ASCH: Trump’s rhetoric has infected Republican politics

Fear mongering has become a political norm

trump-wikimedia commons

President Donald Trump has coarsened our political rhetoric.

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Ever since his entrance into the political realm, President Donald Trump has coarsened our political rhetoric. During the 2016 Republican primary, Trump consistently berated his opponents with personal attacks and made outrageous claims, such as insinuating that Sen. Ted Cruz’s, R-Texas, father was involved in President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Quickly, these outrageous statements became the norm, and so did his appeals to racism. As USA Today accurately pointed out, Trump has used his platform to turn the racial dog whistle into a bullhorn. He did this by playing on Americans’ fears, calling Mexican immigrants “rapists and murderers,” stoking fears of Muslims by proposing a travel ban, as well as implying that the beating of a Black Lives Matter protester was justified. After witnessing Trump’s successful ascendence to the presidency, and his appeal with the base, down-ballot candidates have started to adopt his rhetoric. The spread of these blatant appeals to racism and xenophobia is bad not just for the GOP, but for the United States as a whole.

Unfortunately, this is not a new phenomenon in American politics. President Richard Nixon employed these appeals to America when pioneering the Southern Strategy. Nixon, in an attempt to swing the post-Civil Rights Act south, which had previously been Democratic, ran on thinly veiled racial appeals to "law and order.” Though these appeals to racism and fear existed, they did not infect the mainstream of the Republican party. One only has to look at the video of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., going against his supporters to say that then candidate Barack Obama is an American and President Ronald Reagan denouncing racism at an NAACP convention, to know that these appeals were once not common at all.

After Trump’s election, these appeals became all too common. Though there are several candidates who have participated in the trend, the two who most exemplify it are Roy Moore, Alabama Republican senatorial candidate, and Corey Stewart, chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors. Moore has said horrific things about Islam, specifically that they should not be serving in Congress and that their religion is incompatible with the U.S. Constitution. Has has expressed these beliefs by arguing that current Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., should not be allowed to serve in Congress due to his religion. Stewart has also used this rhetoric while running a surprisingly close primary campaign against current Republican gubernatorial nominee Ed Gillespie in the 2017 Virginia gubernatorial election. He came to prominence during his campaign where he advocated “preserving the heritage” of the confederacy and attended events with white nationalist Jason Kessler.

One could argue that these two candidates, while empowered, do not represent Republican politics — however, following their astonishing success, their rhetoric is being adopted by more mainstream candidates. Specifically, I am speaking about Gillespie, who has adopted that rhetoric after his surprisingly close primary race against Stewart. In the Virginia gubernatorial race, Gillespie has attempted to link Democratic nominee Ralph Northam to the MS-13 gang due to his support for immigrants, as well as advertising claims about sanctuary cities making us unsafe, which are completely untrue. It is clear that Gillespie is hoping to capitalize on Trump’s rhetoric in order to win the governorship, despite the fact that his attacks are completely untrue and pander to the worst elements of American society. It is unfortunate he has chosen to embrace Trump style politics, because unlike Trump he has a detailed platform with proposals that can be debated intelligently. If Gillespie continues on this current path, he will be demonstrating to other Republicans that the dissemination of these appeals, not a debate on the issues, are necessary for electoral victory. 

Politicians in the GOP should not fan the flames of these prejudices, even if it is the surest way to electoral success. Even after his horrible and divisive campaign, it is Republicans who have embraced Trump and served as apologists and imitators of his ideals. This rhetoric needs to be stamped out and its adherents should be driven to the fringes of Republican politics. The election of Trump has given these individuals a platform for which to spread their hateful ideals and it is up to Republicans to stop this from becoming the norm. Politicians should seek to be the moral leaders of our society and bring out the best in their citizens through their campaigns. If Republicans continue on this path, it will show America that the surest way to electoral victory is not a battle of ideas, but fear mongering. If this strategy continues to be successful it will bring out the worst in our society and ensure that these rhetorical appeals never stop. 

Jacob Asch is an Opinion columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at j.asch@cavalierdaily.com

related stories