As the chief executive of the Lone Star State, Rick Perry oversaw more executions than any governor in American history, denied a million (disproportionately black and Latino) Texans health insurance, and signed a voting restriction law that was blocked as being discriminatory against minorities. And then there was that thing with his hunting camp.
As a presidential candidate in 2016, he’s reaching out to black voters, awkwardly and superficially. But he’s doing it. And though it took him weeks, he’s also called Donald Trump’s ridiculous, untrue comments about immigrants “offensive.”
Why? Republicans need a miracle with minorities and their donors—and their serious candidates get that.
Even Rick Perry gets it.
They’ll put billions of dollars behind their next presidential nominee, but that may not be enough to overcome their biggest challenge, as the Washington Post‘s Dan Balz nailed it: “Based on estimates of the composition of the 2016 electorate, if the next GOP nominee wins the same share of the white vote as Mitt Romney won in 2012 (59 percent), he or she would need to win 30 percent of the nonwhite vote. Set against recent history, that is a daunting obstacle. Romney won only 17 percent of nonwhite voters in 2012. John McCain won 19 percent in 2008. George W. Bush won 26 percent in 2004.”
Donald Trump — after years of race baiting his way into the conservative movement — is now exploding like a big racist supernova in the GOP primary. His chances of winning the party’s nomination are slim but the fact that his anti-immigrant rhetoric has catapulted him to the top of the polls is a concern for the Republicans who actually take their party seriously.
And Republicans should be concerned. Trump, as many have said, is the “id” of the Republican Party. He lays bare the subtext of a movement whose ideas and governance have been revealed as disasters again and again (except in places like Texas, where a combination of federal dollars and a global addiction to fossil fuels allowed the economy to steam along despite the financial crisis).
Here are five reasons Donald Trump needs to be destroyed by the Republican Party before he exposes what the party really stands for.
1. Race baiting as the foundation of populism.
How do you deal with an economy where 99 percent of the gains of the recovery go to the richest?
Republicans would like to cut top earners’ taxes and make sure their kids inherit millions of dollars without paying the same taxes that all Americans pay on income or Social Security—which Republicans would also like to cut, rather than asking the richest among us to pay payroll taxes on all their income, the way middle-class workers do.
Conservative economics are “Winner-Take-All“ economics that have kept wages stagnant for decades while wealth at the top has skyrocketed. So how have Republicans thrived during that time? America’s abundance of white voters who felt unsettled by the advances of civil rights and feminism formed the core of the GOP base. Call it the “Southern Strategy” — or just a huge coincidence that Ronald Reagan kicked off his 1980 general election campaign in a county known for the deaths of civil rights workers ranting about “states’ rights” and “welfare queens.”
The right’s “Dog Whistle” racism activates fears that what little stability is left for workers will be taken away by “them.” It’s an artful con that requires subtlety. Even Mitt Romney’s false attacks on President Obama for gutting welfare reform were sniffed out as race baiting in 2012.
Republicans told themselves that they need to do better this time. Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio are trying to build campaigns to reach out to minorities and leave the coded language for issues like religion.
But Trump’s anti-immigrant slurs and the way they’re welcomed by a large segment of the GOP base may well reawaken the anger that many minorities feel after decades of ill treatment as the party’s scapegoats. If that happens in Nevada, Colorado and Texas as it has in California — where Latino voters have never forgotten Pete Wilson’s anti-immigrant attacks of 1994 — Republicans could be locked out of the White House forever.
2. He doesn’t have any actual beliefs — except making Trump richer.
The amazing thing about Donald Trump’s rise in the GOP is that after so many years of pretending to run for president, a political party is taking him seriously. His vast experience with race-baiting found him perfectly suited to be the nation’s Chief Executive Birther in 2012. Now, as the GOP failed to pass immigration reform in the House after several Republicans voted for it in the Senate, Trump is uniquely positioned to divide the party with lies about immigrant criminality — though border crossings and crime are at generational lows.
Trump seems to have a genuine fear of minorities, but how anti-immigrant could he actually be? Two of his three wives have been immigrants. (No doubt several of his future wives will be immigrants.) His game is publicity, not policy. Like big business, he donates to both parties and in his fake 2000 run, he backed single-payer health care and gun control.
In this way, he’s very Republican: Sheldon Adelson and David Koch both claim to be pro-choice, for example; they just use the GOP for their own personal agendas — like war with Iran and unfettered carbon pollution.
The one thing all Republicans (and fake Republicans like Trump) agree on, though, is that Donald Trump should be richer — no matter how much that hurts our economy.
3. No difference between entertainment and statesmanship.
The natural conclusion of a movement that has turned politics into pro wrestling is that Donald Trump is taken seriously.
Why not? He was taken seriously at Wrestlemania.
4. He’s disrupting the GOP’s plan to make its primary boring.
Republicans thought they learned from 2012. They’d cut back on the debates and speed up the delegate collection so the nominee wouldn’t be fighting a clown like Rick Santorum late into spring.
By shrinking the significance of the primary, they hoped to downplay GOP differences over things like immigration reform and cruise into the general election without a candidate smeared with the fecal matter of his opponents.
Trump piñatas are selling in Mexico. But Republicans are now preparing for debates where Trump makes piñatas out of his opponents over immigration, and a base fostered on decades of race baiting goes wild.
5. Big business is recognizing that it has created a monster.
Being offensive is nothing new to Donald Trump. Suffering any consequences for it is. He’s lost deals with Univision, NBC, and Serta. Macy’s has discontinued its business relationship with him, and the City of New York is considering doing the same. And now Panama doesn’t want to host his Miss Universe pageant anymore.
Why is Trump suddenly being punished for things he’s said for years, things that other Republicans say all the time? Because his rise in the polls makes big business realize that he’s doing real damage to its biggest investment — the Republican Party.
Conservatives had been preparing to run against Hillary Clinton for being too old and too rich. But now they’ve found someone older and richer who is titillating the craven instincts their philosophy has nurtured for years. The only question is whether they can stop it before it’s too late—if it’s not already.
Illustration: DonkeyHotey via Flickr