Donald Trump’s hateful rhetoric not new to Republican Party

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The day after Donald Trump’s acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke announced that he would run for the United States Senate as a Republican. After his announcement, Duke said, “I’m overjoyed to see Donald Trump and most Americans embrace most of the issues that I’ve championed for years.”

It remains to be seen whether or not “most Americans” have embraced his issues, but Trump’s rhetoric is evocative of Duke and other white supremacists. This has rightly made many Republicans nervous – the Republican Party of Louisiana quickly condemned Duke as “a hate- filled fraud who does not embody the values of the Republican Party.”

But both candidates have banked on xenophobia and racism in building their political bases.

{mosads}This is not an assumption – the Pew Research Center recently studied the attitudes of Republicans voters who are most “warm” or supportive of Trump. Pew found that 59% of GOP voters who believe immigrants “threaten to U.S. customs and values” and 56% of GOP voters who think Islam is more violent than other religions view Trump positively. 39% of GOP worry that people of color may eventually outnumber white people in the U.S. – and 63% of those voters view Trump positively.

That these attitudes are shared by many Republican voters should not be surprising. When the Republican Party selected Barry Goldwater as its nominee in 1964, his strong opposition to the Civil Rights Act and government intervention on the behalf of black Americans kicked off the beginning of a major political realignment for the United States. Goldwater’s nomination opened the GOP’s doors to segregationist, southern Democrats as well as white voters across the country who viewed integration as a threat to their communities. It also pushed out black and liberal Republicans.

Since then, Republicans have seemingly accepted this role as the party tasked with defending the values and customs of white Americans – whether it was Richard Nixon’s Southern Strategy, Ronald Reagan’s “welfare queen” attacks, or the infamous Willie Horton television advertisement used by George H. W. Bush’s campaign.

Former RNC chair Lee Atwater, who was a business partner with current Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, said as much in an anonymous 1981 interview: “You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger.’ By 1968 you can’t say ‘nigger’—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff… Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… ‘We want to cut this,’ is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than ‘Nigger, nigger.’”

Some have suggested that Donald Trump represents a new political realignment, with aggrieved middle- and working-class whites moving into the Republican Party because of racial resentment. But history shows us that this has been happening for over fifty years – and that the GOP has move this along by deploying strategies to attract these voters in elections. David Duke has been a member of many political parties but he identifies once again with the Republican Party. And that’s not just because of Donald Trump.

Voss is currently a graduate student at the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy in Ann Arbor. He graduated with a B.A. in Political Science from Louisiana State University in 2014 and has worked in Democratic campaign politics and economic development. Follow him on Twitter @JacksonVoss


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