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Post Charlottesville: Democrats Consider Ways To Keep Pressure On Trump


The white supremacist violence in Charlottesville convinced many Democrats to confront President Trump on race. Trump allies, like Steve Bannon, seemed eager for that fight. He said that the more Democrats focus on identity politics, the better Trump will do. As NPR's Scott Detrow reports, some Democratic strategists worry that Bannon could be right.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Democrats have spent the past two weeks condemning President Trump. The question is what to do next - push to remove statues of Confederate leaders from the Capitol, a call House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is backing, or keep it about Trump? More than 100 House Democrats have co-sponsored a resolution censuring the president. New York Congressman Jerry Nadler is leading that effort.

JERRY NADLER: The only other body that can speak for the country and say this is not speaking for the United States is Congress.

DETROW: Democratic strategist David Axelrod thinks the party is right to keep the pressure up.

DAVID AXELROD: The unwillingness to take on what was abhorrent - broadly abhorrent - to Americans is a real issue and one that should not be forgotten.

DETROW: But the longtime adviser to President Obama is wary of shifting that to an argument about what to do with Confederate statues.

AXELROD: This notion that we should go rampaging through the country toppling statues everywhere in a precipitous way without process, I think, is a loser. And you've seen it in polling.

DETROW: A recent poll from NPR, "PBS NewsHour" and Marist found more than 6 in 10 respondents oppose taking statues down. Ruy Teixeira studies demographics at the Center for American Progress and says many voters just don't want to hear that racism is still a problem.

RUY TEIXEIRA: They do believe we've made progress. And for people that tell them no progress has been made and, you know, you're still the same racist you used to be or your father was, I think, is uncomfortable for them and alienating.

DETROW: Many Democrats walked away from 2016 thinking the party needs to focus more on economic issues. And many see the statues fight as just another round of identity politics that turn away the white working-class voters who flipped to Trump.

KAREN FINNEY: Standing up against hate is not an identity politics issue. That is an American issue.

DETROW: Karen Finney worked on Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. She says removing statues is a fight worth having. For her, it's deeply personal.

FINNEY: My mother, whose name is Mildred Lee, is a direct descendant of Robert E. Lee, which makes me the great-great-great-great-niece of Robert E. Lee.

DETROW: Four...

FINNEY: Three for her, four for me.

DETROW: Four for you, OK. But her father was African-American and a direct descendant of slaves. Finney thinks Democrats can reframe the conversation and point out many of the statues weren't built until the 20th century.

FINNEY: Remember, this was happening in tandem with the brutalism of Jim Crow South to remind black people who was really in charge. I think if people knew that piece, they might feel a little bit different.

DETROW: More broadly, Finney says the party should keep talking about Charlottesville, arguing their party cares about the whole country, while Trump is just focused on his base.

FINNEY: And what that means is we want health care for everybody. We want good jobs for everybody.

DETROW: But it's hard to keep the focus on an economic platform when Trump keeps doing things that party leaders feel they need to condemn. The Clinton campaign Finney worked on never quite figured that out, and many Democrats are worried they're going to keep falling into the trap.

Scott Detrow, NPR News.


Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.