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The Party of Trump

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Whether or not the Donald wins the nomination, he’s defining the party who’s nomination he’s seeking because of his willingness to say the quiet parts loud:

In his speech from the Oval Office on Sunday night, President Obama took care to urge his fellow citizens not to equate the extremism of ISIS with the beliefs of Muslims as a whole. “Just as it is the responsibility of Muslims around the world to root out misguided ideas that lead to radicalization, it is the responsibility of all Americans, of every faith, to reject discrimination. It is our responsibility to reject religious tests on who we admit into this country. It’s our responsibility to reject proposals that Muslim-Americans should somehow be treated differently.” Obama made his case on both pragmatic grounds (mistreating Muslims would feed into ISIS’s preferred narrative) and on moral grounds (Muslim-Americans deserve the same rights as the rest of us). Obama’s comments drew particular ire from Senator Marco Rubio, a leading Republican presidential candidate. “And then the cynicism, the cynicism tonight to spend a significant amount of time talking about discrimination against Muslims,” Rubio declared on Fox News. “Where is there widespread evidence that we have a problem in America with discrimination against Muslims?”

It is unclear what sort of evidence Rubio would accept. According to FBI statistics, hate crimes against Muslim-Americans, which spiked in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks, have settled in at an elevated level five times higher than before 2001. If Rubio considers these dry statistics too abstract, he could look to current Republican poll leader Donald Trump, who last night proposed a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”

Trump has dominated the Republican race by channeling the passions of its base more authentically than any other candidate. Trump’s imprint has been felt in ways that go far beyond his mere chances of capturing the nomination, which (I continue to estimate) remain low. Liberals fall into the habit of assuming that the most authentic spokesperson for the party’s base must necessarily be its most likely leader. The vociferous opposition Trump provokes among Republican leaders guarantees the last non-Trump candidate left standing will enjoy their consolidated and enthusiastic support. What Trump has done is to make the Republican party more Trump-like.

Because he’s essentially an empty suit with an eye towards maximizing votes, Rubio is a particularly instructive case study. Less than 4 years ago, he was the most prominent face of an immigration reform proposal that was supposed to stop the Republican bleeding of Hispanic voters. (Kerry won Hispanic voters by 9 points. Obama in 2012 won them by 44.) He has now settled very comfortably into the casually racist nativism of the Republican base. Because he’s part of the establishment, he frames his xenophobia as anti-anti-xenophobia rather than outright xenophobia where possible, but the difference is more stylistic than substantive. And as Rubio moves ever closer to Ted Cruz ideologically, I’m not sure that Republican voters won’t just go ahead and vote for the latter.

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