“Donald Trump is a racist!” “Donald Trump is getting support from the Ku Klux Klan!” “Donald Trump is drawing white supremacists becaue of his racially divisive rhetoric!” And that’s just what the Republicans are saying about him.
The exact question of how racist Donald Trump is may be the best one of the campaign season. I know I posed it myself in a YouTube video introducing The Donald Scale. And there’s much debate on whether he’s a racist (like he believes what he’s saying) or merely “racist adjacent” (he kinda believes it) or just saying it to get votes. It’s perhaps no coincidence that this question is coming up at the exact moment the “SEC primaries” are about to have their vote (most of the Southern states vote on Super Tuesday with Louisiana and Mississippi a few days later), and Donald is expected to win every one of them.
That’s because of something called “The Southern Strategy” which was created by the Republican Party to turn the South from Democrat (as it was for most of the last century) to Republican. See from The Reconstruction period all the way until about 1965 the South was solidly Democratic, and that helped FDR pass a lot of The New Deal and every other economically progressive thing Americans enjoy today. It also helped LBJ with his Great Society initiatives, but Republicans began eating into Democratic Southern support after LBJ passed The Civil Rights Act and later on The Voting Rights Act.
“The Southern Strategy” plays up racial and religious divisions between progressive, liberal Democrats and blue-collar, white Democrats. It focuses on getting poor white Southerners to vote against their economic best interest (minimum wage increases, unions, tax increases on the wealthy, etc. basically socialism) due to religious issues (abortion, gay marriage, etc.) and race, pitting the white working class against the “threats” of black progress and immigrant takeovers.
Over time, The Southern Strategy hasn’t changed much–except that it’s now used in the Midwest, farther west, and dying factory towns–it’s replaced “black people voting” with voter ID laws, and fears of black progress with fears of black crime or “welfare queens” mooching off tax dollars. Trump has chosen to focus on specifically millennial fears of immigration and an immigrant takeover that is not entirely disconnected from reality, as we’ve been told Latinos will surpass the white population in 50 years. And his candidacy seemed to emerge from the ether of white nightmares as a protective shield against having “to press two for English.”
None of that is to say that Trump is right. [Studies have shown that immigration is actually down, and immigrants actually commit less crime and draw less welfare on average.] But he is offering a “logical” solution to a “problem” the GOP has insisted is real for 50 years. What they’re seeing now is the natural extension of The Southern Strategy coming back to drive who their nominee is, and now they’re the ones feeling the fear.
What’s perhaps most interesting, but rarely discussed, is that Trump’s “moderate” Cuban opponents are really not more moderate than he is (and Cruz is actually much worse). In fact, for all the liberal fears that Trump is a fascist, the Republican establishment’s fears about him is that he’s actually a closet Democrat and that’s the only reason they really care about him being a racist (or the nomiee). They’ve entertained the notion of a Christian theocrat (Cruz) and a corporatarian war monger (Rubio) to save them, both senators also representing Southern states. And though both are Cubans from immigrant parents, even they talk about deporting immigrants and outlawing amnesty. The true legacy of The Southern Strategy may be that in its cracked-mirror universe, even the minorities seem to think they need protection from themselves.
[For more on this, check out episode 11: “What’s the Matter with Alabama?” where we dive deeper into The Southern Strategy and why poor red states stay wed to policies that don’t work.]