Editor’s Note: Jen Psaki, a CNN political commentator, was the White House communications director and State Department spokeswoman during the Obama administration. She is vice president of communications and strategy at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Follow her at @jrpsaki. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
On Wednesday morning, Donald Trump once again took to Twitter and blasted out a direct demand to Attorney General Jeff Sessions to “stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now.” Never mind that Sessions has recused himself from the investigation: The tweet is a clear threat aimed at special counsel Robert Mueller and his investigation, and there is little doubt that he is saving it to the Twitter folder in his obstruction of justice file.
It is no surprise that all Washington is up in arms, justifiably, at the significance of this tweet and the demand on the attorney general. Despite Rudy Giuliani’s claim, “If you are going to obstruct justice, you do it quietly,” his client doesn’t appear to be following the traditional playbook.
But Donald Trump’s tweet is not what anyone outside the beltway or elite communities on the coasts are talking about. Russia and the investigation doesn’t even register at this point on voters’ radar (pollsters on either side of the aisle will confirm this).
No, Democrats thinking about what to talk about at town hall meetings during this August recess can leave the obstruction case in the hands of Mueller and focus on something much more jarring: the stunning disconnect from the everyday lives of the American people that Trump loudly exhibited at Tuesday’s Florida rally.
In an effort to throw some red, anti-immigration meat at his right wing base, Trump suggested defending the Real ID law that requires Americans to present identification to receive a ballot. There is a reason this law is controversial, given the overwhelming negative effect on minority communities. Additionally, only about 50% of the American public bothers to vote, and such a law would make it more difficult.
But Trump’s support for Real ID was less perplexing than his explanation.
He actually suggested that at the grocery store you are already required to show identification to purchase groceries. His supporters — including his press secretary, Sarah Sanders – claim that he could have meant to purchase alcohol. Given that he doesn’t drink alcohol that hardly seems plausible. Or maybe he has dealt with the challenge of trying to use a friend’s Costco membership? Hardly likely.
So why does this matter?
His bizarre reference to presenting identification when purchasing groceries tells you more about Donald Trump and who he represents in the White House than his Twitter threats about his attorney general. And it cuts much closer to core issues that voters will focus on this November.
He has no earthly clue what the average person, living paycheck to paycheck, making ends meet, is dealing with day to day. Going to the grocery store is not about presenting identification, but it can be about figuring out how you’re going to pay for groceries.
Despite headlines to the contrary, Trump did not win the White House by winning over lower-income Americans. His support both in the primary and in the general election actually came from individuals making more than $50,000 per year. But Democrats, too, also failed to effectively connect or present themselves as the party of the working people – the party that would fight to make life better for the people who need help the most.
In 2008, when then-candidate Barack Obama was running against Sen. John McCain, a clear turning point for the campaign came when McCain could not remember how many houses he owned. It was before the financial crisis really hit hard, but it still stood out as a jarring point of disconnection from the country he was running to represent.
A lot has changed in our political climate since the good old days of the 2008 campaign, but the importance of connecting with the core issues that impact the lives of the people our elected officials represent — health care and economic growth – have not.
Even with a President under the shadow of an investigation into his campaign’s possible collusion with a foreign power and potential obstruction of justice.