Senator John Cornyn of Texas is the Senate Minority Whip — essentially the number two Republican in the Senate behind Mitch McConnell — and for four years was the chair of the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, in charge of getting Republicans elected.
And, like the old pro he is, Senator Cornyn knew how to play Trump’s embrace of antisemitism and racism perfectly, producing an elegant shout-out to the white supremacist base back home that his people will love and remember for years. And he did it all without paying even a tiny price with the media and the public.
His former colleague Claire McCaskill, wondered out loud on MSNBC what could possibly be more important than taking two minutes to condemn hate to a reporter, but Cornyn knew exactly what he was doing and McCaskill’s comment actually helped his messaging along.
As word spread across Texas of his implicit endorsement of West and Fuentes along with his unwillingness to condemn Holocaust denial and racism, his approval numbers with his base voters had to have gone up at least a point or three.
Proof positive he believed his strategy was working came the next day when, asked again by the same Raw Story reporter if he’d condemn Trump’s dinner, Cornyn refused to even say a single word, quickly turning and ducking into an elevator unavailable to reporters.
By the third day, when Raw Story caught up with him again, Cornyn had this soft-shoe dance down. He pretended he hadn’t heard or read the news, didn’t know who Nick Fuentes was, and, when pressed, said, “Obviously I don’t ascribe to antisemitism and white nationalism.”
If your partner asks if you’ve been sleeping with that cute next-door neighbor and for three days your responses resembled Cornyn’s, your partner would have a pretty good idea you’d been up to no good. This ain’t rocket science, even for a politician.
Donald Trump has been sitting back smiling, nodding his head and winking to Stephen Miller, as the nation went nuts over his Thanksgiving dinner with America’s most prominent next-generation racist.
There’s no downside to him at all: he needs to increase the heat, crank up the fervor of his base, turbocharge his followers’ enthusiasm heading into the Republican primary season that will begin in just a few months.
But, some will say, won’t this offend moderate Republicans?
What about the Mitt Romney voters?
Isn’t Trump shooting himself — and the GOP — in the foot by embracing West and Fuentes?
Commentators and media personalities engaging in this tut-tut-ism, this schoolmarmish critique of Trump’s behavior, so certain that denying the Holocaust will cost Trump the nomination, are apparently suffering from massive amnesia.
This is the same guy who bragged that he can rape women because he’s a star, and the Republican response was almost identical: a few condemned him but most just kept silent and kept their heads down. After all, most of the men in Trump’s base would die for a chance to grab any woman they wanted by the crotch or write a $165,000 check to a top porn star for an afternoon quickie.
This is the same guy who tore thousands of brown children away from their parents, kept them in freezing cages for the cameras to see, and then — with little oversight or record-keeping — trafficked them into “Christian” adoption networks where hundreds are still missing.
This is the same guy who repeatedly embraced the world’s most violent mass murderers and despots, who called Nazis “very fine people,” who brazenly grifted at least five billion dollars for himself and his family — so far — out of the connections he made as president.
This is the same guy who refused to tell Americans how bad Covid was, consigning at least 300,000 to an unnecessary and painful death, because he believed it would kill more Black people than white people.
Trump knows the Republican base better than any reporter.
Hell, he is the Republican base. Crude, vulgar, racist, bullying, violent, viewing women exclusively as sex objects, lusting after more and more money regardless of who gets hurt, disdainful and distrusting of democracy.
And elected Republicans know it.
For decades, of course, the appearance-conscious leaders of the GOP have pretended they didn’t know. They talked about highfalutin concepts like “supply side economics” and “perverse incentives.”
But nobody was fooled.
Reagan reached out to that base talking about that “young buck” in the supermarket buying steak with food stamps; opened his campaign in the small Mississippi town where 3 civil rights workers were murdered by telling an all-white audience the importance of “states’ rights”; called college students “brats” and called for “a bloodbath” a few days before Kent State while cutting off their free educations.
The GOP base knew who Reagan was and what he was saying.
George W. Bush, who is afraid of horses, bought a pig farm in Texas as a prop for his 2000 presidential campaign, wore a cowboy hat, and exaggerated a Texas drawl. Nobody thought he was an average guy: he came from a dynastic family that stretched back centuries.
But the GOP base knew what Bush was signaling: I share your good-ol’-white-boy values.
Trump then came along and said, essentially, “To hell with all this pussyfooting around: let’s just put our hate, racism, misogyny, and antisemitism right out in the open.”
Over and over again, both the media and establishment Republicans were convinced he’d gone too far in showing the rest of America who he was and what their base wanted to hear. Over and over again they were wrong.
We’ve been living in polite denial as a nation for about a half-century.
Prior to the mid-1960s, the white racists (who were then mostly Democrats) were right up front about who they were and what they were all about.
They controlled Congress and the governments of the southern states; they kept Black people from voting or getting good educations; they fought to keep schools, hospitals, and public transportation segregated.
Alabama Governor George Wallace spoke for them when, on January 14, 1963, he addressed the Alabama State House and Senate in joint session on the occasion of his swearing in:
“Today I have stood where once Jefferson Davis stood and took an oath to my people. It is very appropriate, then, that from this Cradle of the Confederacy, this very Heart of the Great Anglo-Saxon Southland, that today we sound the drum for freedom as have our generations of forebears before us done, time and time again through history.
“Let us rise to the call of the freedom-loving blood that is in us and send our answer to the tyranny that clanks its chains upon the South. In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny and I say, ‘Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.’”
The crowd rose to its feet, showering Wallace with thundering applause.
Richard Nixon saw the power of Wallace’s white racist base and realized how President Lyndon Johnson was casting it aside with the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Johnson believed Americans wanted a more pluralistic and egalitarian nation and did his best to deliver it with his Great Society: Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, Head Start, aid to education and housing, and support for working class and poor families of all races.
He continued Kennedy’s push for desegregation and promoted the rights of all Americans, regardless of race or religion.
Pluralistic and egalitarian were not, however, what most of the white voters of the South wanted. Nor, it turned out, many of the white voters of the North, East, Midwest, and West.
Nixon’s “southern strategy” reached out to them and welcomed them into a newly reinvented Republican Party, cementing him the presidency in 1968 as he campaigned against the post-King-assassination “lawless riots in our cities.”
Most white Americans who aren’t knowingly and intentionally racist probably figure the white supremacist base is a weird ten or fifteen percent of white people. Maybe a quarter or a third in a bad year.
After watching Trump and the GOP openly massage and embrace that racist base for the past six years, though, many of us are concluding it must be a much larger number than that. At least half of white people, maybe more.
In the 2012 election, Barack Obama — by then an internationally respected statesman and president for four years — carried a mere 39 percent of the white vote. Fully ninety percent of all Republican voters that year were white.
In 2020, Biden took the White House with only 43 percent of the white vote, and only 40 percent among white men. Democrats have struggled to get the white vote since Lyndon Johnson blew it up with the Civil Rights Act.
The election of 1964, in fact, was the last time a majority of white people voted for a Democrat for president. Period. Hasn’t happened since, and probably won’t ever again, particularly given how tight the GOP has gotten at messaging their embrace of racism and antisemitism.
After all, when your entire party is devoted to the interests of a very tiny slice of the electorate, basically corporate executives and the morbidly rich, you’ve got to figure out a way to get enough votes to get elected. Racism is so pervasive in America that it has worked for the GOP since 1968, and won’t stop now.
A 2012 study conducted by researchers from Stanford, University of Michigan, and the University of Chicago found “anti-black/pro-white bias” among 59 percent of white people. While this was study looking for “implicit bias” rather than surveying fulminating racism, it’s instructive.
As much as our media tries to pretend racism is limited to a “fringe” made up of “outliers” like Fuentes, the reality is he’s much closer to the mainstream base of the GOP than anybody is willing to admit. And Republicans like John Cornyn and Donald Trump know it.