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Steve Bannon has a point: Charges of racism might not bring down Trump

White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon appears unfazed by accusations that the president he serves is racist — or, at least, far too tolerant of racists. In fact, Bannon welcomes such charges as harbingers of victory.

“This past election, the Democrats used every personal attack, including charges of racism, against President Trump,” Bannon wrote in an email to The Washington Post on Thursday. “He then won a landslide victory on a straightforward platform of economic nationalism. As long as the Democrats fail to understand this, they will continue to lose.”

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Bannon's words echoed what he said two days earlier in an interview with the American Prospect.

“The Democrats: The longer they talk about identity politics, I got ’em,” he told journalist Robert Kuttner. “I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.”

A liberal writer got an unexpected interview with Bannon on Aug. 15. (Video: Peter Stevenson/The Washington Post)

Bannon has a point. Evidence from the last election suggests that concerns about Trump's views on race are not enough to bring him down.

For one thing, a vast majority of Republican voters rejected the notion that Trump is racist or makes overtures to racists. In a Suffolk University poll published in September, 87 percent of Trump supporters said he is not racist. In a Quinnipiac University poll conducted around the same time, 65 percent of Republicans disagreed with the premise that “the way Donald Trump talks appeals to bigotry.”

“Don't vote for the racist candidate” is not a very effective pitch if the candidate's target voters believe he isn't racist.

Then consider this: In the Suffolk poll, seven percent of Trump supporters said they do think he is racist. And in the Quinnipiac poll, at least 13 percent of Republicans said that Trump does appeal to bigotry but that they would vote for him, anyway.

The survey results indicate that even if it is possible to convince the president's fans that he abides prejudice or harbors bigoted beliefs of his own, some will nevertheless stand by him. Racism isn't necessarily a dealbreaker.

Responding to Bannon's American Prospect interview, CNN commentator and Democratic strategist Van Jones agreed Wednesday that focusing on identity politics might not be a winning strategy for his party.

“Listen, I think that this is something that liberals and Democrats should take very, very seriously,” Jones said. “There's a way that we can sometimes get tricked into drawing our circle too small, both in terms of constituency and concern, so we're only concerned about groups that have been historically marginalized because of race or religion or gender or sexuality, and we sometimes seem like we're crouching down over a broken status quo, only concerned about those folks.

“We're passionately concerned about those folks, but we're also concerned about the people who are newly marginalized in this economy, including white male workers. If we're not clear about that and a jobs agenda for everybody, we are setting ourselves up for round two of what happened in 2016.”

Bannon, of course, is hoping for round two. Far from being discouraged by a week of criticism aimed at Trump, Bannon seems encouraged that a second round is increasingly likely.

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