Trump’s Racism Reveals The Moral Cowardice Of The GOP And Conservatives

The failure of Republicans and conservatives to denounce the President's racism reveals everything that has gone wrong with the "right" in the Trump Era.

Donald Trump’s unhinged racist attack on four Democratic Congresswoman, which he doubled down on in an appearance outside the White House yesterday, are drawing at best muted criticism from Republicans on Capitol Hill and other supporters, confirming yet again what the modern-day Republican Party and so-called conservatism have turned into in the Trump Era:

Even as a few Republican lawmakers spoke out against Trump’s language, with some specifically calling it racist, most stayed quiet or sought to soften their admonishment of the president by mixing it with criticism of the women he attacked.

“They’re just terrified of crossing swords with Trump, and they stay mute even when the president unleashes racist tirades,” said presidential historian Douglas Brinkley, who has been critical of Trump. “Republican leaders are now culpable for encouraging this kind of rank bigotry. By not speaking out, by staying mum, they are greenlighting hate rhetoric.”

On Sunday morning, Trump tweeted that a group of liberal freshmen congresswomen should “go back” to their countries of origin. His targets included Reps. Ayanna Pressley (Mass.), Rashida Tlaib (Mich.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) and Ilhan Omar (Minn.).

The Republican lawmakers who did speak out against Trump waited more than 24 hours after the tweets were posted, which Democrats swiftly condemned as xenophobic.

Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Tim Scott (S.C.) and Patrick J. Toomey (Pa.) and Reps. Will Hurd (Tex.), Elise Stefanik (N.Y.), Fred Upton (Mich.) and Pete Olson (Tex.) were among Republicans who criticized Trump for his attack on the four congresswomen, collectively known as “the Squad.”

“So interesting to see ‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run,” Trump tweeted Sunday.

“Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came,” Trump added. “Then come back and show us how it is done.”

All four of the freshmen lawmakers are U.S. citizens, and only Omar was born outside the United States. In a news conference Monday, the women said Trump was seeking to distract the country.

“I encourage the American people and all of us — in this room and beyond — to not take the bait,” Pressley said. “This is a disruptive distraction from the issues of care, concern and consequence to the American people that we were sent here with a decisive mandate from our constituents to work on.”

On Twitter, after the Democratic lawmakers held their news conference, Trump tweeted the political endgame driving his attacks.

“The Dems were trying to distance themselves from the four ‘progressives,’ but now they are forced to embrace them,” Trump wrote about the liberal lawmakers who had recently feuded with party leaders. “That means they are endorsing Socialism, hate of Israel and the USA! Not good for the Democrats!”

While Republicans in the past have tried to cast their party as welcoming to immigrants and Americans from all backgrounds, the fact that so few spoke out against Trump’s comments undercut that message, Brinkley said.

“They’ve just figured if they criticize Trump, it’ll boomerang on them and they’ll become the piñata of right-wingTa media,” he said.

The president’s allies defended his remarks.

“AOC, Tlaib and Omar criticize America so often and so viciously preferring Soviet, Chinese, Venezuelan socialism to our free market economy that saying they would be happier somewhere else is a fair response,” said Rudolph Giuliani, the president’s lawyer and a former New York mayor. “To say it’s racist is almost as ignorant as their statements.”

As Carl Hulse puts it in The New York Times, the near-total silence of Republicans on Capitol Hill, and the efforts by some conservatives who claim not to support the President but nonetheless defend him even when he engages in rhetoric like this, speaks volumes about what has happened to the right side of Ameican politics in the Trump Era:

WASHINGTON — The lack of widespread Republican condemnation of President Trump for his comments about four Democratic congresswomen of color illustrated both the tightening stranglehold Mr. Trump has on his party and the belief of many Republicans that an attack on progressivism should in fact be a central element of the 2020 campaign.

While a smattering of Republicans chastised Mr. Trump on Monday, most party leaders in the House and Senate and much of the rank-and-file remained quiet about the president’s weekend tweets directing dissenters to “go back” where they came from. He followed up on those comments on Monday with harsh language directed at “people who hate America” — an inflammatory accusation to be leveled against elected members of the House.

With Mr. Trump far more popular with Republican voters than incumbent Republican members of Congress, most are loath to cross the president and risk reprisals. The case of Representative Justin Amash, the Michigan lawmaker who was forced to leave the party after he dared to suggest Mr. Trump should be impeached, serves as a cautionary tale.

At the same time, many Republicans are seeking to label the four congresswomen and their ideas as “far left,” seeing it as a potential foundation of a sweeping critique of Democrats in 2020. In an appearance on Fox News, Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, called the four “a bunch of communists,” a step beyond the president, who said he was at the moment only willing to go so far as calling them “socialists.”

Both the willingness of Republicans to attach extremist labels to Democrats and the Democratic assault against Mr. Trump as a racist and white supremacist presage a particularly bitter 2020 campaign.

Even those lawmakers who took Mr. Trump to task were careful to underscore their differences with the political and policy views of the House Democrats at the center of the storm — Representatives Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna S. Pressley of Massachusetts and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota.

Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, one of the few Republicans who has criticized Mr. Trump since he became president, told a Boston TV station that while the president might have gone too far, “I certainly feel that a number of these new members of Congress have views that are not consistent with my experience and not consistent with building a strong America.”

“I couldn’t disagree more with these congresswomen’s views on immigration, socialism, national security and virtually every policy issue,” said Senator Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania. “But they are entitled to their opinions, however misguided they may be.”

Senator Thom Tillis, a North Carolina Republican who faces a potentially difficult re-election campaign next year, sought to dodge the debate over the president’s comments and focus on the differences between the parties. “The reality is I want to shift back to the issues and the America they represent versus the America that I want to see,” Mr. Tillis told reporters.

The rapid approach of the 2020 campaign has drawn Mr. Trump and Republicans on Capitol Hill closer as the lawmakers see their fate inextricably linked to the president, diminishing any possibility that they would break from Mr. Trump.

And the spotlight put on the Democratic presidential candidates and the advocacy by some of them for eliminating private health insurance in favor of a government program, sweeping revisions in the tax code and the institution of liberal immigration policies have galvanized Republicans.

They see Mr. Trump, as outrageous and unpredictable as he might be, as far preferable to any of the Democrats.

“I’m not going to vote for a socialist,” said Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado, perhaps the most endangered Republican in the Senate, who has made clear he is firmly allied with the president.

Republicans may cringe at some of Mr. Trump’s crude comments and insults. They may wince at his easily unmasked falsehoods. They may roll their eyes at his lack of understanding of government fundamentals. To many, his personality itself is off-putting. But he is now their guy.

Despite occasional rifts, Republicans have in the main tried to ignore Mr. Trump’s nearly daily Twitter battles.

Senator Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican and majority leader, routinely refuses to engage when pressed about remarks by Mr. Trump that have electrified social media. Other Republicans say they do not see it as their job to be political pundits or to join with the news media and Democrats in castigating Mr. Trump. They also believe that, in most cases, the firestorm lasts only so long and will be quickly followed by the next iteration, making it pointless to get caught up in the repeating cycle.


Those hoping for a wide rupture between the president and the more conventional Republican politicians on Capitol Hill say they have finally come to terms with the reality that no break is in the offing with the economy prospering, the election looming and the Trump administration so far avoiding a cataclysmic foreign policy blunder.

“They have made their bed and are trying to sleep in it and hope they don’t have nightmares,” said William Kristol, the conservative Trump critic. “They don’t feel like they are paying a huge price.”

Mr. Kristol said he once believed that the combination of the 2018 election results, the extended government shutdown and the departure of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis — a source of comfort for Republicans who feared Trump would do something rash with the military — might give congressional Republicans pause. But any deep distress that existed seems to have dissipated.

“I am more pessimistic about the notion that the Republican Party will throw off Trump than I was a year ago,” he said

Nobody who has watched Trump in the four years since he became a candidate for President, or indeed in the years immediately before that, can claim to be surprised by what this latest Twitterstorm reveals about the President. This, after all, is the same person who engaged in housing discrimination in the 1970s. The same person who in the 1990s took out a full-page ad in The New York Times calling for the death penalty for the so-called Central Park Five, a group of five African-American teens who were falsely convicted of raping a jogger in Central Park. Even to this day, Trump refuses to apologize for that position and refuses to acknowledge the overwhelming evidence of their innocence. It’s the same candidate who first dipped his toes in the political waters by embracing the racist birther conspiracy. When he became a candidate for the Republican Presidential nomination in 2016, he did so by attacking Mexicans, Muslimsdisabled people, a Federal District Court Judge who happened to be Mexican-American and a Gold Star Family who happened to be Muslim.  In response to N.F.L. players who were peacefully kneeling to protest racially biased police violence, he responded by calling the largely African-American players “sons of bitches.” Both during the campaign and since becoming President, he has used campaign-style speeches to turn his crowds of supporters into raving lunatics by throwing them red meat on the most divisive issues facing the nation. More importantly, he has done so not only knowingly but with a rather obvious sense of glee at the chaos that he is causing.

Trump continued to openly display his racism after becoming President, most notably in response to the Nuremberg-style rally in Charlottesville that occurred two years ago that resulted in the death of a young woman. In the wake of that rally, the purported intent of which was to protest against plans by the city to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee from a prominent location in the city, it quickly became obvious what the real intent of the rally was. Rather than being just a simple rally about a statue, the event clearly had overtones of a Nazi rally at Nuremberg in the 1930s with Nazi-era slogans like “Blood and Soil!” and “The Jews will not replace us!” chanted by torch-bearing me. The events, of course, took on a national tone thanks to the President’s response to the tragic events of that Saturday. \

In his initial response, Trump blamed ‘both sides’ for the violence, referred to the participants in the rally as “very fine people,” and  refused to directly condemn groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, which was present at the rally, or the broader so-called alt-right movement whose supporters made up the vast majority of the participants. The outrage over these comments was sufficiently broad, even from fellow Republicans in Washington, that the White House was compelled to have Trump deliver a follow-up comment the following Monday that was more measured and emphatic than what he had said before. Whatever damage had been repaired by that statement, though, was short-lived, though, because less than twenty-four hours later Trump repeated his ‘both sides’ argument in a press conference at Trump Tower in New York and then repeated it again a month later in the wake of a meeting purportedly intended to discuss race with Republican Senator Tim Scott, the only African-American Republican in the Senate. Last year, near the one-year anniversary of the incident, the President doubled down on his assertion that his initial reaction was the correct one.

No Republican or conservative who has been paying attention can claim to be surprised or shocked at this latest display of racism and xenophobia on the part of this President, and the fact that nearly all of them are defending him and repeating his unhinged attacks on four relatively powerless Members of Congress shows exactly where they, the Republican Party, and conservatism stand today. During the campaign, I argued that Republicans were facing a time for choosing between their country and their party and, by and large, they chose to put their party’s interests before their country, thus we are faced with the prospect of this man being President for at least the next year and a half.

It didn’t have to be this way. Republicans on Capitol Hill and around the country could have stood up and spoken out at any time over the past four years about the President’s vulgarity, xenophobia, and obvious racism. Instead, they have for the most part chosen to stand by and let him get away with what he is doing in the name That doesn’t mean, though, that Republicans are required to sit idly by and tolerate whatever nonsense may spew forth from the White House and the President’s Twitter account, though. If they chose to, they could stand up and denounce him by name. With very few exceptions, though, that isn’t happening. Instead, we see Republican officials saying all the right things about denouncing the hatred that came out in Charlottesville but failing to denounce by name the President who has implicitly endorsed that hatred. As long as that continues, their party will continued to be tied to Donald Trump, and the consequences for that, though it may be some time before they emerge, are likely to be quite severe.

In the past, both James Joyner and I have pointed out that the Republican Party is now Trump’s party. It’s times like this that make that clearer than ever. Any pretense that Republicans may have had that they were tolerating Trump in the name of getting Judges and Justices, or tax cuts, or to ‘repair and replace’ Obamacare is laid bare in the fact that they are now openly or tacitly defending a racist. The fact that this is happening in a party that was established to support the abolition of slavery is just another sad example of what has happened to a party and a conservative movement that cares more about power than principles, and more about party than country.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. DrDaveT says:

    The GOP is the party of moral values. They just turn out to be sh!tty moral values.

  2. grumpy realist says:

    Bravo, Doug.

  3. KM says:

    Many people who have witnessed the rise of hate and the horrors that follow are bewildered at America’s willing blindness. They’re screaming at us about the blaring historical warning signs that something is wrong and it never ends well. The GOP is selling it’s soul for power under the impression that if it goes bad, they’ll at least be the ones in charge.

    Yeah, that’s rarely how it works.

    Even now, they’re afraid to be primaried out if not seen sufficiently ass-kissing to Trump. They lost that control already. It only gets worse. You can’t sow the wind forever, the whirlwind eventually comes. They’re OK with hateful words, they’re OK with kids in cages, they’re OK with making native-born Americans labeled as Other. They’re not going to suddenly find a spine when it really starts hitting the fan. The only time they might find their spine is when they get backed against a wall… and it will be too late for everyone then.

  4. Stormy Dragon says:

    But come November 2020, what is Doug Mataconis going to do about it? Nothing.

  5. Teve says:

    Trump Also Told Colin Kaepernick That He Should Leave the Country, but for some inexplicable reason he didn’t tell Megan Rapinoe that.

    A real puzzling mystery.

  6. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Doug didn’t vote for Trump in 2016, and isn’t planning to do so in 2020. He regularly posts here about how shitty Trump and the current Republican party are. What more can he do?

  7. Kathy says:

    Remember when Helen Thomas suggested Jews should go back “home” to Germany or Poland?

    She was a journalist, not a politician, and not speaking for any party. But she faced far more criticism and consequences.

  8. Ken_L says:

    Most of Trump’s apologists in the Republican Party leadership are lying about what he said, or pretending it meant something different to what the words plainly say. However the rank and file are in full-throated agreement with his racist sentiments. It may only be a matter of time before Republicans who decline to explicitly endorse Trump’s xenophobia and bigotry are condemned as ‘RINOs’, in much the same way as Winston Smith was chastised by his telescreen for not demonstrating sufficient enthusiasm for Big Brother.

  9. Teve says:

    jelani cobb
    It’s really striking how many people in Sydney have asked me about 45’s latest bigotry spree. Driver at the airport asked me “Why did he attack the Squad?”

    As bad as he looks domestically this is a reminder that the entire world is an audience for this abject racist stupidity.