IT’S THE RACISM, STUPID

DEMOCRATS REPUB­LI­CANS

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The bizarre cir­cus the Grand Old Party (GOP) pres­i­den­tial pri­mary has be­come is not a freak oc­cur­rence. Re­gard­less of the even­tual nom­i­nee, the rise of Don­ald Trump, the as­cent of Ted Cruz and the en­durance of Ben Car­son do not con­tra­dict the tra­jec­tory of the party, but con­firm it. This fact-free, big­oted pop­ulism awash in money and drown­ing in mis­an­thropy may il­lus­trate the GOP at its most brazen, but it’s hardly in any way aber­rant.

In this re­gard, Trump is the party’s most ob­vi­ous emis­sary. His bla­tant xeno­pho­bia emerges from the GOP’s half-cen­tury of race-bait­ing since Richard Nixon’s South­ern strat­egy was first con­ceived. The ini­tial idea was to woo South­ern whites, who were an­gry about the ad­vances of the civil rights move­ment, with coded racial mes­sag­ing that wouldn’t alien­ate the party’s North­ern sup­port­ers. “You have to face the fact that the whole prob­lem is re­ally the blacks,” Nixon once ex­plained to his chief of staff, HR Halde­man. “The key is to de­vise a sys­tem that recog­nises that, while not ap­pear­ing to.” This method was once very ef­fec­tive. Ron­ald Rea­gan launched his 1980 cam­paign at the Neshoba County Fair in Mis­sis­sippi, not far from where three civil rights ac­tivists had been mur­dered in 1964, by talk­ing about states’ rights. Ge­orge HW Bush had his in­fa­mous Wil­lie Hor­ton ad in 1988, while Bush ju­nior spoke at Bob Jones Univer­sity in 2000, where in­ter­ra­cial dat­ing was banned at the time.

But with white peo­ple head­ing to­wards mi­nor­ity sta­tus and be­com­ing a lower per­cent­age of the vot­ing pub­lic, the mes­sage gets cruder – par­tic­u­larly with the pres­ence of a black pres­i­dent. In the 2012 GOP pri­maries, for­mer Penn­syl­va­nia sen­a­tor Rick San­to­rum told a crowd in Iowa: “I don’t want to make black peo­ple’s lives bet­ter by giv­ing them some­body else’s money.” Newt Gin­grich branded Barack Obama the “food-stamp pres­i­dent”.

By the time Trump came on the scene, the party had done away with the dog whis­tle in favour of a po­lice whis­tle – no codes nec­es­sary. The Mex­i­cans are send­ing us “rapists”; the Chi­nese are “cheat­ing”; Amer­ica needs “a to­tal and com­plete shut­down” on Mus­lims com­ing in.

El­e­ments of the Repub­li­can es­tab­lish­ment bris­tled, of course. Back in 2012, Sen­a­tor Lindsey Gra­ham was al­ready warn­ing that when it came to “the de­mo­graph­ics race”, the GOP was “los­ing badly. We’re not gen­er­at­ing enough an­gry white guys to stay in busi­ness for the long term.”

But that was the busi­ness they were in. For a gen­er­a­tion, the party had gal­vanised its base on pre­cisely this kind of mes­sage, only more art­fully put and more plau­si­bly de­nied. So when Trump rails against political cor­rect­ness – which al­ways goes down well on the stump – he’s re­ally call­ing for a re­turn to un­bri­dled hate speech. No won­der he comes first in a crowded pack for those Repub­li­can vot­ers who want a can­di­date who “tells it like it is”.

Trump’s ral­lies are also un­bur­dened by ei­ther ac­tual poli­cies or tan­gi­ble facts. He just says stuff – what­ever comes into his head, it seems – and peo­ple cheer or laugh, but rarely call him on it. Whether it’s true or con­sis­tent doesn’t mat­ter. The fact that Trump was pre­vi­ously pro­choice and pro-sin­gle-payer health­care, or that he’s do­nated money to Hil­lary Clin­ton’s sen­a­to­rial cam­paigns and had the Clin­tons at his wed­ding, is shrugged off. No­body cares that there’s a net flow of Mex­i­cans leav­ing Amer­ica. “We’re gonna build a big, beau­ti­ful wall,” Trump

MARCO RU­BIO JOHN KA­SICH

BERNIE SAN­DERS

HIL­LARY CLIN­TON

DON­ALD TRUMP

JEB BUSH

BEN CAR­SON

TED CRUZ

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