By Jon Keller

BOSTON (CBS) – The explosive claims made by President Trump this week about four Democratic congresswomen of color – that they don’t love America and are importing divisive ideas – are familiar to any student of American history.

Demonization of immigrants as a menacing “other” are a familiar theme.

But will it be politically effective?

From the day he announced his run for president in 2015, Trump has repeatedly played one of the oldest cards in American politics – nativism, the fear of foreign immigrants.

“It’s up to them, go wherever they want or they can stay, but they should love our country,” Trump said Tuesday.

Never mind that three of his four targets are native-born, and it’s just as much their country as it is “ours.”

Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York. (Image credit: CBS News)

Nativism plays a recurring role in our country’s history. In the late 18th century and again in the mid-19th and early 20th centuries, immigrants were scapegoated as Catholic crocodiles intent on devouring native-born Protestants, as an invading army of cheap labor bent on stealing jobs, as a fifth column of our wartime enemies.

But exit polling showed a strong backlash in the midterm elections against Mr. Trump’s nativist rhetoric about invading caravans heading for the southern border. That backlash included many moderate Republicans.

Related: Pressley Calls Trump’s Attacks ‘Distraction’ By ‘The Occupant’ Of White House

Could that happen again?

Consider the findings of a new national poll asking if voters felt telling those congresswomen to go back where they came from was racist:

* 85% of Democrats said they do feel that way, as did 67% of Independents. But 45% of Republicans also agreed, about half the number who say they otherwise approve of the president.

And maybe this is a reason why: asked if they, a parent or grandparent is an immigrant, 45% of Democrats said yes, as did almost the same percent of Republicans.

The reaction to that poll by some was horror that so many Republicans support the president’s remarks.

But I think that understates the immigration experience so many Americans share, and their reluctance to join in with a nativist choir.

Jon Keller


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