Just about every second of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, such as it is, has been a disaster. He kicked off his campaign two weeks ago with a speech calling Mexican immigrants criminals and “rapists,” and he’s been dealing with the blowback ever since. Those comments prompted NBC – which had tolerated his bigoted nonsense for years while airing his reality show – to finally cut ties with Trump, who responded by calling NBC “weak” and “foolish.” Univision announced that it would not carry Trump’s Miss USA pageant, prompting Trump to threaten to sue the network. Mexico announced that it would not send a representative to Trump’s Miss Universe pageant because of his “racist” remarks. If there’s a positive to be found in any of this, it’s that Trump’s vanity run for president is backfiring and has helped tear down some of the other garish and pathetically self-congratulatory monuments he’s erected to himself.
But what I find curious about the reaction to Trump’s blatant racism and anti-immigrant posturing is that not one Republican has stood up and done literally the easiest, least controversial, most politically buzzy thing one could do in this situation: denounce Donald Trump.
Seriously, it’s utterly baffling. Let’s think about this for a moment. The Republican Party is painfully aware that it has a major problem appealing to voter demographics outside its core coalition of old white people and religious white people. This problem is especially acute in presidential election cycles -- like the one we’re in now. Recognizing how toxic this alienation of minority groups was in the 2012 presidential race, the Republican National Committee put out a big report explicitly recommending that the party’s candidates and committees do more to reach out to and engage with Latino voters and make them feel less like the GOP actively despises them. “If Hispanic Americans perceive that a GOP nominee or candidate does not want them in the United States (i.e. self-deportation),” the report counseled, “they will not pay attention to our next sentence.”
In this light, Trump’s comments should have been a big, fat, hanging curve for an enterprising Republican 2016 candidate to swing hard at. What he said was bigoted; there’s no disagreement on that. As far as adversaries go, you could do worse than Trump – he is a semi-sentient pile of hair and sadness, he has no feelings to hurt, and by being on the opposite side of him you win the argument by default. And what he said has nothing to do with immigration policy. By weighing in on it you wouldn’t be taking any dangerous positions you’d later have to defend. And the media would eat that mess up.
All you’d have to do is just stand up and say Trump is wrong and a racist, and that undocumented immigrants are not all rapists. It would be a small step toward demonstrating that Republicans recognize the basic humanity of the people at the center of a controversial policy fight and don’t view them merely as criminals or some sort of invasive species.
But no one did that.
The most outrage the RNC could muster came from its communications director, who said on CNN that “painting Mexican Americans with that kind of a brush, I think that’s probably something that is not helpful to the cause.” And as far as I can tell, the only candidate who has responded with any sort of criticism to Trump is Jeb Bush, who offered a mild Spanish-language rebuke of The Donald:
But on Saturday, Mr. Bush did address comments Mr. Trump made in his campaign launch speech about the Mexican border, in which he said people coming to the U.S. from Mexico are “bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”
At a Saturday event in Nevada, Mr. Bush said in Spanish, “I do not agree with his words. They do not represent the values of the Republican Party and they do not represent my values,” according to a campaign aide.
As for the rest, they’ve either kept their mouths shut or, remarkably, agreed with Trump’s assessment of the immigrant community. “I like Donald Trump. I think he’s terrific, I think he’s brash, I think he speaks the truth,” Ted Cruz said on Fox News yesterday. I’m sure Republicans would much rather that Cruz and Trump be viewed as pariahs and extremists on this issue. By clamming up, though, they’re letting those two speak for the party. And this whole business with Trump being a flaming bigot won't just go away. He’s Donald Trump – he doesn’t stop talking. The longer he’s out there saying racist garbage while running for the Republican nomination, the more awkward it becomes that no one is challenging him on it.
Again, I’m not saying that denouncing Trump would accomplish much of anything or solve any problems. The GOP has issues with Latino voters that go well beyond the bigotry of one rich white guy. But that’s why the silence on Trump is so strange to me. The party clearly has little intention of implementing policy changes to help broaden its appeal (border security now, border security forever!) so it would at least make some sense to go for the superficial outreach efforts. “Sure, we’re still going to deport you and your families and otherwise treat you like criminals, but hey – we don’t assume you’re rapists!” But apparently even that is too much to ask.