Expect more Democrat campaign ads tying innocent Republicans to the white nationalists in Charlottesville last year. The “Republicans are racist” meme will be tempting this November — but it could also backfire.
Nearly half of American voters consider President Donald Trump a racist, according to a new poll. Even so, most of them said his immigration policies are not based in racism, and more voters said they trusted Trump over Democrats on immigration.
Last year, Virginia Democratic governor candidate Ralph Northam sent out a mailer connecting his Republican opponent, Ed Gillespie, with the white nationalist rioters in Charlottesville, despite the fact that Gillespie had denounced them immediately. While there are many other reasons for Northam’s victory, Democrats might get the message that this strategy works.
According to the Quinnipiac University poll released this week, 49 percent of American voters — nearly half — consider Donald Trump a racist. A full 86 percent of Democrats, 50 percent of independents, and even 11 percent of Republicans said the president has an animus against people based on their skin color. Another 47 percent disagreed.
This represents little change from February of this year, when 49 percent of voters said Trump is racist while only 46 percent disagreed. A full 79 percent of black voters said Trump is racist, while 58 percent of Hispanic voters agreed. Forty-four percent of white voters also said the president has racial animus.
Trump’s relationship with race is complicated. The president has spoken off the cuff and delivered remarks that could be interpreted as racist, but the general tenor of his statements and policies do not betray a racial animus. He has met with many black pastors and other leaders, and taken their advice. Most notably, he commuted Alice Marie Johnson’s sentence after meeting with Kim Kardashian.
Democrats brand him a racist without sufficient evidence, and many Americans suffering from Trump derangement syndrome believe it.
Even if many Americans think the president is racist, most do not think his immigration policies are racist. The survey asked voters, “What do you think is the main motive behind President Trump’s immigration policies: a sincere interest in controlling our borders, or racist beliefs?”
Half of voters (50 percent) said Trump’s motive on immigration is “a sincere interest in controlling our borders,” rather than racism. A sizable minority (44 percent) did point to racism as the reason, however. Perhaps unsurprisingly, 90 percent of Republicans pointed to a “sincere interest” in border control, while 80 percent of Democrats blamed racism.
Importantly, independents swung toward border control (48 percent), although many did blame racism (45 percent).
More American voters disapproved of Trump’s handling of immigration (58 percent) than approved (39 percent), but they trusted him more than Democrats.
The survey asked, “What do you think the Democrats in Congress are more interested in: resolving the nation’s immigration issue, or exploiting the nation’s immigration issue for political gain?” More than half (60 percent) of voters said Democrats were exploiting the issue, while only 34 percent said they are more interested in resolving it.
Surprisingly, only 67 percent of Democrats had faith in congressional Democrats, with more than a quarter (29 percent) saying Democrats in Congress were exploiting the issue. A full 64 percent of independents said Democrats were exploiting the issue, as did 86 percent of Republicans.
Meanwhile, only 53 percent of American voters said Trump was exploiting the issue, and 44 percent gave him the benefit of the doubt. Republicans trusted Trump (83 percent) more than Democrats trusted Nancy Pelosi. Independents still distrusted Trump, with 53 percent saying he was exploiting the issue and 43 percent calling his interest genuine.
Even so, this 10-point gap is much smaller than the distrust gap for congressional Democrats — a whopping 36 percent.
Many Americans consider Trump a racist, and Democrats are likely to take this as a suggestion that attacking Republicans as racists will help them win in November. The New York Times‘ Charles Blow has already laid out the strategy — declaring all of Trump’s policies rooted in “white extinction anxiety.”
The truth is a lot more complicated, and this strategy could backfire. In 2014, many Democrats doubled down on the “War on Women” narrative, and that backfired when Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) defeated Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.). Perhaps something similar will take place this November.