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National poll: most Americans saw Trump's racist messages as racist

Trump defended his recent racist message by saying "many people" agree with him. But how many?
Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump turns away from the cameras as he speaks at a town hall event in Appleton, Wis., March 30, 2016. (Photo by Mark Kauzlarich/Reuters)
Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump turns away from the cameras as he speaks at a town hall event in Appleton, Wis., March 30, 2016.

Almost immediately after Donald Trump faced national criticism over his racist tweets directed at four Democratic congresswomen, the president came up with an awful defense.

A reporter asked the Republican, "Does it concern you that many people saw that tweet as racist and that white nationalist groups are finding common cause with you on that point?" Trump replied, "It doesn't concern me because many people agree with me."

As we discussed at the time, that wasn't much of an answer. "Many people" may agree with a racist statement; that doesn't make it less racist. Propriety and decency need not be seen through the lens of a popularity contest.

But the statement nevertheless raised the question of whether the president was right about public attitudes. A national Fox News poll, released yesterday, helped shed new light on the question.

"Do you feel Donald Trump's recent tweets, in which he criticizes four minority Democratic congresswomen and tells them to go back to the countries they came from, were an acceptable political attack or did those tweets cross the line?"Crossed the line: 63%Acceptable political attack: 27%

Taking a closer look at the cross-tabs, there were predictable divisions -- the vast majority of African-American respondents, for example, said the president's rhetoric went too far -- but most Republicans and Trump voters endorsed his racist tweets as acceptable.

And for Trump, that may be enough. When he said "many people agree" with him, perhaps the president was referring to many of his people.

The same poll asked, "Do you think Donald Trump respects racial minorities?" Most Americans (57%) said he does not, while only about a third (34%) said he does.

Finally, the Fox survey asked, "Do you think saying 'go back' to the country you came from is a racist thing to say to a person of color, or not?" A majority (56%) acknowledged the racist line as racist, while roughly a fourth (23%) disagreed.

This is, incidentally, the first live-caller poll -- generally seen as the best and most reliable method for accurate results -- to gauge Americans' attitudes on Trump's racist message.

There were plenty of political observers last week who made the case that the president was actually advancing his party's agenda, shining a light on Democratic congresswomen the GOP is eager to vilify. The controversy over the tweets, the argument went, only served to remind the public about the message Trump's party wanted to disseminate.

But as the dust settles, the data tells a different story: most of the public believes the president crossed a line, while the right's Democratic targets are still better liked than the top Republican in the Senate.