SOUTH BEND – They took the bait. Just as President Trump knew they would. Just as he made it almost impossible for them not to snap back, snap at the bait. Just as he planned.

So, there they were on television, all four of them, the ultra-progressive Democratic congresswomen who stir controversy in their own party caucus. There they were with saturation coverage for days, appearing as the face of the Democratic Party.

And right after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had somewhat successfully pushed them farther from the spotlight, portraying them as rogue rather than representative of the Democratic House caucus. Pelosi did so out of concern that their strident calls for impeachment and insistence on pushing for what now is politically impossible could endanger chances of Democrats retaining control of the House.

Trump baited a Twitter trap, insulting the four congresswomen of color and telling them to “go back” to the “totally broken and crime infested” countries “from which they came.”

He clearly was targeting Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. All are American citizens. Three were born in this country and the other came here as a child.

While there was nothing funny about the president’s racist attack, it was humorous to hear some talking heads on news channels questioning the next morning whether the president would take back the outrageous comments or address it at all with the news media at the White House later that day.

Take back anything? Of course not. Never.

Address it at the White House? Of course. And he doubled down on his attack, saying they hate America and are dangerous socialists, maybe communists.

He goaded them into responding. They had to.

At their news conference live on television, the congresswomen deplored the president’s racist ways that go beyond the attacks on them. They avoided scary “socialist” rhetoric that the president no doubt hoped they would spiel. But two did take the bait to call for impeaching the president, a call he welcomes as a sign to his supporters that Democrats are scheming to overturn the 2016 election before awaiting a new election.

The president knew exactly what he was doing. Same tactics he used to win the presidency. Same tactics he has used throughout his presidency.

He says the outrageous to draw attention. Often it’s to distract from some of his administration’s problems and failures, usually it’s to provide red meat for his base. Frequently it’s to bait outraged critics to respond in ways that he wants.

Some analysts are saying that Trump made a mistake this time, bringing Democrats together just when there were signs of friction between the speaker and the outspoken progressives.

Sure, all the House Democrats were unified in deploring the racist attack on the progressive congresswomen. But that doesn’t mean future agreement on whether to seek impeachment now and to push for changes that cannot come until after the next election.

And the president was successful in getting the four congresswomen to appear as the face of the Democratic Party. Many Democrats looked proudly at the four congresswomen as proof of the diversity of the party.

The Trump base didn’t look fondly at that diversity. And all the allegations that the four are scary socialists – or “a bunch of communists,” as Sen. Lindsey Graham said – is what Trump wants to spread beyond his base to others, especially in the key Middle America states where the election will be decided.

The president knows he isn’t widely popular. But if he can again convince enough voters that the Democratic nominee is even scarier than he is, he can win reelection. That’s why he put out the bait to get the face of the Democratic Party pictured just the way he wants it.  

Colwell has covered Indiana politics for the South Bend Tribune over the last five decades.