This post originally appeared on Eclectablog.
Donald Trump’s recent anti-immigrant bro-down with fellow birther Sheriff Joe reminded me a lot of another Fox News-fed phenomenon that died off when it became no longer electorally convenient for the GOP:
GOP elites bash Trump supporters now. But they sure loved these “nonpartisan political neophytes” when they were called the Tea Party.
— LOLGOP (@LOLGOP) July 12, 2015
Strangely enough, a new poll last week revealed this:
In June, Trump’s fav/unfav with Tea Party voters was 20/55. Now it’s 56/26. http://t.co/i8XAptlR7P
— Steve Kornacki (@SteveKornacki) July 13, 2015
What changed since June?
Trump started his slurring of Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists.
During the first hot flashes of the Tea Party movement, I was reluctant to push the notion that it was racially motivated — mostly because it was Fox News organizing meetings of its own Mickey Mouse Club built on symbolism stolen from Ron Paul’s 2008 campaign. The press enjoyed painting it as “non-partisan political neophytes” because most Fox viewers hadn’t been active politically (beyond voting) until 2009. But anyone paying actual attention could see the movement wasn’t just partisan — it was the raging of a defeated GOP base.
This time around, with these same sorts of folks lining up behind a guy who is only Republican by virtue of his birtherism, I have no qualms about pointing out the motivations at play.
If this continues, either the GOP could face a major reckoning or America is about to have its last presidential election decided by white resentment — though demographics make that nearly impossible.
This Trump candidacy, which I imagine will flutter out by the time he has to fill out any serious paperwork, feels like karmic revenge on conservatives. The right has relied on the logic of dogwhistle politics for decades, and now conservatives are scared.
But the fear we’re seeing now isn’t akin to the late ’80s unease fed by George H.W. Bush’s Willie Horton ads. Crime and undocumented immigration are both on historic declines. The fear we see from Trump followers comes from a base that senses its party wanting to reach out to minorities. And even though Republicans must bring Asians, blacks, and Latinos into the fold to survive, this outreach feels like a betrayal of what it means to be a conservative in the Obama era.
You’ll remember that the candidate who won the GOP nomination in 2012, Mitt Romney, did so by turning hard to the right on immigration. This primary season was designed by party officials to avoid just this kind of fiasco. Instead, Trump is making the only news most non-politics nerds are hearing about this election. And even the Republican elite trying to neutralize him are saying this like, “Trump is offensive but he makes some good points about…”
No. Nope. He doesn’t.
The eventual Republican nominee could successfully navigate the next few months without saying things he or she will regret about immigration. But when that nominee hits the general election and tries to completely disavow the party’s nativist bent, he’ll have to be a genius at unifying the base, or a GOP crackup may be inevitable. I don’t know if that means conservatives will stay home in November or a third-party candidate may arise. But it will be pretty to watch.
Originally published on Eclectablog.
Photo: Charles Rodstrom via Flickr