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The strategic blunder of ‘Trump-as-Hitler’

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© Provided by The Hill

By Allan Richarz, opinion contributor, The Hill

You knew it was coming. Eighteen months into the Trump administration and the president's ostensibly serious critics have finally broken the glass on the "Trump-is-a-Nazi" line of attack.

To be certain, there were previous allusions to this from media, Democrats and "Never Trumpers" - accusations of authoritarianism meant to implicitly draw the connection between President Donald Trump and Nazi Germany. Apart from the "over-woke," under-informed Hollywood set, however, critics largely managed to avoid making the explicit comparison.

Until now, that is, with the issue of family separations at the U.S. border dominating headlines.

But overwrought comparisons to the Nazis are both historically illiterate and an extreme strategic misstep. The president's critics have crossed a rhetorical line from which there can be no turning back.

That the Trump administration would be compared with Nazi Germany is not surprising. Accusations of "Republicans-as-fascists" long predate this administration. A Democratic congressman accused President Ronald Reagan of "trying to replace the Bill of Rights with fascist precepts lifted verbatim from 'Mein Kampf.' " In more recent times, recall Keith Olbermann's tarring of President George W. Bush as a "fascist" in an on-air segment in 2008, an appellation also bestowed upon other members of the Bush administration.

Perhaps memories of the unfair accusations of fascism experienced by her husband explain Laura Bush's decision to break ranks and instead go with a tortuous comparison of separating families of illegal border-crossers with the internment of Japanese-American citizens, keeping with the World War II theme but without resorting to outright accusations of Nazism.

Others, however, have no such compunction. Members of Congress, former officials, reporters and TV commentators have tweeted comparisons of U.S. detention facilities to Nazi concentration camps or issued none-too-subtle invocations of gas chambers in their tweets about children being led away from their parents by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. Reporters have peppered administration officials with questions about their "Nazi" tactics.

On Friday, an MSNBC commentator extended the Nazi label to every Trump supporter, declaring: "If you vote for Trump then you, the voter, you, not Donald Trump, are standing at the border, like Nazis, going: 'You here, you here.'"

Earlier, one magazine fact-checker beclowned herself by mistaking the tattoo of an ICE forensics analyst - a wounded Marine veteran and Paralympian - as a Nazi symbol.

Given that the Obama administration also housed separated children in "cages," which merited the faintest of peeps from supplicant media, politicians and activists, this newfound outrage comes off as contrived partisanship.

Apart from the historical ignorance in comparing the mechanized genocide of 6 million people with the temporary warehousing of children in detention facilities, going full-bore with accusations of Nazism is a grave strategic error on the part of those opposing the president.

There has been escalating rhetoric from the moment Donald Trump pulled off his "upset" defeat of Hillary Clinton, rhetoric that has reached its natural conclusion that Trump must be literally Adolf Hitler. For some bizarre reason, however, Democrats decided that now - five months away from midterm elections, and in the midst of a whirlwind of other headlines - was the time to deploy their rhetorical nuclear option.

Like it or not, news cycles move at breakneck speed in the Trump era and often are determined by the president himself. Last week's summit in North Korea? May as well have been ten years ago. So, too, will the issue of border separations fall by the wayside as a gnat-like attention span turns to some newer, trendier outrage du jour. By the time midterms roll around, this latest contretemps will be the faintest of memories. Unconvinced? Here are all the other times Trump has "finally gone too far."

This, then, raises the question: Where do Democrats and their "Never Trump" conservative hangers-on go next, rhetorically, having spent their shot on the border issue? Anything less than full accusations of Nazism will seem tame by comparison. Now that Trump is "actually Hitler," any compromise by Democrats will be viewed as kowtowing to fascism. Conversely, sticking with the Nazism line of attack cheapens its effect and, frankly, makes its proponents come off as a little more than unhinged, something perhaps already at play given that a Gallup poll has put Trump at his highest approval rating to date.

Is this perhaps the last, desperate gasp of the president's critics? Do they double down and ride the Trump-as-Hitler narrative - and themselves - into the ground until November's midterms and beyond? Undoubtedly, the president is ready to chum the waters with another carefully manufactured outrage to distract the pundit class.

Despite what should have been a slam-dunk for critics of the president, the overwrought rhetoric of Democrats may have handed the modern-day Teflon Don another victory, and harmed their longer-term prospects in the process.

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