The 2016 Republican convention began with Iowa Rep. Steve King making an explicit case for white supremacy and ended with Donald Trump making not-so-subtle appeals to the racial resentments of white voters.
Trump began his speech pledging to “be a country of law and order.” The GOP nominee exclaimed, “The crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon, and I mean very soon, will come to an end. Beginning on January 20, 2017, safety will be restored.”
Thus Trump capped off the one cogent message of the 2016 Republican convention: Be afraid, be very afraid. Be afraid of terrorism, be afraid of crime, but most of all be afraid of people who look or sound different from you, or come from other countries. This was taken to the extreme by former Navy Seal Marcus Luttrell who told the convention Monday, “The world outside of our borders is a dark place — a scary place.”
Trump’s appeal to these basest of instincts was also based on a lie. There is no rising crime wave plaguing America. As Politifact said in rating Trump’s claim “Pants on Fire,” “If you look at overall violent and property crimes — the only categories that would seem inclusive enough to qualify as “crime,” as Trump put it — he is flat wrong. In fact, crime rates have been falling almost without fail for roughly a quarter-century.”
More abhorrent, this “law and order” message is an implicit appeal to our basest and most divisive instincts. It is an appeal begging white voters to show up at the polls in great enough numbers to overwhelm a voting population that is growing more diverse by the year. It is evidence of the narrow path Republicans believe they must take to win the White House in 2016. Yet it further condemns the party to failure in national elections.
Twenty-eight years ago, on August 1, 1988, the Rush Limbaugh show went national. Republicans had won at least a plurality of the vote in four of the six preceding presidential elections. Democrats have won a plurality of the vote in five of the six presidential elections that have taken place since. Yet Republicans still are trying to win based on the votes of Limbaugh listeners.
As The Atlantic noted shortly after the last presidential election, “In 1988, Michael Dukakis lost the white vote by 19 points and won 111 electoral votes. In 2012, Barack Obama lost the white vote by a worse margin — 20 points — and tripled Dukakis with 332 electoral votes.”
Prior to the convention, Republican strategist Rick Wilson pointed out on MSNBC that “racism is baked in the cake” of the Trump campaign. Republicans in Cleveland could have moved away from subtle and not-so-subtle appeals based on race. But clearly they took a different course. From the convention committee promoting white supremacist tweets, to attacks on Black Lives Matter, their “baked-in” racism was on display again and again.
Trump’s speech was a capstone on this week and a clear indication that his campaign believes that only white voters matter.