If you watched this week’s Republican National Convention in complete ignorance of US politics, you’d think the GOP had achieved a remarkable degree of racial parity. A plethora of people of color spoke on behalf of Donald Trump’s reelection—conspicuously so. Just on the first night, the RNC gave pride of place to Maryland congressional candidate Kim Klacik, Georgia Democratic state Representative Vernon Jones, NFL star Herschel Walker, South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, and former UN ambassador Nikki Haley. As David Dayen of The American Prospect quipped, “Looking just at the race and ethnicity of current elected officials who spoke on the first two nights of the Republican National Convention, the GOP is 41.7% nonwhite.” But of course this impression is a false one. The Republican Party is overwhelmingly white, both in its voting base and its elected officials.
The prominence given to people of color at this week’s convention is hardly an accident. Although Trump has been more vocally racist than any president of the modern era, his political success has been based not just on winning white voters but also finding ways to peel off people of color from the Democratic coalition. Politics is about margins, so he doesn’t need to win a majority of people of color. All he needs is to have a slightly larger number vote for him—or even just stay at home. In 2016, his campaign ads played up Hillary Clinton’s remark about “the kinds of kids who are super-predators.” This seems to have had the required effect of dampening African American enthusiasm for Clinton. Trump has on several occasions alluded to the fact that a lower Black turnout helped him in 2016.
Hence many of the speeches at the RNC didn’t just trumpet what Trump was offering people of color (jobs, criminal justice reform) but also slagged Democrats for their failure in serving minority communities.
Tim Scott, in particular, was sharp and effective in pointing out the flaws in Joe Biden’s record:
Joe Biden said if a black man didn’t vote for him, he wasn’t truly black.
Joe Biden said black people are a monolithic community.
Joe Biden said poor kids can be just as smart as white kids.
And while his words are one thing, his actions take it to a whole new level.
In 1994, Biden led the charge on a crime bill that put millions of black Americans behind bars….
President Trump’s criminal justice reform law fixed many of the disparities Biden created and made our system more fair and just for all Americans.
Joe Biden failed our nation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities… heaping blame on them as they fought to ensure our young folks had access to higher education.
Trump’s bid to win over more people of color shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand as doomed to failure. As polling expert Nate Silver notes, “There’s some polling evidence to suggest Trump is performing better than in 2016 with Black and Hispanic voters, especially younger Black and Hispanic voters.” The appeal Trump has to these voters is exactly along the lines Scott suggested, with Biden as the face of a centrist Democratic approach that has yielded few positive results for ordinary folks in recent years.
Yet this pitch to people of color is undercut by the racism that is also part of Trump’s message. Throughout the convention there has been an endless litany of law-and-order rhetoric, with warnings that the Democrats would unleash crime on the suburbs.
On Monday night, the RNC featured Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the St. Louis couple notorious for pointing guns at Black Lives Matter protesters. During their prerecorded speech, the McCloskeys warned that the Democrats were “protecting criminals from honest citizens” and trying to “abolish the suburbs.”
On Sunday night, a day before the RNC started, police in Kenosha, Wis., shot Jacob Blake seven times in the back, igniting another wave of Black Lives Matter protests. On Tuesday night, a vigilante in Kenosha killed two protesters. The following day, a 17-year-old Trump supporter named Kyle Rittenhouse was arrested for the crime.
It’s hard not to draw a connection between the RNC and the violence in Kenosha. Former Obama adviser Jon Favreau tweeted, “Tonight’s RNC should be covered through the prism of the Wisconsin shootings, particularly since Trump gave primetime slots to a white couple who pointed guns at BLM protesters, the AG who hasn’t charged Breonna Taylor’s killers, and speakers who attacked athletes for protest.”
The Trump campaign has disavowed the shooter in a statement that claimed, “This individual had nothing to do with our campaign.”
On the other hand, many right-wing pundits are excusing the shooter. On his Fox News show, Tucker Carlson asked, “How shocked are we that 17-year-olds with rifles decided they had to maintain order when no one else would?”
Carlson’s words highlight the absurdity of the RNC’s pitch to people of color. It’s ridiculous to make the case that nonwhites are welcome in the GOP when leading Trump supporters are calling for a race war.