Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), facing a runoff race against Democratic former congressman Mike Espy, has had multiple embarrassing videos released recently. In one leaked video, she said that if someone “invited me to a public hanging I’d be in the front row.” In another, she declared that “there’s a lot of liberal folks in those other schools who that maybe we don’t want to vote. Maybe we want to make it just a little more difficult. So I think that’s a great idea.”
CNN conservative commentator Amanda Carpenter responded to the first comment this way: “There’s no explanation for it. It’s a racist thing to say. I’m not from the South, but I’m pretty sure joking around about going to a public lynching is not something people say.” She continued, “What she needs to do is tour the new lynching museum that’s down South where they show the horrific things that people went through in her backyard.”
When a former Trump campaign adviser tried defending Hyde-Smith by claiming this was all part of “the outrage culture,” Carpenter countered, “It’s wrong when someone says something so provocative that you blame the people who are offended.” She bluntly declared, “If Republicans want to quit being accused of being racist, they have to stop saying racist things.”
That kind of straight talk and zero tolerance for racism is exceedingly rare among GOP elected officials, candidates and their helpmates in the right-wing media. The usual response is that he or she didn’t mean it, or “What about … ?”
The explanation for why Republicans talk this way and other Republicans don’t object should be obvious: In the Trump era, where white grievance is the prime motivator for turning out the base and resentment of “elites” is what binds voters to President Trump, GOP politicians are loath to repudiate racist rhetoric. Instead they try to harness not only the winks, nods and overt statements of solidarity with the alt-right (including fondness for Confederate statues and emblems) but also the reaction this generates from those whom their base scorns — the media, urban elites and civil rights groups.
Trump spent the last weeks of the campaign hysterically warning about a non-emergency, the progress of a caravan of refugees a thousand miles from our border. Once the election was over, the matter was dropped. Well, to crib from Carpenter, if Republicans want to quit being accused of being “anti-immigrant,” they have to stop saying anti-immigrant things (e.g. calling them “animals,” talking about an infestation, making up a crime wave purportedly caused by immigrants).
Indeed, this formulation should serve as a guidepost for Republicans:
If Republicans want to quit being accused of science denial, they have to stop denying science.
If Republicans want to quit being accused of being protectionist know-nothings, they have to stop saying that trade wars are easy to win, tariffs are good, consumers don’t suffer from tariffs, and the trade deficit means we owe other countries something.
If Republicans want to quit being accused of hypocrisy, they have to stop being hypocrites about the debt (bad only for Democrats), executive power (bad only for Democrats) and corporate cronyism (bad only for Democrats).
If Republicans want to quit being accused of misogyny, they have to stop suggesting that women invent allegations of sexual assault, don’t want to work hard enough to be on the Judiciary Committee and aren’t intelligent.
If Republicans want to quit being accused of being the party of the rich, they have to stop giving big tax cuts to the rich, attacking Medicaid, rubber-stamping a Cabinet of billionaires and tolerating their abuse of travel privileges.
If Republicans want to quit being accused of being doormats for dictators, they have to stop defending Trump when he refuses to confront Russian President Vladimir Putin, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, to name just a few.
If Republicans want to quit being accused of kowtowing to the National Rifle Association, they have to stop blocking every measure the NRA opposes.
If Republicans want to quit being accused of contempt for the free press, they have to stop cheering when Trump calls the media the “enemy of the people,” takes away a reporter’s credentials for failing to be deferential enough and uses the instruments of power to threaten media critics.
In short, Republicans bring criticism on themselves when they talk and act in ways that are factually wrong and morally indefensible. It’s a big reason that voters who care about facts and public morality won’t vote for them.