorative. The base will love these phrases. And were a centrist such as Joe Biden or Mike Bloomberg to enter the race, the socialist slur will apply to them and to all Democrats.
The hypocrisy and historical illiteracy of the president do not matter. Is Venezuela any more or less "socialist" than Russia, North Korea, China or Saudi Arabia, whose rulers are pals or buddies of the president? As bad as life is in Venezuela, are North Koreans better off? Are Russia, China and Saudi Arabia pillars of capitalism and democracy, where freedom reigns? Of course not. But Venezuela is a tempting target irrespective of the failings of these other states. And it is a "twofer:" human rights excesses brought on by socialism rather than by corrupt demagogic leaders.
Unfortunately, this so-called rush to "socialism" and alleged socialist policies advocated by Democrats are motivated by many millennials and others who are angered and outraged by Trump's policies. Health care costs are still back breaking for too many Americans. The cost of student debt can be crippling well into middle age. The richest 1% are indeed getting richer and the disparity between the very wealthy and everyone else is mushrooming. Hence, it is clear why some Americans are moving left.
But some Democrats are moving not merely left but to the extreme left. Firebrands such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, with no political experience or understanding yet of the policies being advocated, play off one another. Yes, a Green New Deal is important. It must be realistic. And while it is fashionable to use the JFK man on the moon challenge, given what is being promised about ending the combustion engine and going completely green is akin to setting the goal of being the first man or woman to land on the sun.
More experienced and cynical leaders such as Nancy Pelosi recognize or at least sense this political trap. Some Democrats are depending on Special Counsel Robert Mueller to produce the smoking howitzer that will oust the president. Others really believe that a leftward shift is imperative. And some proportion enjoys the political limelight and headlines that easily can lead to making even more outrageous and unobtainable political promises.
In foreign policy, this president has been hugely destructive, so far dismantling 70 years of American leadership. At home, his policies are proving just as flawed. For those who disagree, how do we cope with a $22 trillion and ever-growing debt?
But his embrace of "socialism" as a weapon is formidable. And the Democrats could succumb and fall face-first into this trap.
Harlan Ullman is UPI's Arnaud de Borchgrave Distinguished Columnist. His latest book is "Anatomy of Failure: Why America Has Lost Every War It Starts." Follow him @harlankullman.