Donald Trump is gearing up to take advantage of a powerful new weapon in his fight against the Democrats, both now and in the 2020 election.
The President’s rivals are embracing an increasingly left-wing agenda, spurred by the tranche of young progressives making waves in Congress.
When Mr Trump attacked socialism during his State of the Union speech, many Democrats remained seated and silent. “America was founded on liberty and independence — not government coercion, domination and control,” he said. “We are born free, and we will stay free. Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.”
It looks set to be a major campaign issue in his battle for re-election, and Democrats are taking a big risk by leaning in to the S-word. It will force a divided United States to choose between two sides of politics that are more polarised than ever, in a dramatic reckoning over how the nation sees itself.
Republicans are gearing up for a concerted attack on the ambitious “Green New Deal” unveiled on Thursday by a group of progressive Democrats, which aims to tackle climate change and guarantee a living wage for all Americans.
The proposal — introduced by rising star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — aims to reduce emissions to net-zero in 10 years, provide universal health care, guarantee jobs for all with sick leave and paid holiday, and ensure retirement security.
The sweeping proposal is co-sponsored by Democratic presidential 2020 candidates Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand and Elizabeth Warren, as well as possible contenders Amy Klobuchar and Bernie Sanders.
Critics including Bloomberg’s Noah Smith warned that the deal included “enormous new entitlements paid for by unlimited deficit spending” — estimating it could cost $US6.6 trillion ($A9.3 trillion) a year.
Republicans are thrilled by their opponents’ shift to the left, and see it as a major boon for Mr Trump’s re-election chances, according to Axios.
GOP strategist and former White House official Andy Surabian told the websitehis party would argue that middle-class and low-income Americans would shoulder the burden of the plan. “The only people who can afford to be environmentalists are billionaires,” he said. “Every Republican in the country should get on their hands and knees and thank Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.”
Marty Obst, senior political adviser to Vice President Mike Pence, added: “While the President and Vice President support the Venezuelan people’s struggle for freedom, the Democratic Party continues its lurch toward socialism.”
The Republican National Committee slammed it as a “socialist wish list” with massive costs, while GOP senator John Barrasso attacked it as a “socialist manifesto that lays out a laundry list of government giveaways.”
Mr Barrasso, chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said the deal “would be a raw deal for American families as the cost of energy skyrockets under their leftist plan.”
The proposal is set to be the linchpin for a furious battle in a Congress that only continues to move apart, despite Mr Trump’s SOTU calls for unity and bipartisanship.
Democrats hope Americans disillusioned with Mr Trump’s policies of tax cuts that benefit the rich, easing regulations on the fossil fuel industry and pulling out of the Paris agreement on climate change will be energised by the Green New Deal.
A December Wall Street Journal/NBC News national poll showed that 66 per cent of Americans believe that action is needed to address climate change, with 45 per cent calling for immediate action.