IT’S THE RACISM, STUPID
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