Maybe we should stop talking about Donald Trump being a racist.
“I think I’m winning,” he told reporters as he left for a rally Wednesday.
The president was widely denounced for saying a quartet of young minority congresswomen, known as the Squad, should go back to “the crime infested places from which they came.”
It was pretty clear to a lot of Americans that telling people to go back where they came from was a racist trope. Trump said he didn’t care. And, of course, he didn’t.
He now seems to be running for reelection against the Squad. “These left-wing ideologues see our nation as a force of evil,” he told the cheering crowd in North Carolina on Wednesday night, launching into a hot assault on Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota while the crowd yelled “Send her back!”
The whole White House team has been talking about the Squad. Presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway on Tuesday claimed they represented “a dark underbelly in this country.”
People, if you were genuinely trying to tamp down a crisis over a president’s racist remarks about minority members of Congress, would you use the term “dark underbelly”? And are you surprised Kellyanne Conway is still around? Trump cannot hang onto a Cabinet member for more than five minutes, but she’s apparently got lifetime tenure.
The Squad is not actually a group, but they share a generally left worldview. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York talks a lot about socialism. Omar and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan have both been very critical of Israel. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts wants to defund ICE. Now Trump is eager to run against them instead of the actual Democratic Party.
And, of course, throwing in a lot of immigrant-bashing is just fine. You may conceivably remember that he got elected on a send-them-back-where-they-came-from campaign.
Trump made it clear this week that he is utterly indifferent to all the charges of immigrant-bashing and racism. And Republican politicians, desperate not to put any daylight between themselves and the president’s base, instantly began portraying the squad – four relatively powerless junior members of the House – as threats to national security. Lindsey Graham called them “a bunch of communists.”
Let’s stop for just a second and think about Lindsey Graham. He was once known as John McCain’s loyal senatorial spaniel, and if that wasn’t a great image, at least he was picking a pretty good idol to follow. Now that McCain is gone, Graham seems to have latched onto Trump.
Other minions were less hysterical in their defensiveness, although no more charming. “I think we’re going way beyond the pale right now. They talk about people of color. I’m a person of color. I’m white. I’m an Anglo-Saxon,” said Rep. Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania.
Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff argued that Donald Trump could not possibly be racist since he had a Cabinet member “who came to the United States as a child, unable to speak English, learned English, and eventually became a naturalized citizen.”
That would be Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, whose family has a huge shipping business and is now the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Otherwise, the Trump Cabinet is virtually minority-free except for Ben Carson. Alex Acosta, the labor secretary, had to ditch his job after the world learned of his unhelpful prosecutorial role in the Jeffrey Epstein scandal.
“He’s a Hispanic man,” said Trump, rather unnecessarily, as Acosta stood next to him for the departure announcement. The president also revealed that Acosta was “Hispanic, which I so admire because maybe it was a little tougher for him and maybe not.”
Certainly nobody wants him to go back to wherever he came from.
Gail Collin is a columnist for The New York Times.