WASHINGTON: US Democrats presented a united front this week after Donald Trump's coarse attacks on progressive lawmakers, but the solidarity masks deep fissures in the party as it moves toward choosing a 2020 presidential nominee.
From the most liberal quarters to the centrists, Democrats circled the political wagons and trained their outrage on Trump for his bullying of a quartet of ethnic minority congresswomen whom he said should "go back" to other countries if they hate America.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rushed to the defense of her more liberal colleagues, pushing a resolution through the divided chamber that rejected Trump's "racist comments that have legitimised fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color."
But the party has splintered on several fronts, notably economic policies including health care and the trillion-dollar Green New Deal, and issues like immigration and how to care for detainees at the border.
The four increasingly powerful congresswomen targeted by Trump -- Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, collectively known as "the Squad" -- are unapologetic in seeking to pull their party leftward.
The quartet -- all US citizens and all but one born in America -- openly call for Trump's impeachment and accuse him of enflaming racial and ethnic tensions.
"They're so angry," a pugnacious Trump said during a campaign rally on Wednesday in North Carolina.
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When he escalated his attacks on Omar, a former refugee born in Somalia, the crowd broke into chants of "send her back!"
Democrats are highlighting the need to defeat Trump next year, but the party is experiencing friction as candidates position themselves in a crowded field.
Some of the more liberal policy platforms, including a universal health care plan known as Medicare for All, have been embraced by Democratic candidates including progressives Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.
Candidates in the centrist lanes are warning that drifting too far leftward will alienate moderate voters and make it more difficult to oust Trump in 2020.
"Those folks are engaging in class warfare, promising everything for free, running on things like Medicare for All which is not good policy," moderate candidate John Delaney, a former congressman and longshot for the Democratic nomination, told CNN on Friday.
"If we do that we're going to put Trump on a glide path to re-election."
Republicans have already seized on the Democratic dustups, the aggressive activism of the Squad, and the leftward tilt of the party to frame the 2020 contest in stark ideological terms.
"This is about socialism versus freedom," top House Republican Kevin McCarthy told reporters this week.
As Trump exploits the divides and appeals to his conservative, largely white base, race remains a flashpoint for Democrats.
Senator Kamala Harris, who is black, walloped fellow presidential candidate and former vice president Joe Biden during a televised debate last month over his cooperation with segregationist senators in the 1970s.
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Even as party leaders consider how to keep their agenda as non-threatening as possible for business interests and middle-of-the-road voters, sensitive debates over issues like reparations for slavery have emerged, with the potential to unsettle independents or disgruntled Trump supporters.
Looming over the coming months is where the party will take its efforts to impeach Trump.
A liberal lawmaker forced a vote on advancing impeachment proceedings this week, and though it failed, it did receive 95 Democratic votes.
Pelosi, less ideologically liberal than the Squad, has made her current opposition to impeachment clear, preferring to let House investigations of Trump and his administration continue.
The position of the most powerful elected woman in US history stands at odds with the Squad, and the tensions spilled into the open recently.
"Pelosi claims we can't focus on impeachment because it's a distraction from kitchen table issues," tweeted Saikat Chakrabarti, Ocasio-Cortez's chief of staff.
"But I'd challenge you to find voters that can name a single thing House Democrats have done for their kitchen table this year," he added. "What is this legislative mastermind doing?"
The public infighting prompted handwringing from some Democrats, while others dismissed it as healthy debate about America's future.
"At least we have the courage to stand up and have the discussion in public," Sue Dvorsky, a former chair of the Iowa Democratic Party, told AFP.
"I'd rather be divided over how fast and far to go covering sick people with insurance than unified behind the cowardice of this constant Republican trope they say in private that they're horrified" by Trump's aggressive remarks, but defend him in public.
When a Democratic nominee eventually emerges, he or she will be uniquely situated to "bring the threads of this conversation together" and go after Trump, she said.
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