During his recent campaign swing through Indiana and Ohio, President Trump demonstrated the kind of fearmongering and false allegations he normally shies away from. He branded immigrants as rapists and drug dealers, and claimed that Democratic politicians were conspiring to deceive voters.
But he also acknowledged that his campaign was diligently using social media and propaganda to target an unlikely target: average Americans who happen to be elderly or black. “Just saw some numbers,” the president told a crowd in Columbus on Wednesday. “They say 45 percent of African-Americans would vote against me if the election were today. And 32 percent of Hispanics.”
The demographic facts are grim.
This summer, a Pew Research Center survey found that more than a third of African-Americans and 35 percent of Hispanics said the Democratic Party was doing more to alienate them than the Republican Party. In addition, many Americans, especially Latinos, say they are increasingly aware of how the Trump administration is waging the greatest voter suppression effort since the 2004 elections, which many refer to as the “Florida debacle.”
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Trump’s campaign seemed to recognize his tactic could work. The only outreach it sent to these populations has been written down in a “Narcogram,” a kind of dossier on Social Security recipients and black Americans. It came complete with a nifty infographic, marking 30 groups that were missing from the White House’s Domestic Policy Council’s website:
A spokesperson for the Domestic Policy Council declined to explain the rationale behind the omission.
His campaign also tracks any social media posts they monitor. And when videos and messages cross their Facebook or Instagram accounts, their employees will make sure that the users see the full message.
“We take social media very seriously. And we push that information out every day,” Hope Hicks, Trump’s chief spokeswoman, told the Associated Press in September. “We don’t just do social media monitoring.”
Hicks did not respond to a request for comment. The White House referred questions to the Domestic Policy Council, which also declined to explain the rationale behind the omission.
Most Trump aides seem to be watching with the same vigor as the president. The Friday before the 2018 midterm elections, when over a million people across the country peacefully protested in the Women’s March, Anthony Scaramucci, the president’s former communications director, posted a video with a take-no-prisoners message to his Twitter followers.
“The good people of this country deserve a Senator who is willing to speak his mind, and face the consequences,” Scaramucci said in the video. “No, I mean this: There’s nothing bad you can say about someone who goes down to Washington and votes the truth.”
The administration also plans to launch a website during the next two weeks, focused on voter fraud, according to Charles Infante, who worked as a data analyst on the Clinton campaign in 2016. A recent report by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law found nearly 1 million potential voting irregularities — mostly clerical errors but also some clerical errors that included duplicate voter registrations, duplicates of signatures, dead people casting ballots and people registered in more than one state.
The website is likely to include data from conservative groups that say they’ve identified more than 150,000 new incidents, mainly in Democratic-leaning communities. But it won’t include data from Democratic groups. The administration is not likely to ask people or organizations to make that information public.
So the roughly 1 million data violations the administration is tracking have not yet been searched by the federal government, but the White House won’t be using the information to make sure its new website works as advertised.
“I think they need to call for an investigation,” said Nicholas J. Johnson, a former FBI director of intelligence and security. “They’re talking out of both sides of their mouth. I think they’re double-dealing.”
Under Republican rule, many believe Congress and the federal government will not have the time, resources or desire to challenge the Trump administration’s data collection efforts. That may be true. But it doesn’t mean journalists and watchdogs shouldn’t challenge it.
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