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From “Dog Whistle” to “Dog Siren”

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GOP Worries About Trump’s Racial Appeals Backfiring in 2016 

An article from Jonathan Martin in the New York Times, entitled “Republicans Fear Donald Trump Is Hardening Party’s Tone on Race,” highlights Republicans’ increased worries that Donald Trump’s racist rhetoric and radical proposals will hurt the GOP’s electoral prospects in a changing America.  This alarm is growing more acute as Trump consolidates his frontrunner status in the GOP presidential contest and as his appeals to racial resentment continue and his support from Republican voters remains strong.

We excerpt the piece below:

“Republicans are growing increasingly concerned that Donald J. Trump’s inflammatory language is damaging the party, fearing that his remarks are hardening the tone of other candidates on racial issues in ways that could repel the voters they need to take back the White House.

Some party leaders worry that the favorable response Mr. Trump has received from the Republican electorate is luring other candidates to adopt or echo his remarks. It is a pattern, they say, that could tarnish the party’s image among minority voters.

‘Any candidate that allows Trump to dictate the conversation about what they’re campaigning on is going to be harmed irreparably,’ said Josh Holmes, a Republican strategist and the architect of Senator Mitch McConnell’s re-election campaign in Kentucky last year. ‘And to the extent that there are mainstream candidates dragged into the musings of Trump on a day-to-day basis is really bad news for us.’

…Yet as summer nears its end, Mr. Trump shows few signs of fading, leading to unease among Republican leaders, not because they believe the developer and reality TV star will become their nominee, but because of how he is shaping the campaign conversation.

While Mr. Trump was blunt in his attacks on immigrants, he has also begun to highlight issues involving African-Americans, the police and crime, using language that to some party officials evokes earlier appeals to white prejudice and anxiety. Mr. Trump and other prominent Republicans have also begun to directly criticize the Black Lives Matter movement, which seeks to call attention to mistreatment of African-Americans by police officers.

Amid an increase in murders in a number of cities and the high-profile killing of police officers, Mr. Trump has been infusing his speeches with calls for ‘law and order.’ Echoing former President Richard M. Nixon, he has said that a ‘silent majority’ will join him in taking back the country, and he has said he will rid heavily black Ferguson, Mo., Baltimore and Chicago of gangs and ‘tough dudes.’

‘That’s not a dog whistle; that’s a dog siren,’ Rick Wilson, a Florida-based Republican strategist, said of Mr. Trump’s references to cities, gangs and policing. ‘When he first started saying ‘silent majority,’ I didn’t think he understood the historical antecedents, but now I believe they very much do.’

…‘This kind of politics of anger seems to be taking us back to some ugly moments in American history,’ said Russell Moore, a senior official with the Southern Baptist Convention. ‘It’s a regrettable and dangerous ploy that I don’t think churchgoing evangelicals are going to fall for.’

‘Even if one doesn’t have a sense of morality, one ought to have a sense of demography to know this is self-destructive,’ he said.”

The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent assesses the implications of Martin’s article on his Plum Line site this morning, writing:

“What appears to be new is that leading Republicans — in the above Times piece — are openly acknowledging the racial component to this [Trump’s] appeal.

It’s debatable, of course, whether this sort of ‘dog-whistling’ is a recent GOP development. It’s also worth noting that all this hand-wringing about Trump’s ‘tone’ is a bit of a dodge, since the GOP’s problems with Latinos on immigration go well beyond Trump. Many Republicans are unwilling to embrace any solution for the 11 million, even as they fudge on whether they should all be deported; Trump has simply forced that grand evasion out into the open.

Still, the open grappling with the fact that many Republican voters are responding to Trump’s crude racial ‘dog whistling’ in particular seems to signal a new level of awareness of — and alarm about — the true nature of the Trump threat.”

The Republican worries over the rise of Trump extend past their prospects of winning back the White House and include fears that he could imperil down-ballot 2016 contests as well. As Tierney Sneed wrote in a recent Talking Points Memo article titled, “Trump’s Latino Bashing Risks GOP Senate Hopes In 3 Key States,”Republicans’ prospects in the three Latino-heavy 2016 Senate states of CO, FL, and NV could be imperiled by further association of the GOP with extreme anti-immigrant and anti-Latino elements.

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, “Donald Trump’s racially divisive appeals are not only morally repugnant, but politically disastrous for the Republican Party.  When are adults in the Republican Party going to stand up and clearly denounce this dangerous development?  What’s at stake is not just a presidential contest, but a larger referendum on what kind of society we are and want to be.”