Posted on June 11, 2016 in Washington Watch
by James J. Zogby
Recent Trump outrages have thrown the GOP establishment into a tizzy. Reactions have been varied, ranging from a few brave souls who have denounced their nominee's bigotry to those who continue to hope against hope that Trump will begin to behave more "presidential". Ignored in all of this are two important realities: Trump is Trump; and his message and movement are the handiwork of the very establishment that is now rejecting their creations.
Trump's xenophobic, male chauvinist, and bigoted bullying campaign rhetoric is not an act. It is who he is and it what the constituency that has propelled his candidacy wants him to be. While this simple truth has been self-evident throughout the campaign, the establishment has been in denial, unwilling or unable to confront reality. With every display of brutish behavior, they pronounced Trump fatally wounded—only to discover that his appalling and dangerous attacks on Mexicans, women, Muslims, people with disabilities, news reporters, and incitements to violence against demonstrators—caused his poll numbers to rise.
Party leaders shouldn't have been surprised, since it was they who set the table for "The Donald". For decades, the GOP has preyed off the fears of white voters who are in economic distress. Since the days of Richard Nixon, they have used subtle and not so subtle racial messages to win support. Whether the targets were "welfare queens", "Willie Horton", or resentment over "affirmative action"—the appeal was the same: "they are a threat to you" and "they are privileged and are taking from you".
With the election of Barack Obama, in the midst of the most severe economic crisis since the Depression, this effort swung into high gear with the Tea Party and "birther" movements. New targets were added—Mexicans ("illegals" and "drugs") and Muslims ("terrorists" and "an existential threat to our way of life").
In each instance, the GOP fed the beast. They funded, helped to organize, and used the Tea Party to win elections, and with "a wink and a nod" they let the "birthers" fester in effort to deligitimize the president. They encouraged and celebrated vigilante actions against "illegals" and callously exploited the fear of Muslims with trumped-up campaigns against Sharia law and TV ads in congressional races charging Democrats with being "soft on Muslims".
All of this created a constituency which Trump, the entertainer, understood and toward whom he directed his campaign. He is but the latest in a long line of demagogues to tap into resentment and fear—following in the footsteps of Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, and Michele Bachmann.
The hope of the Republican Party establishment that Trump would become a more "respectable" candidate has been, in part, disingenuous. If he were not the nominee, they would be thrilled to have him campaigning for GOP candidate. But as the standard bearer, he is an embarrassment.
His racist attack on the judge who is hearing the case against the so-called "Trump University" has left party leaders flailing about. In an effort to distance themselves from his behavior, they have expressed everything from disappointment to disgust. Last weekend, Trump compounded his bigotry by noting that not only did he feel that a judge of Mexican descent couldn't give him a fair trial (because Trump was planning to build a wall between Mexico and the US); he also felt he couldn't trust a Muslim American judge (because he had called for a ban on Muslim immigrants to the US).
While I do not have polling data on Mexican Americans, I did conduct a survey of US voters a few months ago that demonstrates the sad reality that is behind Trump's calculations. American voters were asked "If a Muslim American were to attain an important position of influence in the government, would you feel confident that person would be able to do the job, or would you feel that their religion would influence their decision-making?"
A plurality of voters (46%) said they felt that Muslims would be unduly influenced by their religion. More telling: while a plurality of Democrats (47%) were confident that a Muslim American could do the job, 63% of Republicans said a Muslim couldn't be trusted—including a whopping 75% of voters who said they were Trump supporters.
The bottom line is that Trump didn't create this mindset or this constituency. It was created for him and he is merely playing to the crowd. Instead of hand-wringing, the party leaders who for years have encouraged this phenomenon need to accept their responsibility. It didn't just happen, and Trump didn't will it into being. The fear and/or resentment of Mexicans/Muslims/blacks/strong women/etc has long been cultivated and has now given birth to its evil fruit.
I warned that this beast would turn on its creators, and now it has. Whining or expressions of disappointment won't make it go away. Decisive action just might. Republicans should repudiate bigotry and demonstrate resolve by listening to those courageous voices who are calling on them to "Dump Trump" and undo the damage they have done to their party and to our country.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the position of the Arab American Institute. The Arab American Institute is a non-profit, nonpartisan national leadership organization that does not endorse candidates.