New GOP panic about Trump’s racism reveals an ugly truth


PHOTO/© Alex Brandon/AP

Credulous pundits told us for days that President Trump’s racist attacks on nonwhite lawmakers were brilliant politics, but Republicans disagree: They are widely warning Trump that presiding over a rally chant of “send her back,” directed at a nonwhite lawmaker, is putting the party at serious political risk.

Trump pretended to disavow the chant on Thursday, claiming he didn’t approve even though video contradicts this, and we are now learning from the New York Times that he came under intense private pressure to do so, including from Vice President Pence and Ivanka Trump.

Yet even as many Republicans profess discomfort with Trump’s display, here’s what else is happening: Trump is effectively trying to end asylum seeking at the southern border, and Politico now reports that the administration is seriously mulling an effort to slash refugee admissions to near-zero.

Generally speaking, Republicans are unlikely to be troubled by these things.

These things are not necessarily contradictory. It’s theoretically possible to support dramatic asylum and refugee cuts for reasons not rooted in the white nationalism driving Trump’s attacks on Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and the other lawmakers, all racial, ethnic, or religious minorities.

But it’s now inarguable that Trump’s overall immigration agenda is shaped around the broader goal of preventing as many people as possible from getting asylum and refugee status here even if they qualify for it on the merits.

Given the totality of what we’ve seen, it’s also inarguable that underlying that is the goal of dramatically reducing the number of immigrants admitted to this country. And as Trump’s own rhetoric has repeatedly confirmed, this is inescapably about reducing the number of nonwhite immigrants here.

You can locate a zone of plausible deniability, in which one can claim support for such policies on pragmatic, economic, or “cultural” grounds, and not out of any desire to make America whiter. It’s precisely this zone that Republicans now seek to inhabit.

That’s why the GOP panic about the “send her back” chant is significant. It shines a floodlight into this zone, and reveals why it’s so hard to credibly inhabit it.

Why “send her back” is a breaking point

What is it about “send her back” that suddenly crossed a line? Consider the timeline:

  • Trump tweets that the lawmakers should “go back” to their countries, characterizing them as corrupt hellholes (echoing his “s—-hole countries” comment), even though three were born here. That elicits only a bit of discomfort from Republicans.
  • Trump then says, “if you hate our country, if you’re not happy here, you can leave.” Trump then  repeats this: “YOU CAN LEAVE!” Republicans defend this framing, piously pretending it has no racial dimension, even though it was directed only at minority lawmakers.
  • Trump presides over the “send her back” chant. After criticism erupts, including among some Republicans, Trump pretends to “disagree” with it.

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