Democrats on Monday made their case that President Trump is a racist directly to the national NAACP convention in Detroit, urging the country’s preeminent civil rights organization to marshal the black vote to oust him in 2020.
Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, one of the four far-left congresswomen known as “The Squad,” took a defiant stand against Mr. Trump’s call for the foursome to “go back” to the places from which they came.
“Yeah, I’m not going nowhere — not until I impeach this president,” she said to cheers at the 110th annual convention of the nation’s oldest civil rights organization.
“The Squad is all of you,” said Ms. Tlaib, who represents a Detroit-area district.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, Michigan Democrat, said in a speech to the civil rights activists that Mr. Trump led the Ku Klux Klan out of the shadows and into the public square.
“This is a critical moment in our history. The leadership of NAACP is needed as we see the poison of racism,” she said. “Donald Trump has given permission to people who used to stand in sheets in the middle of the night to stand in the light in front of the microphones. This is wrong.”
Democrats’ cries of racism have reached a fever pitch since Mr. Trump tweeted “go back” and supporters at his rally in North Carolina last week chanted “send her back” about Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Somali-born “Squad” member.
Mr. Trump later disavowed the chant, but he was adamant that the four House members, who are all women of color, hate America and Israel and should leave the country if they don’t love it.
Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton made charges of racism a cornerstone of her 2016 presidential campaign against Mr. Trump, and Democrats appear determined to do it again. The racism message is expected to echo across the NAACP convention when the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates take the stage Wednesday.
“It will be malpractice for any candidate not to highlight it, particularly in front of this audience,” said Antjuan Seawright, a Democratic strategist in South Carolina.
He said the NAACP presidential forum will be a must-watch for voters in South Carolina, home to the first primary in the South and a key test of black support for the Democratic hopefuls.
The top contenders — former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont — will be among those courting the black primary voters at the NAACP forum.
“To go to the NAACP convention and put this message before the country is exactly what they have to do. This is not a moment for political timidity or civic timidity,” former NAACP President Cornell Williams Brooks said on MSNBC.
He applauded Ms. Tlaib for rallying the convention against Mr. Trump and said she was speaking to “the folks who are in the crosshairs of the president’s racism.”
Mr. Brooks said the president had made racist appeals with an eye on the 2020 election and that Democrats were obligated to confront him.
“If we ignore the president’s racism, we literally put him on the same moral plane as anyone else who is running for the presidency who is not engaged in this xenophobia, anti-Semitism and this racism. Remember, this is the same president who offered up an apology, if you will, for white supremacists in Charlottesville,” he said.
On the NAACP stage, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, didn’t name Mr. Trump but used quotes from Thomas Paine and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to describe the urgency of the times.
“In the dark days of the Revolution, Thomas Paine said the times have found us. We do not place ourselves in the category of our Founders, but we know the urgency of the times,” she said. “The times have found all of us to make the difference our country is crying out for.”
The Democratic candidates also have traded racism jabs with one another.
Ms. Harris gained momentum for her run after confronting Mr. Biden at the Miami debate in June about his opposition to busing to desegregate public schools in the 1970s. The exchange, which displayed Ms. Harris’ skills as a former prosecutor and California attorney general, catapulted her into the top tier of candidates in the race.
Mr. Biden weathered the criticism and maintained his front-runner position, though his poll leads have narrowed.
Sen. Cory A. Booker of New Jersey has criticized Mr. Biden repeatedly for his leading role as a senator in passing the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which has been blamed for contributing to mass incarceration that hits blacks heavily.
The issue so far has failed to gain traction for Mr. Booker, who is mired in the low single digits in polls.
The NAACP convention offers an opportunity for Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, to improve his weak standing with black voters. He has been criticized for race relations in his city and a recent fatal police shooting of a black man.