Trump’s bigotry leading to drop in the polls

Sunday 19/06/2016
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at Saint Anselm College, on June 13th, in Manchester, New Hampshire.

Washington - Although presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump scored points with a sub­stantial element of the party’s primary electorate by saying outrageous and offensive things, his recent diatribes against a highly re­spected judge over his ethnicity has cost Trump points in polls among the general electorate.

Trump won the delegates’ tally in Republican primaries by suppos­edly “telling it like it is”. This means he not only took pride in being politically incorrect but he played to some people’s worst fears and prejudices by going after Muslims, Hispanics and other so-called unde­sirables.

Although Trump was denounced by Democrats and some establish­ment Republicans for such com­ments, he weathered the political storm because all that counted at the time was winning a plurality of votes in Republican primaries.

Trump indicated that, having se­cured the nomination, he would act more “presidential”, suggesting he would drop such language and con­centrate on policy issues.

That did not happen.

In a Wall Street Journal interview in late May, Trump lambasted US District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is presiding over a civil case on allegations of fraud against the now defunct Trump university. Trump referred to him as a “Mexican” and said the judge could not be impar­tial in the case because Trump plans to build a wall on the Mexican bor­der.

In a subsequent interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, who reminded Trump that the judge is a US citizen born in Indiana, Trump dismissed that fact. Pressed by Tapper, Trump said he probably could not get a fair hearing from a Muslim-American judge either.

These comments went too far for the political establishment, Demo­crats and Republicans alike. Speak­er of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, who had endorsed Trump a day earlier, said “claiming a person can’t do their job because of their race is… the text­book definition of racism”.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said it was time for Trump to “quit attack­ing various minority groups in the country”. US Senator Mark Kirk, R-Illinois, who is in a tight race for re-election, said Trump’s comments “make it certain that I cannot and will not support” him for president.

So why did these latest com­ments elicit much more of a harsh response than previous outrageous Trumpisms?

Aside from political calculations — Republicans undoubtedly feared Trump’s comments would do fur­ther damage to relations with the Hispanic community — the com­ments touched a raw nerve about what it means to be an American.

To state that one cannot be im­partial because of one’s ethnicity or religion flies in the face of what the United States is all about. After all, most Americans have ancestors from someplace else only a few gen­erations ago. If Trump is saying that one’s ethnicity precludes one from doing one’s job, then the essence of the US political system is in jeop­ardy.

Moreover, to ascribe attitudes and positions simply based on ethnicity is ethnic-profiling at its worst. Even Americans whose families have been in the United States for several generations understand the dangers of such comments.

The Washington Post carried a story June 12th about Americans’ reaction to Trump’s comments. One 90-year-old retiree, who said he had been leaning towards Trump, said Trump’s comments about the judge were “clearly racist” and said he “has to apologise”.

Trump did not do so. All he said in reaction to the criticism was that his comments about the judge “were misconstrued” by the media.

However, Trump’s comments seem to have hurt him in the polls against presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Before news about the comments on the judge went public, Trump and Clin­ton were virtually tied in the polls. Since then, Clinton has taken a lead of between 4-11 percentage points, depending on the particular poll.

Of course, there is a long way to go until the November election and the recent attack in Orlando, Florida, by a Muslim-American who claimed admiration for the Islamic State may work in Trump’s favour. Right after the Orlando attack, Trump called for prohibiting immigrants from areas of the world with a history of ter­rorism as an addendum to his ear­lier proposal of temporarily banning Muslims from entering the United States. He also stated that the “only reason the killer was in America in the first place was because we al­lowed his family to come here”.

However, the episode about the judge seems to be a turning point. Polls indicate Americans have come to see Trump’s bigotry as unaccep­table. Although he will continue to receive support from a portion of the Republican party base no matter what outrageous things he says, his standing with the general electorate is another matter altogether.