As much as Republicans rail against the notion of identity politics, the party has centered itself squarely on white identity in recent years, culminating with a president leading the GOP to white nationalism as its ideological core.
Where previous Republican presidents merely hinted at this racial divide — think Ronald Reagan and his “welfare queen” — President Donald Trump is saying the quiet parts out loud with increasing frequency.
The Washington Post’s Michael Scherer offered a thoughtful analysis on Monday, concluding Trump has shown that his “reelection campaign will feature the same explosive mix of white grievance and anti-immigrant nativism that helped elect him.”
And virtually none in the GOP is prepared to publicly contradict the president or meaningfully challenge his racist rhetoric.
This was made all too clear in the days following Trump’s tweet telling four U.S. congresswomen of color they should “go back” to their “broken and crime infested” ancestral countries.
As House Democrats sought to censure the president with a resolution condemning his tweets as racist, just four Republicans hopped on board, with the other 187 choosing silence over a moral right.
Trump has only doubled down on his original tweets, telling reporters, “It doesn’t concern me because many people agree with me,” when asked if he was troubled that white nationalists are championing his words.
But none of this is new, Scherer noted, as it became obvious quite early in the 2016 presidential race that Trump would play on the insecurities, fears, and biases of white americans in attempting to gain the White House.
“At the core of the strategy is Trump’s consistent drumbeat of equating the white European immigrant experience with the American ideal,” Scherer wrote, “setting those on his side of the divide against the politically correct elites, outsiders, immigrants or nonwhites who he implies are unfairly threatening what is good about the country.”
And Trump appears convinced he can ride this white American angst into 2020, telling TIME last month, “I think my base is so strong, I’m not sure that I have to do that.”
Maybe he is right. Perhaps his shocking victory in 2016 will play out again next year, as in the time since Trump took office, the Republican Party has only grown more complacent in the face of his blatant racism — among his many other deplorable character traits.
Most likely to subscribe to the president’s racial rhetoric are non-college-educated whites, a group that continues to support Trump in large numbers, driven in part by a fear of losing the majority as America’s population inches toward a non-white majority.
Scherer noted a 2018 Pew Research Center poll that found 46 percent of white Americans believe “having a majority nonwhite nation in 2050 would ‘weaken American customs and values,’ compared with 18 percent of black Americans and 25 percent of Hispanics.”
Only 13 percent of Republicans believed that having “a majority nonwhite population would strengthen American customs and values.”
Notably, Republican politicians are loath to say or do anything in public that would threaten the support of their white-identity-driven supporters. Following Trump’s tweet telling U.S. lawmakers they should not tell “the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run,” GOP members of Congress were weak if not silent on the overt racism.
“Sen. Susan Collins (Maine) called the message ‘way over the line,’” Scherer noted. “Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) requested ‘a higher standard of decorum and decency’ and Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (Pa.) said the citizenship of the four members of Congress is ‘as valid as mine.’”
Republican Sen. Tim Scott (SC) — the party’s only black senator — came the closest to calling Trump’s comments racist, saying the tweet was “racially offensive.”
And that is where the Republican Party stands today, grovelling at the feet of a racist president for whom there is absolutely no low.