President Donald Trump on Sunday launched a transparently racist Twitter attack on Democratic women of color in Congress, admonishing them to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” Republicans hardly batted an eye.
Trump’s tweets read more like the sort of screed you’d see on 4chan than something you’d expect from the president of the United States. They were denounced by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democrats at home, and abroad by outgoing conservative British Prime Minister Theresa May, as well as a number of major international publications.
But if you expected Republican members of Congress to come to the defense of the duly-elected women Trump targeted — though he didn’t mention them by name, it’s likely he meant Reps. Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, all of whom are US citizens, and three of whom were born in the United States (Omar was born in Somalia and emigrated to the US at 10 years old) — think again. Until Monday, the closest any Republican lawmaker had come to denouncing Trump was Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX), but even he couched criticism of Trump’s tweets within a broader defense of his immigration policies and sentiments.
On Monday morning, a couple Republicans went public with criticism of Trump’s tweets, with Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) saying in a statement that Trump “was wrong to suggest that four left-wing congresswomen should go back to where they came from,” adding that “[t]hree of the four were born in America and the citizenship of all four is as valid as mine.” And during an interview on CNN, Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX) didn’t mince words, describing Trump’s tweets as ”racist and xenophobic” and “unbecoming of the leader of the free world.”
Toomey and Hurd were the exception to the norm. While most Republican members of Congress have been silent about Trump’s tweets, Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) defended the president by twisting the meaning of his words, saying during a podcast interview that his tweets were “clearly not racist” because “he could have meant go back to the district they came from — to the neighborhood they came from.” But Trump clearly specified that he was speaking about foreign countries, not congressional districts, in his tweets.
Republican reactions to Trump’s latest racist screed — or the lack thereof in most cases — stands in contrast to the fallout from the Access Hollywood tape in which Trump bragged about groping women and his defense of white supremacists after the Charlottesville, Virginia, rally. Then, many Republicans at least paid lip service in condemning Trump. Now, however, more than ever before, the Republican Party is Trump’s Republican Party.
And there’s one statistic that goes a long way toward explaining why: his approval rating within the GOP.
It’s Trump’s Republican Party now
According to the latest Gallup polling, Trump’s approval rating among Republicans currently sits at a robust 90 percent, or just 1 percentage point below his all-time high. His approval rating within his party has gradually increased throughout his term, from the high 70s in the summer of 2017 to the high 80s and low 90s this year. (Notably, even though Trump’s approval rating among Republican is remarkably high, Trump has repeatedly lied about it, including on Saturday, by falsely claiming its 94 percent.)
This gradual rise has coincided with Trump critics within the GOP either departing the Republican Party or receding from leadership positions. The two Republican senators who were most critical of Trump during the 115th Congress, Jeff Flake and the late John McCain, are no longer serving. Michigan Rep. Justin Amash, the lone congressional conservative who has called for Trump’s impeachment and who posted a tweet calling Trump’s attacks on Omar and company “racist and disgusting,” recently left the party. As Axios’s Jonathan Swan put it, “Trump knows he can say whatever he likes and face no consequences from the party he has conquered.”
Perhaps no one person better embodies how the Republican Party has gradually become beholden to Trump than Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). In May 2016, Graham infamously tweeted that “If we nominate Trump, we will get destroyed…….and we will deserve it.” During a TV interview conducted in February 2016, Graham called Trump “crazy,” “a kook,” and said “I think he’s unfit for office.”
On Monday, however, Graham — who played golf with Trump the day before — went on Trump’s favorite show, Fox & Friends, and offered a full-throated defense of the president by smearing Ocasio-Cortez and the other women Trump attacked as “a bunch of communists.”
Trump liked Graham’s comments so much that he tweeted them out as part of a four-tweet Twitter thread that concluded with him tagging the once Trump-skeptical senator and asking, “Need I say more?”
With Trump having consolidated power within his party, Republicans who might feel inclined to take issue with the bigotry he expressed on Sunday can afford to be on the receiving end of one of his Twitter outbursts less than ever. So some, like Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT), have chosen so far to remain silent. Others, like Graham and Harris, are either falling in line behind the president or twisting his words to downplay their offensiveness. Very few, however, seem willing to stand up for any principle beyond partisan self-interest.
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