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Thursday, December 8, 2016

In 2006, then-Arizona State Sen. Russell Pearce advocated the return of a 1954 program for the mass deportation of undocumented immigrants. It was called “Operation Wetback.”

In 2010, Sen. David Vitter, Republican from Louisiana, released a campaign ad that depicted a bunch of seedy-looking Mexicans, some with gang bandannas, slipping through a hole in a border fence to invade America.

In 2011, Rep. Mo Brooks, Republican from Alabama, said of undocumented immigrants: “I will do anything short of shooting them” to make them stop “taking jobs from American citizens.”

That same year, Republican presidential contender Herman Cain vowed to build an electrified border fence that would shock Mexicans who sought to slip into the country.

In 2013, Rep. Steve King, Republican from Iowa, said that for every illegal immigrant who becomes a valedictorian, there are another hundred with “calves the size of cantaloupes” because they are drug mules.

Yet the party is shocked and offended by what Donald Trump said? Jeb Bush calls his recent comments on undocumented Mexican immigrants “extraordinarily ugly”? Sen. Marco Rubio finds them “not just offensive and inaccurate, but also divisive”? A major donor tells the Associated Press Trump should be excluded from the debates?

Beg pardon, but there is something rather precious in all this ostentatious umbrage. If you didn’t know better, you might forget that the GOP has sought votes for years by stoking fear and anger toward Mexicans who enter this country illegally. If you weren’t paying attention, you might not know that various Republican officials and pundits routinely characterize those people — most of them just dirt poor and trying to put bread on the table — as a disease-ridden invasion force of drug smugglers and gang members, not to mention pregnant women splashing across the Rio Grande in order to drop so-called “anchor babies” on U.S. soil.

This is not to say Trump’s words were not ugly. They were. “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best,” he said. “…They’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems [to] us. They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists, and some, I assume, are good people.”

But ugly as it was, Trump’s xenophobia broke no new ground. So you have to wonder at the pious denunciations it is generating. You’re tempted to say people are reacting like this because Trump was blunter than we are used to. On the other hand, there is nothing particularly subtle or ambiguous about threatening to shock Mexicans. Maybe folks weren’t paying attention before.

It’s worth noting that Trump’s comments came as he announced his intention to run for President of the United States, a nation whose last census found about 32 million of us identifying as Mexican-American (some, presumably, good people). Indeed, Mexican-Americans are far and away the largest group under the umbrella rubric “Hispanic.” All the Cuban-, Puerto Rican-, Argentinean-, and Spanish-Americans combined don’t equal the number of Mexican-Americans in this country. So when the GOP talks about “Hispanic” outreach, it is, in a very real sense, talking Mexican-American outreach. Yet this “outreach” seems always to be overshadowed by insult.

The party seems not to realize that you can’t have it both ways, can’t insult people, then ask them to vote for you. How telling is it that, even as party elders assure us his remarks don’t represent the GOP, Trump vaults to second place in the polling of Republican contenders? It’s a truth that gives the lie to these proclamations of mortal affront.

It’s hypocritical and unfair to put all this on Trump. He only repeated what his party’s been saying all along.

(Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, FL, 33132. Readers may contact him via email at [email protected])

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr