Since the civil rights era, there has not been a president who so many voters so strongly believed was personally racist. This is not a sliver of the left who considers opposition to affirmative action or cuts in domestic spending to be synonymous with “racism” because they harm nonwhites. (That may be the motivation, but there are obviously policy and philosophical reasons having nothing to do with race that would lead a politician to one or both stances.)
These findings raise several issues for voters, the GOP and the media.
First, racism is not merely a problem with voters “Trump wouldn’t win anyway,” as some Trump apologists might say. (This obviously is no moral justification for Trump’s perceived racism.) Even among whites, nearly as many feel he is biased as those who feel he is not. Specifically, this underscores the problem Trump is having with white, suburban women who may once have been willing to give him a shot. “Better-educated whites are more likely to view Trump as biased, with white women with college degrees believing that most strongly.” The number of white, college-educated males who think he is racist has increased 11 points since November. When Trump is turning off white women and white men with college degrees, he’s whittling away his already narrow base.
Think about the married woman in the Northern Virginia suburbs who voted to elect Ralph Northam (D) as governor (especially with Ed Gillespie playing the race card about so-called sanctuary cities) or the college-educated white professional man who generally approves of tax cuts but voted for Doug Jones for Senate in Alabama. Trump’s racism certainly has the capacity to depress GOP turnout (who wants to vote for this crowd?) and to provoke a backlash among white and nonwhite voters alike in the midterm elections.
Second, Republicans who are buying into the “defend Trump at all costs” or the “speak no evil” approach (or “I didn’t hear that word!”) when he utters racist sentiments are playing with fire. Try as they might to distance themselves from Trump on this issue, their uncritical, slavish praise for Trump overall undercuts the notion that Republicans have the spine to stand up to racism. The party of Lincoln, lagging for decades with nonwhite voters, is becoming identified as the party of the racist president. It’s also morally problematic to say, Well I don’t like his racism but I support him for his regulatory policy. What you are really saying in that instance is that racism is no big deal, or such a small deal that Environmental Protection Agency regulations are a weightier concern. The degree to which Republicans would tolerate a racist president or see his racism as relatively unimportant will be seen by many Americans as enabling racism.
Third, there has been much discussion about whether the media should label Trump’s utterances as “racist” or to call Trump — even with his long history of racist conduct and rhetoric — a “racist.” The rules for my colleagues on the news side may be (rightly so) different than for opinion writers or pundits. But with such large numbers of American seeing Trump as racist, the effort to dance around the term (with phrasing like “statements some people regard as racially insensitive”) is becoming a little silly. When the president says he wants less people from “shithole” African countries and more from white Norway, the press should call that what it is: racist. And a person with a long history of saying racist things can, we think, properly and fairly be called a racist. And there are plenty of Americans who agree.
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