Trump's former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao has had enough of his racist attacks

Mitch McConnell’s wife slammed Trump's repeated insults amid high-profile shootings targeting Asian Americans

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published January 26, 2023 9:04AM (EST)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) waits to be sworn-in with his wife Elaine Chao, U.S. Secretary of Transportation, at the U.S. Capitol on January 3, 2021 in Washington, D.C.  (Samuel Corum-Pool/Getty Images)
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) waits to be sworn-in with his wife Elaine Chao, U.S. Secretary of Transportation, at the U.S. Capitol on January 3, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Samuel Corum-Pool/Getty Images)

Former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao hit back at former President Donald Trump on Wednesday over his repeated racist attacks.

Chao, who is married to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has been on the receiving end of a barrage of anti-Asian insults from her former boss. Trump has demeaned her as "Coco Chow" and referred to her as McConnell's "China-loving wife."

Amid silence from Republican officials on Trump's comments, Chao issued a rare public statement to Politico.

"When I was young, some people deliberately misspelled or mispronounced my name. Asian Americans have worked hard to change that experience for the next generation," she said "He doesn't seem to understand that, which says a whole lot more about him than it will ever say about Asian Americans."

Chao, who resigned from Trump's Cabinet following the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, has largely avoided commenting on the attacks, though she urged the media not to amplify his insults. Her rare rebuke this week "suggests that discomfort with Trump's anti-Asian rhetoric has reached a new level amid several high-profile shootings targeting Asian Americans," Politico reported.

McConnell, meanwhile, has refused to comment while Trump lobs attacks at his wife and alleges that he is compromised by his wife's family's business in China.

Other top Republicans have largely dismissed the attacks.

"As you know, the president likes to give people nicknames. You can ask him how he came up with the nickname," Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., the head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told CNN in October. "I'm sure he has a nickname for me."

Chao while serving in Trump's Cabinet did not respond to her boss' attacks on her husband.

"I stand by my man — both of them," Chao told reporters during one 2017 spat between the two men.

But she ultimately stepped down after Jan. 6, saying that the riots "deeply troubled me in a way I simply cannot set aside."

Trump has repeatedly specifically targeted Chao in his attacks ever since.

The insults have "bewildered" Chao, a former administration official still close with the former secretary, told Politico, but she previously declined to respond because it just "creates another news cycle."

"Especially for Asians, it's critical to have filial piety — you honor the family name. And that's a hit not only to her personal reputation but her name and family," the former official said. "It's offensive and a stain on everything he achieved for Asian Americans."

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Trump spokesman Steven Cheung, who is Asian American, told Politico in a statement that Trump's criticism of Chao is focused on her family's shipping business and its ties to China, not her race.

"People should stop feigning outrage and engaging in controversies that exist only in their heads," Cheung told the outlet. "What's actually concerning is her family's deeply troubling ties to Communist China, which has undermined American economic and national security."

But some former administration officials say Trump's rhetoric about Chao goes too far.

"Trump's repeated racist attacks on Elaine Chao are beneath the office he once held and particularly despicable in this moment when the Asian American community has been subject to threats and harassment," Alyssa Farah, a former Trump aide-turned-critic, told the outlet.

Other Republicans say it's hurting the party as it seeks to grow its support among Asian American voters.

"I saw that firsthand when I was a candidate," Lanhee Chen, a Stanford professor who ran as a Republican candidate for California controller in 2022, told Politico. "I talked to a lot of Asian American voters in my state and the feedback I got was, 'What you represent is great, I love the vision, but I don't know if I can vote for someone from the same party as Donald Trump because of all actual — and in other cases perceived — commentary towards Asian Americans over the last several years.' "And the attacks against Elaine Chao are really puzzling given that she did really good work in his administration and accomplished a lot and benefited his own presidency."

Former McConnell aide Scott Jennings predicted that the attacks would backfire on Trump.

"It's a bizarre obsession he has with her," he told the outlet. "If you heard someone on the street making these rants you'd expect to see them in a sandwich board or a straight jacket."

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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Aggregate Donald Trump Elaine Chao Mitch Mcconnell Politics