Racism: The left's last refuge
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“I’m going to talk about a man who has embraced a platform that … the Ku Klux Klan said couldn’t be better if they’d written it themselves … [a man] who seeks the presidency of the United States with the endorsement of the Ku Klux Klan.”

This unseemly accusation was leveled not at Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden campaign slams Facebook after thousands of ads blocked by platform's pre-election blackout Mnuchin says he learned of Pelosi's letter to him about stimulus talks 'in the press' Harris to travel to Texas Friday after polls show tie between Trump, Biden MORE but Ronald Reagan. It was in September of 1980, amid the heat of a tense presidential race, that a Democratic congressman painted this inaccurate portrayal of soon-to-be President Reagan.


But in November of 2016, an echo of four decades past could be heard when Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHarris to travel to Texas Friday after polls show tie between Trump, Biden Harris more often the target of online misinformation than Pence: report The Hill's Campaign Report: What the latest polling says about the presidential race | Supreme Court shoots down GOP attempt to block NC mail ballot extension MORE used the same accusations of racism and bigotry. She warned, “Just a few days ago, Donald Trump was endorsed by the official newspaper of the Ku Klux Klan … They placed their faith and hope in him.”

In making “Trump is racist” the central rallying theme of her campaign, Clinton adopted the oldest gimmick from the left’s political playbook: falsely demonize the opponent. Indeed, it is a failed ploy used both then and now.

In 1980, Jimmy Carter’s Secretary of Health and Human Services alleged that a Reagan presidency raised the “spectre of white sheets.” And President Carter himself cautioned, “You’ve seen in this campaign the stirrings of hate and the rebirth of code words like ‘state rights’ … in a campaign reference to the Ku Klux Klan relating to the South.”  

Much like Carter, former president Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonTrump fights for battleground Arizona The Hill's Campaign Report: Trump, Biden face off for last time on the debate stage Trump expected to bring Hunter Biden's former business partner to debate MORE called Trump’s “Make America Great Again” motto a racist dog whistle. This was despite the fact that Clinton used the slogan himself in his 1992 campaign.

As Steve Hayward of AEI outlines, the Hitler comparisons in 1980 were likewise pervasive. He recalls a Los Angeles Times cartoonist portraying Reagan in a murky Munich beer hall plotting a fascist government overthrow. A Democratic congressman stated that Reagan was “trying to replace the Bill of Rights with fascist precepts lifted verbatim from Mein Kampf.” And a column in Esquire pointedly stated that Reagan voters were akin to “good Germans” in “Hitler’s Germany.”    

Trump’s supporters were similarly deemed “deplorable” and “irredeemable,” and Trump himself was subjected to absurd Hitler comparisons. After Trump asked his supporters to raise their hands and pledge to vote for him, the Huffington Post and the media at large warned that Trump’s pledge “was eerily reminiscent of 1930s Nazi rallies.”  The Washington Post ran an opinion article entitled, “Don’t compare Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler. It belittles Hitler.”

But with Trump, like Reagan, these warnings were baseless and outright defamatory. President Reagan, of course, was one of the most successful presidents in American history. And Donald Trump has a long and overlooked history of promoting tolerance. 

In 1997, Trump made his esteemed club, Mar-a-Lago, the first club open to African-Americans and Jews in West Palm Beach. The Anti-Defamation League credited Trump for shining “the light on Palm Beach. Not on the beauty and the glitter, but on its seamier side of discrimination. It has an impact.” That same year civil rights advocate Jesse Jackson praised Trump as being a “friend” who served “the under-served communities.”

More recently, Trump was notably one of the GOP primary candidates to advocate for the removal of the Confederate flag from South Carolina’s statehouse. He likewise was one of the only candidates to recognize both sides of the police brutality debate. Despite receiving the coveted endorsement of the Fraternal Order of Police, Trump still acknowledged that “[s]ome horrible mistakes are made,” calling the arrest of Sandra Bland “terrible.”

Rather than resorting to facts, the left resorted to false labels and distorted revisionist history in its attempt to mischaracterize Donald Trump. The right, for its part, could have resorted to falsely demonizing Clinton. Trump could have reminded voters that Hillary Clinton once called Senator Robert Byrd, a former KKK recruiter, her “friend and mentor.”  

He could have berated Clinton for receiving the endorsement of the KKK Grand Dragon in California. And he could have made Hillary Clinton’s controversial “super predator” statement his battle cry.

But neither Trump nor the right mischaracterized their opponent in this way. It was the left who opted to use the Alinskyite tactic of “[p]ick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.”  It was unsuccessful in 1980, and it was unsuccessful in 2016.

Donald J. Trump is President-elect in spite of a relentless smear campaign and an attempt to caricature him as a racist, anti-Semite. On the contrary, Trump, like Reagan, is a tolerant, principled executive who seeks to represent all Americans united under one flag.

In the end, the American voter saw through the naked attempts to vilify a good, decent man. And the Washington Post headline “Don’t compare Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler. It belittles Hitler” was supplemented with another: “Trump got more votes from people of color than Romney did. Here’s the data.” 

Perhaps it’s time the left came up with a new playbook.

Kayleigh McEnany recently received her Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School. She graduated from Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service and also studied politics at Oxford University.

The views of Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill