*The following is an opinion column by R Muse*
A very interesting thing happened after Hillary Clinton delivered a scathing speech on Donald Trump as a racist and it defies the concept of political party members being team players. In any other team scenario, whether it’s a street gang type ‘team or a sports team, standard procedure dictates rushing to defend a team member under attack or at the very least launching a vengeful assault on whoever dared attack a cohort. After Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton identified precisely why Donald Trump is a racist, including a brief historical revisiting of the Donald’s racist bona fides, one expected the Republicans to protect the party’s standard bearer or at least launch a fierce counterattack against Clinton.
Over at Think Progress, Judd Legum highlighted the “most important reaction to Hillary Clinton’s speech on Trump’s racism” and rightly noted it was “the sound of silence” from leading and minor Republicans alike. Even though it would be futile, or at least trying, for a Republican to claim Trump is not a racist, it seems that at least one or two Republican leaders would have attacked Clinton ferociously or as Mr. Legum noted, demand that Clinton issue an immediate apology. Instead, there was dead silence from Republicans.
At the Washington Post, Philip Bump listed the “leading Republicans who rushed to defend Donald Trump on race,” and put a big “blank” space where the list should have been. In Mr. Bump’s piece was a list of leading Republicans’ social media activity after the Clinton speech and noted that not one of them remotely defended Trump or attacked Clinton. Instead they talked about inane topics and avoided addressing the presidential race whatsoever. In fact, both House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s offices were queried about their response to Hillary’s speech and each claimed they didn’t see or hear the speech. That sounds like a giant load of bovine excrement going into a general election, but it’s not a surprise because bovine excrement is all the Republican Party has in its arsenal with Donald Trump as leader.
Conventional wisdom would dictate that the reason Republicans kept quiet and did not attack Clinton or defend Trump is because they know they would alienate all of Trump’s racist supporters they will need to maintain their majorities in Congress; that conventional wisdom is not misplaced. It is also likely that Republicans believed that because Americans have extremely short attention spans that by making no response no-one would pay much attention to anything Clinton said about Trump’s racial animus toward non-Aryans, and that is a fair assessment as well. However, it is likely that self-preservation and a desperate attempt to avoid being dragged into Trump’s racist cesspool is what drove the GOP silence and it is something Democrats should seize upon, and not just on the issue of race and bigotry.
There is no doubt that Donald Trump is a typical establishment Republican except for his inability to rein in his blatant racism and bigotry. Although without that shameless racism and bigotry Trump wouldn’t be the nominee because those are fundamental features of the Republican movement the establishment has carefully cultivated for the past three decades. It’s why Republicans hoped their silence would let the issue fade quickly and why Democrats cannot let Republicans off the hook, or as Rick Perlstein at the Washington Examiner put it; “Don’t save the speaker – let him go down with the Trump ship.” Perlstein’s point was prescient and not just because he echoes a refrain this column has made for months; Trump typifies Republicans at every turn. And, “When your opponent is drowning, the old saying goes, throw him an anvil;” failing to tie Republicans to Trump is tantamount to “throwing Republicans a life raft” and it is beyond belief very few Democrats are helping sink Republicans by tying them directly to everything their standard bearer Donald Trump believes in and proposes, especially when it is such an easy link to make.
In case there’s any dispute that Trump’s talking points and agendas are not typically Republican, think back to 2010 when one-time immigration reform advocate, and relatively sane human being, Senator John McCain was running for re-election; that was the year he back-peddled on the immigration issue and embraced the nativist teabagger position. There has been a fair number of insults thrown at Trump for calling for a wall along the Southern border with Mexico, or for demonizing immigrants as if it is unique to the Donald. But while Trump was hosting a reality television program in 2010, Senator John McCain completely reversed his immigration position and said, “Build the dang wall” in campaign ads in Arizona. Trump didn’t invent the idea of a big beautiful wall, establishment and fringe Republicans did long before any American believed Donald Trump would be in a legitimate race for the White House.
After Trump’s “minority outreach” speeches to whites-only audiences drew criticism for insulting African Americans as lazy and stupid and satisfied being so, Republicans were quiet although people of color were incensed at the vile affront to an entire segment of the population. However, it was only two years ago that former vice-presidential candidate and current House Speaker Paul Ryan devised some barbaric plans to abolish anti-poverty programs and portrayed inner-city African Americans as stupid, inherently lazy and content being so. It was a similar portrayal that his 2012 running mate Willard Romney made two years earlier and three-and-a-half years before Trump announced his candidacy. Republicans have been demonizing people of color non-stop since the Reagan era and Donald Trump is just reaping the benefits of all their racially-motivated hard work.
It really doesn’t matter if it’s tax policy, jobs, national security, abolishing Social Security and Medicare, building a Southern wall, demeaning people of color or extreme nationalism; Donald Trump and Republicans are in the same boat and steering toward the same destination. It may be true that establishment Republicans are better at couching their racism and bigotry in public than Donald Trump, but they are of the same mind and Democrats have to tie every national, state, and local Republican candidate to Donald Trump and conversely tie Donald Trump’s ‘seemingly’ extremist views and policies to decades-old establishment Republican policies. Those policy positions Trump espouses are, after all, gleaned directly from establishment and fringe Republicans regardless he criticized many of them at the time.
It is unclear why Democrats often fail to ‘go for the jugular’ when they have the opportunity, but it seems like an issue that repeats itself over and over again. With Donald Trump as the perfect Republican Party standard bearer, there is no reason Democrats should hesitate even one second to tie establishment Republicans to Trump, especially Clinton’s speech on Trump’s racism was really a speech on Republican Party racism.