I won’t claim to know how racist Donald Trump is in his heart, although there is plenty of basis to guess; the guess wouldn’t be pretty.
Obviously, he found a way to connect with many white voters who are threatened or at least bothered by the growing portion of black and Latino and Asian citizens in the electorate. Nonwhites overwhelmingly voted for the Democratic ticket last year, but not enough to overcome Trump’s 21-percentage-point margin among whites, who still form a significant majority of U.S. voters.
And, of course, I don’t assume that every white person who voted for Trump was motivated by racial animus. Nonetheless, we do know that Trump received overwhelming support from the so-called alt-right and other corners of the electorate where racism and nativism is overrepresented, and that he welcomed and encouraged that support.
You hardly need me to inform you that we are talking about this question, at the moment, because Trump, in remarks purportedly decrying the weekend violence in Charlottesville — which was committed overwhelmingly by the white nationalists, including one Nazi sympathizer who drove his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing one woman and injuring 19 others — went off script and out of his way to say Saturday that he wanted to condemn the “display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides,” then repeated “on many sides.”
The White House later issued statements trying, unsuccessfully, to overcome the widespread view that Trump said, and repeated “on many sides” because he was unwilling to blame one side for the bigotry and violence. And the assumption in many quarters was that that was because Trump benefited significantly from the support he received from neo-Nazis and other variants of white nationalism.
Trump’s defenders suggested that Trump only meant to acknowledge that the counterprotesters also contributed to the violence. Nice try. Color me skeptical that this was Trump’s motive.
But I thought I could just offer a direct quote of what it sounds like when a presidential candidate says he doesn’t want the support of racists. The candidate was Sen. Bob Dole, the Republican nominee in 1996. I heard some of the Sunday show commentators referring to what Dole said, in his acceptance speech at the Republican convention that year so I looked up the quote. Here it is:
The Republican Party is broad and inclusive. It represents many streams of opinion and many points of view.
But if there’s anyone who has mistakenly attached themselves to our party in the belief that we are not open to citizens of every race and religion, then let me remind you, tonight this hall belongs to the Party of Lincoln. And the exits, which are clearly marked, are for you to walk out of as I stand this ground without compromise.
Note to President Trump: That’s how you do it if you are really trying to say that you don’t want the support of racists.