Over the last three years, Republican politicians have learned. But what they have learned is that no matter what ugly, insulting, or downright evil thought Donald Trump shoves onto the national stage, it will not be too much for his followers. Because ugly, insulting, and downright evil is what his supporters want from Trump. What the alt-right calls “not being politically correct” and everyone throughout the rest of history knew simply as “being an ignorant, mean-spirited son of a bitch,” is the core of Trump’s support.
What Republicans have learned is that when Trump attacks an ally, demeans a respected official, or simply spews his own thick mix of hate-lies, they should just mumble, dissemble, and generally sit on their hands … until whatever new subbasement in hell Trump has uncovered becomes not merely acceptable, but the new “standard” for American political discourse, and the new truth for the Republican Party. And that has never been more clear than in the last few days.
Following Donald Trump’s explicit, direct, and inexcusable racist statements aimed at a group of progressive congresswomen, a few Republicans initially raised limp “I wouldn’t say it like that” flags of wincing disagreement. But by far the majority of Republicans followed one of two paths—staying silent, or explaining why Trump was right to claim that disagreeing with him while brown was sufficient cause for exile.
And there’s something here for everyone to learn: Trump’s racism hasn’t just become worse since he moved into the White House; it’s become more acceptable at every level of the GOP. Just ask Ivanka. When her father called Nazi marchers at Charlottesville “good people,” the spa magnate issued a statement that there was “no place in society for racism, white supremacy and neo-nazis.” But this week, Ivana Trump Jr. has not just failed to tweet about her father’s racist hate-mongering; she has also declined to comment when asked.
That blatant racism isn’t just something that Trump feels more free to spread. It’s something that other Republicans now feel free to ignore, or to outright endorse.
As The New York Times reports, Trump has carefully weeded out any morality in the White House. What remains is those who follow the lead of would-be Bond villain Steven Mnuchin in claiming, “I do not find them racist,” and those who, like Rudy Giuliani, claim that Trump is right to want to toss democratically elected congresswomen back to … wherever, because they “attack America.”
However, there does remain a comic chorus in the White House claiming that Trump can’t possibly be racist. As evidence, Mike Pence’s chief of staff pointed out that Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao is Asian. So clearly this isn’t about race. “So when people write the president has racist motives here,” said Short, “look at the reality of who is actually serving in Donald Trump’s Cabinet.”
Sure. Let’s look. Trump’s cabinet contains one black man, Ben Carson, and one Asian woman, Elaine Chao. It also contains two white women, Gina Haspel and Betsy DeVos. Other than that, Trump’s cabinet consists entirely of white men—making it the whitest and most male cabinet in decades.
“This is not a universal statement that he’s making,” said Short. “He’s making it about an individual member of Congress.” Except Trump didn’t make it about an individual; he made it about a group. And if anyone missed the color of the women in that group, Trump made the point explicit by declaring that they should “go back” to wherever it is Trump believes they originated. Some shithole countries, no doubt.
The silence, acceptance, or outright support of Trump’s blatant racism didn’t stop at the White House. It’s on its way to being the baseline for the Republican Congress. As The Washington Post reports, those responses included excusing Trump’s statement by simply denying that he said what he said, as did Republican Rep. Andy Harris, who declared that Trump “could have meant go back to the district where they came from.” That statement complemented that of campaign director Matt Wolking, whose “Anyone who says the president told members of Congress to go back to where they came from is lying” is a mini-master class in refusing to see what Trump put on the screen in black and all-too-white.
Many Republicans followed Mitt Romney in his long-held position of being utterly spineless on every issue. But Romney didn’t just fail to rebuke Trump for his racism—this time he joined in, declaring that it was the fault of the congresswomen that Trump attacked them. “I certainly feel a number of these new members of Congress have views that are not consistent with my experience and not consistent with building a strong America,” said Romney.
And of course, whenever Trump digs a new basement, Sen. Lindsey Graham can be counted on to furnish it with slime. When Trump was running for office, Graham accused him of using “race-baiting” and employing “xenophobic” language to generate hate. But this week Graham ran straight to Fox & Friends so he could be front and center on Trump’s screen as he claimed, “We all know that AOC and this crowd are a bunch of communists. They hate Israel. They hate our own country. They’re calling the guards along our border — Border Patrol agents — concentration camp guards. They accuse people who support Israel of doing it for the Benjamins. They’re anti-Semitic. They’re anti-America.”
Donald Trump found his Roy Cohn in William Barr. With Lindsey Graham, he has his new Joe McCarthy.
What Republicans have learned over the last three years is what Trump knew all along: Racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and plain old hate sell. And they’re all becoming his salesmen.