WASHINGTON — The silence is deafening.
President Donald Trump has gone in the past several weeks from racist dog whistles to an all-out Confederate bugle call with a rebel yell — and yet his Republican enablers in Congress continue determinedly to cover their ears.
He retweets a video in which a man shouts "white power" and later deletes but never disavows it. He talks of the pandemic as "kung flu," calls for violence against "thugs" in the streets of Minneapolis and labels a sign proclaiming "Black Lives Matter" a "symbol of hate." He threatens to veto a defense bill if it removes the names of Confederate generals from U.S. military bases.
In the past few days, he has declared that those marching under "the banner of social justice" are part of a "radical ideology attacking our country" and are "bad, evil people" seeking "to end America" in favor of "far-left fascism." And he has attacked NASCAR for banning the Confederate flag and said its only black full-time driver should "apologize" for a "hoax" after a noose found in his garage was determined not to have been directed at him.
Yet from Republican officeholders, nothing.
"President Trump's unyielding push to preserve Confederate symbols and the legacy of white domination," The Washington Post's Robert Costa and Philip Rucker wrote on Independence Day, "has unnerved Republicans who have long enabled him but now fear losing power and forever associating their party with his racial animus."
Unnerved, but inaudible. "On Capitol Hill, some Republicans fret — mostly privately, to avoid his wrath — that Trump's fixation on racial and other cultural issues leaves their party running against the currents of change," Costa and Rucker wrote.
So Trump's enablers are unnerved by his overt racism — not because it's despicable on its face but because they fear losing power. And the enablers fret, but in private.
The silence, often attributed to cowardice, is really complicity. As I've noted, racial resentment has become the primary driver and predictor of support for the Republican Party, a trend that has accelerated under Trump. If Republican lawmakers continue to "fret privately" as Trump bases his reelection on clumsy racist demagoguery, they must be held to account for condoning the redefinition of the GOP as the new home of the white power movement. Their silence isn't just enabling Trump; it's also enabling white supremacy to hijack a major American political party.
So let's hold them to account.
On Monday, I emailed the campaigns of the 11 Republican senators who face potentially competitive reelection campaigns this year: Susan Collins (Maine), Thom Tillis (N.C.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Kelly Loeffler (Ga.), David Perdue (Ga.), John Cornyn (Texas), Joni Ernst (Iowa), Mitch McConnell (Ky.), Cory Gardner (Colo.), Martha McSally (Ariz.) and Steve Daines (Mont.). (Disclosure: My wife, a Democratic pollster, has clients in the Colorado and Arizona races.)
Noting that Republican members of Congress have been privately fretting about Trump's racism, I invited each of the senators to comment on statements Trump has made in recent weeks:
— Decrying schools, newsrooms and corporate boardrooms for a "new far-left fascism . . . designed to overthrow the American Revolution."
— Saying: "The unhinged left-wing mob is trying to vandalize our history, desecrate our monuments, our beautiful monuments, tear down our statues, and punish, cancel and persecute anyone who does not conform. . . . They want to demolish our heritage."
— Proclaiming: "The radical ideology attacking our country advances under the banner of social justice. But in truth, it would demolish both justice and society. We will not be tyrannized, we will not be demeaned, and we will not be intimidated by bad, evil people."
— Warning about the menace of "a very tough hombre" breaking into homes and the police not responding.
— And his remarks on "kung flu," NASCAR, military bases named for Confederates and the "white power" video.
A few hours after my first inquiry, I emailed a reminder.
In response, Loeffler's campaign said that both she and Trump stand "strongly against racism" and that "this is just another one of the media's silly games."
Graham's campaign directed me to his radio interview Monday with Fox News's Brian Kilmeade, in which Graham disagreed with Trump's NASCAR tweet but said Trump isn't racist. "You can be dark as coal or an albino. . . . He's an equal-opportunity basher and praiser."
McConnell's campaign said he "abhors racism" but his responsibilities "don't include acting as a deputy press secretary for the White House."
Collins's campaign said she "has challenged President Trump on many occasions," including "when he failed to immediately condemn the anti-Semitism and racism that led to the violent clashes in Charlottesville."
The others — Tillis, Perdue, Cornyn, Ernst, Gardner, McSally and Daines — responded as Republicans generally do when asked about Trump's racism: with crickets.
They think their silence protects them. But it does something else: It turns them into the handmaidens of white supremacy.
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