This is the phase of the presidential campaign in which Donald Trump no longer has to worry about bringing Republicans together and impressing the GOP’s far-right base. In fact, those divisions have already effectively been resolved: since wrapping up the nomination last month, Trump has seen conservatives coalesce around him, though some did so grudgingly and with great reluctance.
The obvious next move for the presumptive Republican presidential nominee is to start broadening his appeal and making gains with a diverse, national electorate. And while that would certainly be wise, it appears Donald Trump can’t get out of his own way.
Consider the number of constituencies the GOP candidate has offended and deliberately antagonized over the last couple of days.
Trump continues to wage a rhetorical war against U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, and the intensity of his jeremiad seems to be intensifying. In an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper aired yesterday, the Republican candidate was reduced to overt racism, arguing that Curiel couldn’t be objective overseeing a “Trump University” case because of the judge’s ethnicity.
“If you are saying he can’t do his job because of his race, is that not the definition of racism?” Tapper asked. “No, I don’t think so at all,” Trump replied.
In case that wasn’t direct enough, Tapper also started to ask, “If you invoke [Curiel’s] race as a reason why he can’t do his job…” when Trump interrupted. “I think that’s why he’s doing it,” the candidate added.
Sounding very much like Stephen Colbert’s old comedic bit about his “one black friend,” Trump appeared at a rally in California on Friday and pointed to someone in the audience who caught his attention. “Look at my African American over here,” the presidential hopeful said.
Even if someone were inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt – perhaps Trump meant to say something like, “Look at my African-American supporter over here” – it doesn’t explain why he would feel the need to single out one person of color who attended one of his events.
It also doesn’t explain why Trump used his Twitter account to promote a picture of a black family that’s purportedly on the “Trump Train,” but which actually doesn’t support Trump at all.
And just to complete the Trump Trifecta…
If Trump doesn’t believe American judges of Mexican heritage can be trusted to oversee his cases, it stands to reason the Republican candidate would be equally quick to reject a Muslim-American judge, right? CBS’s John Dickerson asked Trump about this yesterday, and the GOP candidate said it “would be possible, absolutely” that a Muslim couldn’t be trusted to be fair in a case in which Trump is a party.
The host asked, “Isn’t there sort of a tradition, though, in America that we don’t judge people by who their parents were and where they came from?” Trump replied, “I’m not talking about tradition, I’m talking about common sense, OK?”
Well, no. Actually, decency suggests it’s not OK at all. Trump hasn’t literally said he only wants white, wealthy, Christian, straight men to adjudicate his cases, but the candidate seems to be headed in that direction.
In recent years we’ve seen some Republican presidential nominees face accusations of making subtle, obliquely racist appeals, but Trump is relying on overt racism in ways Americans haven’t seen in decades.
There’s no subtext, just text. There’s no dog-whistle, just a bullhorn. Trump is going out of his way to antagonize American constituencies and minority groups, not as a part of some kind of electoral chess game, but apparently out of pure instinct. The presumptive Republican nominee is simply speaking his mind, and these are his attitudes in the raw.
What’s more, no one should find any of this surprising in the slightest. Trump reached this point in the 2016 race by emphasizing exactly this kind of message for the last 12 months. His is a campaign built not on conservatism, but on some kind of twisted ethno-nationalism – and the rhetoric from the last few days fits comfortably into the year-long pattern.
The challenge for every Trump supporter, donor, endorser, and voter in the Republican Party is coming to terms with whom – and what – they’re tying themselves to. History will not be kind.