Within 48 hours of the massacre in Orlando, Donald Trump delivered what might be his most incendiary remarks yet.
The Republican nominee suggested, almost explicitly, that President Obama was either sympathetic to radical Islamist causes or, worse, is complicit in terror attacks like the one that occurred in Orlando, Florida over the weekend.
In an interview on Fox News, Trump said: “Look, we're led by a man that either is not tough, not smart, or he's got something else in mind. And the something else in mind – you know, people can't believe it. People cannot, they cannot believe that President Obama is acting the way he acts and can't even mention the words 'radical Islamic terrorism.' There's something going on. It's inconceivable. There's something going on.”
There's dog-whistling and there's whatever that is. This is how you say something without actually saying it. “There's something going on” that is “inconceivable” and it's so unthinkable that “people can't believe it.” To his white nationalist fan base, the message is clear: Obama is “in” on the attacks. The “something else in mind” part doesn't leave much room for interpretation. Trump, the Republican nominee for president of the United States, is insinuating that our current commander-in-chief is a traitor, some kind of Muslim Manchurian candidate.
“He doesn't get it or he gets it better than anybody understands – it's one or the other, and either one is unacceptable,” Trump added. Later that day, the real estate mogul softened his rhetoric, but only slightly. He told NBC's “Today” show that President Obama is just willfully ignorant: “There are a lot of people that think maybe he doesn't want to get it.” This is classic Trump. Rather than just state his position, he cleverly says “There are a lot of people” who think X. This is how you toss an idea out there without taking any responsibility for its origins or implications. At no point is Trump talking more directly to his base than when he engages in this kind of talk. He knows his audience, and it's why he's a fixture on right-wing radio, where demagogues like Alex Jones and Michael Savage peddle nationalist bile.
We've entered unprecedented territory for a major party presidential candidate, and each day that passes with Trump as the nominee, the GOP becomes less serious, less relevant, and less credible. There really isn't any way for Republicans to tiptoe around Trump's lunacy at this point. The racism, the xenophobia, the conspiracy theorizing – these aren't gaffes or missteps. This is the very foundation of Trump's campaign.
It's too easily forgotten that Trump's presidential bid began with his endorsement of birtherism, the first racist crackpot theory to emerge about President Obama. As James Carville wrote in April, Trump's “first act on the political stage was to declare himself the head of the birther movement. For Trump, the year 2011 began with the big news that he had rejected Lindsey Lohan for Celebrity Apprentice, but by April, his one-man show to paint Barack Obama as a secret Kenyan had become the talk of the country.” This was a tactical decision by Trump to signal his racist leanings to conspiratorial ethno-nationalists. They heard the message loud and clear and they've supported him ever since. “I don't think I went overboard,” Trump said in 2013. “Actually, I think it made me very popular.” Whether Trump is actually a racist is beside the point. That he's willing to court racists so overtly is itself disqualifying.
Still, there are several GOP leaders who seem content to wait for Trump to turn it around, to shape-shift into a dignified non-racist candidate. This is a shameful position. Trump has already made clear who he is and what he stands for. Now Republicans will be forced, every day, to defend his statements, to explain whether they think President Obama is a traitor and a Jihadist sympathizer.
The electoral consequences of this will be severe, and Republicans have no one to blame but themselves.