While the left roundly condemned President Trump following reports of comments he made on Thursday referring to African nations as “shithole” countries, Republicans were divided on Trump’s racist language. Trump has since denied using the word “shithole,” but as more reporting emerges, it appears quite likely that he did.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told reporters Trump said, “…things which were hate-filled, vile, and racist … You’ve seen the comments in the press; I’ve not read one of them that’s inaccurate.” As of Friday morning, prominent Republicans were beginning to verify that the comments were made as well. It has also been reported that the president said, “Why do we need more Haitians? Take them out,” and suggested that Norwegians would make preferable immigrants.
While these are by no means the first racist comments Trump has made in office, these are some of the outrageous and profane words to come out of the Oval Office since his inauguration. While the President launched his campaign by calling Mexicans “rapists,” these comments have captured America’s attention because they are so cavalier and so crass.
But pundits and politicians further to the right embraced Trump’s words.
If they aren’t shithole countries, why don’t their citizens stay there? Let’s be honest. Call it like it is.— Tomi Lahren (@TomiLahren) January 12, 2018
Some inside Trump’s White House reportedly celebrated his comments, assuming it would energize his base.
Staffers inside the White House aren't that worried about Trump's "shithole" remark — with some predicting it will actually resonate with his base, not alienate it, much like his attacks on NFL players who kneel during the national anthem did.— Kaitlan Collins (@kaitlancollins) January 11, 2018
By contrast, Republicans in more moderate or so-called “never Trump” camps seized on the opportunity to distance themselves from the president.
We need comprehensive immigration reform that reflects our values as a country and recognizes our economic needs. This requires a merit-based system that attracts talented, freedom-loving individuals from across the globe, whether they are from Haiti, Norway or anywhere else 2/2— Jeb Bush (@JebBush) January 12, 2018
Most Republicans who criticized Trump still managed to maintain some level of anti-immigration rhetoric in their words or avoid policy altogether. Jeb Bush, for example, tweeted about the need for a “merit-based system.” Beloved “resistance” hero Arizona Senator Jeff Flake condemned Trump’s words, but there was no talk of policy. Flake has voted with Trump 90% of the time.
The words used by the President, as related to me directly following the meeting by those in attendance, were not “tough,” they were abhorrent and repulsive.— Jeff Flake (@JeffFlake) January 12, 2018
With only a handful of notable exceptions, like Utah Rep. Mia Love (whose family is from Haiti), the Republican response to Trump’s words fell into these two camps: outright embrace or critiquing the words but not the deeds behind them. Almost no Republicans made the connection between Trump’s words and the policies he champions.
This is because while Republicans might disagree on what they should say when it comes to their agenda, they are united in executing a vision for America’s future. When Trump made these comments, he was defending as so-called ”merit-based” immigration system that is often criticized as racist. Merit-based immigration is just one of the anti-immigrant measures that Republicans have wholeheartedly supported, including ending DACA and expanding ICE.
This is just one aspect of the Republicans’ agenda that has been in place for half a century, one which has championed white Americans at the expense of people of color. Since Nixon’s use of the Southern Strategy, the electoral shift which aligned Republicans with elements of the American South, Republicans have been the party of white America and they have an agenda that largely comports with white interests over all else.
However, Republicans have generally been good at employing “dog whistles,” or as a number of journalists have become fond of describing it, “not saying the quiet part loud.” Trump has not only said the quiet part loud, he has made a political career of it. His base likes him largely because he says what other people won’t.
Fav part of the hit was reminding folks that Trump’s sin in Republican politics and policy was saying the quiet part loud and the loud part quiet. That’s it, really— Asawin Suebsaeng (@swin24) January 12, 2018
The current Republican platform is a platform of whiteness. Just look at the priorities of the Republican-held Congress. Republicans have denied Puerto Rico the kind of relief that mainland U.S. states like Texas have enjoyed, despite the fact that Puerto Rico is a part of the United States. Republicans have pursued laws that would crack down on Black Lives Matter protests, and have consistently worked against the BLM agenda. Republicans have stood against the wishes of indigenous people on issues like DAPL and Bears Ears National Monument.
On foreign policy, Republicans have pursued the same agenda. Republicans stood lockstep behind the president when it came to declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel, despite almost universal opposition from the U.N. Republicans have supported various versions of the Muslim ban and the expansion of ICE. Even if some Republicans haven’t employed President Trump’s rhetoric, they have stood behind his policies.
Though Trump’s words are hateful and unacceptable from anyone in the public sphere, let alone a president, it is important to remember that any Republican who objects to his words is doing only that. To be a Republican is to agree with the president on a domestic and foreign policy that soaked in whiteness. That is what they stand for, even if they refuse to articulate it with profanity.