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U.S. President Donald Trump’s best hope for re-election involves putting a spell on the Democratic Party. It’s a long shot, but it’s already working. Many of his opponents are completely ensorcelled.

One of Mr. Trump’s marketing superpowers is to make himself not just the centre of attention, but the hub of debate. He grinds the organ and his critics come running to dance to his tune.

For Democrats to beat him, they’ve got to come up with their own score, rather than simply sampling whatever he’s dropping and then playing it back in reverse. To oppose is to be more than an antonym.

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Consider what happened in late July after the President fired a tweetstorm at Congressman Elijah Cummings, the Democrat who represents Maryland’s 7th district, which includes much of the city of Baltimore.

Mr. Trump said that Mr. Cummings should stop criticizing him because his district is “the worst run and most dangerous” in the country, a “rat and rodent infested mess,” and “no human being would want to live there.”

Mr. Cummings is African-American, as is much of his constituency. Yes, Mr. Trump was race-baiting, again. But the fish took the bait, again. It’s like Democrats can’t help themselves.

For several days, much of Mr. Trump’s opposition devoted itself to wallowing in the pleasure of calling Mr. Trump a racist and defending the honour of Baltimore.

The problem is that Baltimore is, in fact, one of America’s worst run and most dangerous cities.

The city’s murder rate is 28 times higher than Canada’s. The murder rate is higher than in Honduras and it’s double the death toll in Guatemala; both countries are sending waves of refugees to the United States because of the violence. Democratic politicians, from former President Barack Obama to presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, have long decried these facts; several years ago Mr. Sanders said that anyone who visited the area “would think that you were in a Third World country.”

None of that is the fault of the people of Baltimore. They’re the victims here. And Mr. Trump isn’t interested in helping; that’s not how this leader of the free world rolls. He’s just using them as election chum. He’s fishing for votes with resentments, rather than ideas and solutions.

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And Mr. Trump’s strategy just might work – unless Democrats get real and stop salivating every time President Pavlov opens his latest can of offensiveness. As Pete Buttigieg, one of the Democratic hopefuls for the presidency recently put it, his party has to “name and confront everything [Mr. Trump] does wrong, but then immediately go back to talking about the impact we’ll have on voters’ lives. That’s what gives different voters a stake in this election and also, by the way, unifies voters who have been divided by this White House’s masterful practice of white identity politics.”

When Democrats spend their time talking about their feelings about Mr. Trump’s latest tweet – one-upping one another in calibrating precisely how offended they felt – they’re drinking Trump-flavoured Kool-Aid. When Democrats are talking about what they’ll do to make life better for Americans, they’re turning to voters and their problems.

And one key group they have to talk to is swing voters who swung to Mr. Trump in 2016. That’s not who most of the Democratic contenders for the party’s presidential nomination want to talk to, nor is it what the party’s increasingly woke base wants to talk about.

But the U.S. electoral system makes it hard to win the White House, and even harder to get legislation passed, unless you can appeal to a broad array of voters, including some who are open to voting for Mr. Trump.

Mr. Buttigieg is the mayor of South Bend, Ind. – a state Mr. Trump won by 19 percentage points. But Indiana is also a place Mr. Obama won in 2008. It’s one of a group of states in the Midwest that will decide the next occupant of the White House. Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa all voted for Mr. Obama in 2012, then narrowly switched to Mr. Trump in 2016.

Those swing states, and the swing voters in them, are who the Democrats must win over. Mr. Trump may be willing to blow every racist dog whistle he can dig out of the basement, but Democrats can’t just blow back. They’ve got to offer something better, and something more.

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