the national interest

The Donald Trump Plan to Prove He’s Completely Not Racist

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump delivers remarks during the Faith and Freedom Coalition conference June 10, 2016, in Washington, DC.
Donald Trump has conclusively refuted the charge that he is racist. Photo: Molly Riley/AFP/Getty Images

After a disastrous news cycle in which pretty much every elected official in the Republican Party had to take a public stance on Donald Trump’s racism, the Trump campaign is now engaging in what appears to be coordinated damage control. The plan involves several elements. One is to simply deny that Trump said the thing he in fact repeatedly said. Trump “has made clear he was not trying to speak to the judge’s heritage,” states Republican National Committee spokesperson Sean Spicer. (When asked a week ago, “Why did you refer to his ethnicity,” Trump replied, “Well, because his heritage is Mexican.” This is somewhat hard to square with the claim that he was not invoking the judge’s heritage.) A second element is a scripted speech in which the candidate promises that “no one should be judged by their race or their color,” and blames current racial divisions on Barack Obama (“Right now, we have a very divided nation.”). And the third element is to win the war of ideas in the form of an exclusive candidate interview for a major think piece for Breitbart media.

The Breitbart headline, “Exclusive — Donald Trump Plans To Continue GOP Legacy Of Leading On Women’s, Civil Rights Against Racist, Sexist Democrats,” admirably captures the article’s central thesis: Republicans are, and always have been, the party of civil rights, and Trump plans to maintain this proud tradition. The premise rests upon a historical thesis, familiar to inhabitants of the right-wing media universe, that the Democratic Party has never stopped being the party of white southern segregationists.

It is of course true that the Democratic Party was originally home to the most virulently racist elements in American politics. In the 19th century, the Democratic Party was dominated by a southern wing. Its defense of the racial status quo was always embedded in a principled defense of states’ rights and a belief that the Constitution strictly limited the powers of the federal government, an ideology that served to protect the racial status quo in the southern states from interference from Washington. This states’-rights, anti-Washington ideology originally took the form of fervent support for slavery, then fervent opposition to reconstruction, and then to any federal civil-rights measures.

During the 20th century, the Democratic Party developed a strong northern liberal wing, which advocated federal civil-rights protections. This caused the conservative white South to slowly break away — first in 1948, when Strom Thurmond led a States’ Rights Democratic Party splinter in opposition to the pro-civil-rights Truman administration, and then again in 1964, when Republican nominee Barry Goldwater opposed the Civil Rights Act. Conservatives in the 1960s believed that they could take over the Republican Party and use opposition to civil rights to attract the white South — a strategy that eventually prevailed.

Sophisticated conservative intellectuals have developed a complex yet totally absurd pseudo-history that attempts to revise away these inconvenient facts, and present the Democrats as somehow continuing their pre-civil-rights history. Breitbart does not engage in any of this revisionist history. Instead, it uses the blunter tactic of telling the history of the two parties and their racial party but ending the story in the 1960s. It does not mention Goldwater, the GOP’s “southern strategy,” or the departure of black Republicans from the party. The piece simply jumps straight to the present, where Donald Trump will (allegedly) win large numbers of minority votes. It’s impossible to emphasize just how dumb a form of revisionist history this is. Nobody denies the Democrats were the party of racially conservative white Southerners until the mid-1960s. The whole change is what happened after. You can’t just ignore that. It’s like writing an essay asserting that the Titanic never sank, and ending the story before it hits the iceberg.

The evidence for Trump’s deep appeal to African-Americans, as you might suspect, is thin. Breitbart reports, “Meanwhile, as Gateway Pundit notes in a new report as well based off this and other data, Trump could be on par to win 25 percent of the black vote.” The link in the piece to Gateway Pundit doesn’t contain any polling or other evidence that Trump is “on par to win 25 percent of the black vote.” It simply consists of the author’s conjecture: “If Trump skims 25% of black voters from the Democratic Party he would win the 2016 election in a landslide.

Breitbart’s story is laced with exclusive quotes from the candidate. “‘You’re right—100 percent,’ Trump told Breitbart News when asked about how the Republican Party led the way on ending slavery, the Civil Rights movement and women’s suffrage,” it reports. What more evidence do you need?

Trump’s Plan to Prove He’s Completely Not Racist