President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr moved again Monday to stir fear among voters who live in suburbs and exurbs. They put the phrase "anarchist jurisdiction" on some official pieces of paper as a label for places that elect Democrats.
That may well be as far as the phrase goes in the real world.
Formally the White House is singling out state and local governments supposedly so paralyzed by urban sedition that they should no longer get certain federal assistance. To nobody's surprise, the fickle finger was pointed at New York City, Portland, Oregon, and Seattle, all of which are in states Trump appears unlikely to win in November.
New York Attorney General Letitia James called the designations "illegal" and "pathetic." Perhaps. But they did serve the purpose of getting news sites to immediately reuse photos of arson and chaos from police-brutality protests that attracted rioters over the summer.
In that sense, it was the Trump news cycle's mission accomplished. Government results or the lack of them always seems beside the point.
Remember all the talk about defunding "sanctuary cities" and how Trump was "considering" an initiative to send migrants arrested at the border to these Democratic Party strongholds? Or his talk of defunding federal agency operations until Congress coughed up border wall funding?
Trump threatens boycotts and defunding as much as the left does, with equally thin results.
None of these gyrations offer Trump the easy, coveted photo opportunities he will enjoy in nominating a successor to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died Friday. Regardless of when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell chooses to follow up with a confirmation vote, the president will have the free buzz he wants with none of the work.
He says he will announce his nominee for successor late this week. That will give him the chance to set up a drumroll. Will it be Amy Coney Barrett, who's widely considered likely, or Barbara Lagoa? Both are federal appeals court judges. Or will it be someone else? Stay tuned.
The reality-show president will love controlling the temporary suspense. And with the promise of a female pick, he won't have to worry about the kind of #MeToo movement backlash that ensnared Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Even his first public reaction to Ginsburg's death had a bit of show-biz stagecraft unrelated to the seriousness of the issues involved. After getting offstage at a rally in Minnesota, Trump huddled with aides. He then approached news media and acted surprised when told of the judge's death, The Associated Press reported.
"You are telling me now for the first time," Trump told reporters. "She led an amazing life. What else can you say? Whether you agreed or not, she was an amazing woman."
All this gives Trump a story to crow about in the final stretch to Election Day. Voter impact is anyone's guess. Will the selection of a conservative judge, who could finally tip a decision against Roe v. Wade and help kill Obamacare, energize Democrats or Republicans?
That's part of the larger issue of which voters will turn out, or mail in, and where. Polls suggest the die already may be cast with any shift in support likely to be limited.
But motivation remains important in specific battle zones. That’s where photo ops come in, drawing attention away from a pandemic that has killed about 200,000 Americans.