Issac Bailey: For years, the GOP has made it clear it was so angry it would do anything to oppose Obama
So much so, he says, it's now allied with an open bigot, something minority voters hear loud and clear
Bailey: Driving away demographics GOP needs is delusional; it has itself to blame
Editor’s Note: Issac Bailey has been a journalist in South Carolina for two decades and was most recently the primary columnist for The Sun News in Myrtle Beach. He was a 2014 Harvard University Nieman fellow. Follow him on Twitter: @ijbailey. The views expressed are his own.
Five years ago this week, we should have seen this coming: A Republican Party so blinded by anger it would do anything to oppose President Barack Obama, including embracing an open bigot during the 21st century in America.
That was the week SEAL Team 6 killed Osama bin Laden. Hundreds of people spontaneously gathered outside the White House for an impromptu pep rally to celebrate that justice had been brought to the man who took down the Twin Towers, the man who had eluded capture for a decade.
It was an achievement made possible by the decision former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said was one of the most courageous he had ever seen a President make.
This was the moment Americans of all backgrounds had longed for. And yet, because it was Obama, not President George W. Bush, most Republicans golf clapped while the rest of the nation break-danced on bin Laden’s grave. A Public Policy Polling survey of Ohio during the height of the 2012 presidential election found that only 38% of Republicans were willing to give Obama any credit – while 15% credited Mitt Romney, who had never been President.
In contrast, when the towers fell, Bush’s approval rating shot up to a record 90% as everyone, including Democrats, rallied around the man whose administration had not been able to prevent that disaster. Sometime between September 12, 2001, and the beginning of the Obama era, winning eventually became more important to the GOP than even unity against a foreign enemy.
Now, even the party’s stated principles of small government, faith and other “traditional” values have taken a backseat to Trump, a man whose faith, principles and conservatism are suspect, at best. But that’s not why he’s an existential threat to the GOP. It is because of what his presence at the top of the ticket screams to minority voters.
There likely will be discussion on shows like “Morning Joe” and in David Brooks columns in The New York Times about how Trump defied political gravity, but that’s not what minority voters will be pondering.
They will be remembering that he kicked off his campaign talking about Mexican rapists and murderers.
They would not have forgotten that he was the most high-profile birther, disrespecting Obama in a way not even Joe “You Lie” Wilson could.
Bill O’Reilly and other conservative talk show hosts will now swear up and down that Trump is no bigot and excuse and explain away all the awful that he’s said and done, while other Republicans who fall in line will pretend they’ve never heard Trump say anything untoward.
But minority voters will know that it is neither coincidence nor happenstance that the man who captured the GOP nomination for President is the preferred candidate of the KKK and white nationalists – in 2016, not 1916.
There is no amount of spin to undo that reality.
The only question remains is how many Republicans will go along with Trump anyway. The truth is that the general election polling that shows Hillary Clinton ahead of Trump by double digits likely underestimates her position. Demographic shifts in this country would have given any Democratic nominee a strong advantage in the race to 270 Electoral College votes. And while Obama isn’t on the ticket to energize minority voters like he did in 2008 and 2012, Trump will be.
The only thing that can derail the great debate of 2017 – should we call Bill Clinton First Fella or First Dude? – is a large contingent of Bernie Sanders supporters either defecting away from Clinton or staying home. In other words, Republicans can’t dictate the outcome of November’s election.
What Republicans will be doing this fall, whether they know it or not, is deciding if their party wants to write off the minority vote for at least another generation, if not forever.
Those who get caught up in the silly debate of “am I a racist if I support Donald Trump” will be missing the point. Throughout our history, good people, nonracists, have helped pave the way for bigots, either by ignoring their ugliness, doing too little to oppose them, or even supporting them for reasons that have little or nothing to do with race.
Chris Christie is not a racist. In fact, in 2012 he had millions of minority voters intrigued because he showed Obama respect during Superstorm Sandy, which, in a sane world, would have simply been expected, given that he was a governor desperately trying to receive federal help for the hurting residents of New Jersey.
He was criticized by Republicans for doing so. That’s how far the GOP had allowed its relationships with minorities to deteriorate, not even realizing – or caring – that their open disgust for the nation’s first black President was a proxy for how minority voters believed the party viewed them as well.
Now look at where we are. Christie, the man who four years ago earned the gratitude of millions of minority Americans by simply doing his job, is now one of the highest-profile surrogates for an open bigot who happens to also be the presumptive GOP nominee.
Throughout the Obama era, conservative pundits and top Republican officials missed the role race continued to play in this country, whether it was the racial angst within their ranks that could be easily cultivated by a willing demagogue, or the determination of minorities to not allow racial progress to be rolled back without a massive fight.
If they do that for another six months, it won’t be Trump who would have destroyed the party of Lincoln. They would only have themselves to blame.
Issac Bailey has been a journalist in South Carolina for two decades and was most recently the primary columnist for The Sun News in Myrtle Beach. He was a 2014 Harvard University Nieman fellow. Follow him on Twitter: @ijbailey. The views expressed are his own.