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Trump’s Racism Alienates a Growing Voting Bloc

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 09: US President Donald J. Trump (R) participates in the ‘Roads, Rails, and Regulatory Relief roundtable meeting’, beside Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao (L) at the Department of Transportation on June 9, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Michael Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images) (Photographer: Pool/Getty Images North America)

As their only declared presidential candidate holds his first public event of 2023, Republicans need to ask themselves a question: If you’re too afraid to confront Donald Trump on ideological or moral grounds, how about doing it for crass political purposes?

Former Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao this week made one of the strongest denunciations yet of her former boss’s racism — specifically, a series of blatantly racist comments directed at her. Chao had tried ignoring Trump, and urged the media to do so as well. But for whatever reason, Chao decided that she couldn’t stay quiet any longer.

Not only is she correct, but other Republicans should follow her lead. It is not often that the right thing to do is also the politically expedient thing to do — but in this case, given the rising influence of Asian Americans in US politics, it is.

Trump’s cruel rhetoric here is different than his “Kung Flu” references during the early weeks of the pandemic in 2020. Those could perhaps be excused as juvenile (and offensive) attempts at humor at a time when many Americans were looking for some relief from their anxiety. But calling a Taiwanese-American woman “Coco Chow” — name-mocking is, as Chao notes, painfully common for many Asian Americans — crosses a line rarely seen in politics (at least if you don’t count Trump).

It’s also politically stupid. There’s at least anecdotal evidence over the last several elections that Asian Americans are becoming more conservative on crime, education and possibly the economy. In New York state, not only did Asian American voters move significantly rightward during 2022’s gubernatorial election, they also helped Republicans pick up four US House seats. And an Asian American Republican ousted a 36-year incumbent Democrat on the New York City Council. 

In California, defying 2018’s blue wave, two Korean-American Republican women, Michelle Steel and Young Kim, flipped Democratic seats in Orange County — a onetime GOP stronghold that has gone blue in recent years. Steel and Kim retained their seats in 2020 and 2022 and are now members of the Republican majority in the US House.

Meanwhile, Trump’s animus is almost pathological. And Republicans can’t excuse his behavior as just belligerent pettiness stemming from Chao’s resignation after Jan. 6 or the many times Trump was criticized by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Chao’s husband. How else to explain Trump’s odd mocking of Virginia Governor Glen Youngkin’s name: “Sounds Chinese, doesn’t it?” Could the insult have anything to do with Youngkin’s status as a possible 2024 candidate?

On a positive note, this was a rare occurrence when Trump actually got called out publicly by an elected Republican: Former Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, whose wife and children are Korean American, called Trump’s comment racist. 

If Trump continues making racist comments about an Asian American woman who served more than capably in four Republican administrations (including his own) — while other Republicans say not a word in repudiation — well, the Democrats’ 2024 political ads practically write themselves. Especially if Trump is the nominee.

There are at least two ways for Republicans to avoid sabotaging their emerging relationship with the fastest-growing minority group in the country. They can denounce Donald Trump when he goes off on one of his racist rants, as he inevitably will. And they can nominate a presidential candidate who doesn’t have racist baggage.

More From Bloomberg Opinion:

• Trump Takes His Insults to a New Low: Timothy L. O’Brien

• Insulting a Fallen Soldier Is a Bad Look for Trump: Cass Sunstein

• In Praise of Mitch McConnell’s Straight Talk About Jan. 6: The Editors

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This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Robert A. George is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist and member of the editorial board covering government and public policy. Previously, he was a member of the editorial boards of the New York Daily News and New York Post.

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