Political News

3 clear signs that Donald Trump is playing the race card. Again.

Posted November 5, 2018 10:59 a.m. EST

— President Donald Trump is closing the 2018 campaign in a familiar key: Making barely-veiled racial attacks in hopes of driving a portion of his base to vote.

Three instances from the weekend stand out:

1. In Indianapolis over the weekend, Trump, describing his presidential predecessor, said "Barack," then paused, then drew the letter "H" (for Obama's middle name "Hussein") in the air. Trump has talked about Obama lots and lots of times over the past two years, but it's only the weekend before the election that he decides to note Obama's middle name -- or middle initial -- in this way. Ask yourself why. And then give me one reason other than to remind voters that Obama's middle name is "Hussein." And then explain to me how reminding people that that is Obama's middle name isn't playing on racial animus?

2. On Saturday in Florida, Trump said that Andrew Gillum, the African-American Democratic nominee for governor, was "not equipped" to do the job. "It's not for him," added Trump. Gilllum, who is the mayor of Tallahassee, spent more than a decade on that city's commission prior to ascending to his current post in 2015. It's also worth noting that less than a week ago, Trump, referred to Gillum as a "thief" without making clear what evidence he had to make such a charge. (The FBI is currently investigating the Tallahassee city government, although Gillum has not been named in any of the subpoenas.)

3. Trump has repeatedly insisted that Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, who is black, is "not qualified" for the job which she is seeking. Trump didn't elaborate, but it's unclear what he objected to in Abrams' resume; she is a graduate of Yale Law School and was minority leader of the Georgia state House prior to this bid.

In a vacuum, you could write off these three incidents to the arguments lots of Republicans make when asked about Trump: He's an equal opportunity offender! He's said plenty of nasty things about white people, too!

But we don't live in a vacuum. And the truth of Trump's life as a politician is that he has repeatedly shown a willingness to engage in the sort of racial dog-whistling -- and, sometimes, outright whistling -- that he knows motivates some portion of his base.

This is the same Donald Trump who started his political career by pushing the totally-debunked idea that Obama was not in fact born in the United States. This is the same Donald Trump who said that Mexico was sending "rapists" and "criminals" across the southern border. The same Donald Trump who called NFL players "sons of bitches" for kneeling during the National Anthem. The same Donald Trump who said "both sides" were responsible for the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville. The same Donald Trump who has made referring to California Rep. Maxine Waters (D) as a "low IQ individual" into an applause line in his stump speech. The same Donald Trump who called both CNN's Don Lemon and LeBron James not smart.

And on and on and on and on. This is a feature of Trump, not a glitch. This is the key in which he sings best -- and with the most confidence.

Given that, it's not terribly surprising that this is the key to which he has returned to with his back against the wall in these midterm elections. Most Republican strategists believe their House majority is already gone -- thanks in large part to Trump's unpopularity -- and the governor's races could be a wipeout as well. Only in the Senate, where 10 Democratic incumbents are running in states that Trump won in 2016, are things looking positive enough where Trump may be able to claim some sort of victory tomorrow night.

Faced with those challenges, we've seen Trump turn hard into a base-first strategy over the final week of the campaign -- casting the caravan of migrants moving toward the United States as a pillaging horde dead-set on snatching all that you hold dear. Into the volatile mix, Trump is now dumping other long-held racist stereotypes -- from the former president being "other" to the idea that neither Gillum nor Abrams are the right fit for the job for, well, you know what reason.

This is who he is and what he does. In 2016, it worked. Trump's racial appeals played to the part of his base he needed to turn out while not turning off enough people who held it against him. The question that will get answered tomorrow night is whether Trump can do it all again. And, if he can, what does that say about who we are as a society?