Republicans should let Donald Trump alone own his idiotic, offensive messes

Robert Robb

Republican officeholders are stuck with President Donald Trump as titular head of their party. Trump will dominate the image of their party regardless of what they do.

However, they should seek to reduce the extent to which Trump sticks to them personally. To create some sort of distinction between supporting Trump on policy and condoning his behavior in office.

In short, to endeavor to have Trump, and Trump alone, own his messes.

Trump really stepped in it with his tweet against what has inelegantly been labeled the “squad”: four very liberal Democratic congresswomen of color. Namely, Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley.

Trump’s tweet was stunningly idiotic, vile and offensive, even by Trumpian standards.

Although, in that tweet, Trump didn’t name the targets of his pummeling, he has subsequently left no doubt that he was referring to the squad. He said that they “originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world … .”

Slurs like 'go back' are never innocent

He then rhetorically asked: “Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came … you can’t leave fast enough.”

Of course, only one of the four was born outside this country, Omar. The other three wouldn’t need a passport to visit the place of their birth.

The breathtaking ignorance Trump displayed in his tweet has almost gone without notice. That’s because of the vileness of the “go back” admonition.

Despiar of a former NH GOP chair: Donald Trump stole my party and my heart is breaking.

For some reason, ethnic slurs have become known as “tropes.” That’s too antiseptic a term. In any event, “go back to the country you came from” is an ethnic slur, usually directed at Latinos. There is no innocent interpretation of the phrase as Trump used it.

House Democrats passed a resolution condemning Trump’s “racist comments.” All but a handful of Republicans voted against it.

Republicans condemned Omar for less

After a long life of observation, I’ve concluded that hypocrisy is the natural second language of politicians.

Just a few months ago, congressional Republicans were demanding a House resolution condemning antisemitic “tropes” by Omar. She had stated that American foreign policy favoring Israel was unduly influenced by lobbying and campaign contributions from American Jews. And that they were pushing for allegiance to a foreign country.

President Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Greenville, N.C., on July 17, 2019.

House Democrats ultimately crafted a broader resolution condemning bigotry of all kinds, including the sort of tropes in which Omar was trafficking with respect to American Jews and Israel. Virtually all Republicans voted for it. Those who opposed it did so because the condemnation wasn’t strong or specific enough with respect to what Omar had said.

I don’t think much of these gesturing resolutions. But Trump’s trope was more clearly an ethnic slur than Omar’s tropes were antisemitic. And they were directed against duly elected members of Congress.

One cannot logically argue that the House should condemn what Omar said and not what Trump tweeted.

Reject Trump's indefensible behavior

All of this is squandering what should be a Republican opportunity. Democrats were being cannibalized by their obsession with identity and grievance politics, until Trump made himself the issue. An object lesson in the inevitable consequences of identity and grievance politics has been, at best, postponed.

Republicans have difficulty in attracting the support of minority voters. To oversimplify, Democrats say they want to help minorities improve their lives through bigger government programs. Republicans say they want to help through expanded opportunities in the private sector economy.

The Democratic pitch is more direct. But this economy is working for minority families. Black unemployment is near record lows. Real wages are increasing. Latino homeownership is surging.

Irony of ironies, Trump’s policies deserve much of the credit.

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No other Republican can compete with Trump as the face of the party. And other GOP officeholders don’t need to rise to the media bait of condemning or endorsing every intemperate Trump tweet.

But other Republican officeholders do need to create some space between them and Trump. And to invest some political capital in the distinction between Trump’s policies and his behavior in office.

When Trump does the indefensible, direct the consequences toward him alone.

Robert Robb is a columnist for the Arizona Republic, where this column first appeared.  Follow him on Twitter: @RJRobb

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Trump's vile ethnic slurs should be on him, not the Republican Party