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Critics Accuse Trump Of Fueling Racial Tensions For Political Purposes


And earlier today, I talked about this moment to the conservative writer Jonah Goldberg. He's editor-in-chief of The Dispatch.

Let me put this question to you. Who still believes the president? And does it matter who believes him when he says, I didn't hear white power?

JONAH GOLDBERG: (Laughter) It's a perfectly fair question. I believe him in this instance that he didn't see that it said white power, but I also think that this is - just demonstrates his sort of gross negligence about how he runs his Twitter account and how he runs his presidency in a lot of ways. That said, I don't think that he has a huge problem with the idea of stoking racial tensions if he thinks it will work for him, which is why he sometimes does it. Holding him to a consistent ideological or political standard is - that way lies madness.

KING: You said this particular tweet may not be - the president may not have heard it, but you also point out that the president doesn't stop himself from inflaming racial tension. How does that help him win? As a political strategy, how does it work? He's got an election coming up in November.

GOLDBERG: Right. The point is that an arsonist who likes to play with matches sometimes can start a fire by accident is my only point on this one. How it might help him for November is that, look; Donald Trump is less popular than he was in 2016. Donald Trump barely won the Electoral College by some 78,000 votes in three states. A Pew poll said in September of 2016 that more than 1 out of 10 voters who said they were going to vote for Donald Trump said they would be disappointed if Donald Trump won.

So he always has thought that his base, which he has always seemed to think was more racist than it probably is, is all he ever needed to win when in reality, the voters that he needed to win were the people who basically held their nose to vote for him. And yet, he still thinks that if he polarizes, if he replays the campaign of 2016, if he makes people hate Biden more than they like him, he'll come out a winner on that. And to a certain extent, that's his only strategy.

KING: Let me ask you about 2016. Over the weekend, we talked to the journalist Errin Haines. She covered race for years at the AP. She's now with the nonprofit newsroom The 19th. Here's what Errin told us.

ERRIN HAINES: This is a playbook that he has seen work for him. It worked for him in his 2016 election. It worked again to an extent in 2018 when he talked about the migrant caravan. And the question is, is it going to work in 2020?

KING: So the question, Jonah, here, it strikes me, is 2020 fundamentally different? With everything that is going on in this country right now - protests over racial injustice, Black Lives Matter - is it just not the right time? Is it just a different time?

GOLDBERG: I think it is just a different time. I think 2018 did not work for him very well. He had a huge, huge win for the Democrats in 2018. And, look; he - all his life, he's suffered from winner's bias. He's made weird, poor decisions that ended up working for him. And he thinks he can replay 2016, and this is just not 2016 again.

KING: Jonah Goldberg, editor-in-chief of The Dispatch. Jonah, thanks for your time.

GOLDBERG: Great to be here. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.