2020

Kris Kobach Demonstrates Why Republicans Have to Pretend That Trump Isn’t a Racist

July 17, 2019
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(Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

When House Republicans rolled over practically in unison on Tuesday, refusing to condemn President Trump’s repeated racist attacks on four Democratic congresswomen, I speculated that we might at last have reached absolute zero, the ground state at which the GOP had lost their last vestigial resistances to Trump’s misbehavior. After all, how could the party sink lower? Imagine my surprise and consternation, then, when I awoke Wednesday morning to see this clip of Republican Senate candidate Kris Kobach on Tuesday evening, telling CNN anchor Chris Cuomo that he didn’t know whether he’d stop supporting Trump if he came right out and said “I’m a racist.”

“What would you do if the president said, ‘I am a racist’?” Cuomo asked.

“Then I would not defend him,” Kobach responded. “There’s no excuse for racism in America.”

“Would you still support him for president?” Cuomo continued.

That brought Kobach up short. “Um—I don’t know. That would be a really tough question. If he said—I’d have to know who was running against him. If he said he was racist, probably not . . . These are ridiculous hypotheticals.”

Man, talk about egg on my face! Here’s a quick hint for GOP types who face these sorts of mean-spirited “gotcha” questions from the Fake News Media—nobody’s preventing you from skipping straight to the “These are ridiculous hypotheticals” part. Insisting Trump would never, ever say he was a racist is what media hits are for. Save the hemming and hawing for when he actually, you know, does.

It’s easy to rag on Kobach for saying the quiet part out loud here, and who knows? Maybe it will even hurt his chances of winning a GOP primary. But it’s hard to argue why it should: After all, Kobach wasn’t saying anything that wouldn’t be right at home in Congress today. Some might argue that the stance Kobach sketched out here isn’t representative of Republican lawmakers at large. But this would be a laughable contention, because—and pardon me while I pull out my bullhorn here—

TRUMP AS GOOD AS CAME RIGHT OUT AND SAID HE WAS A RACIST THIS WEEK AND REPUBLICAN LAWMAKERS STAYED DOGGEDLY FAITHFUL TO TRUMP.

It is crucial to the narrative of craven Republicans like Kobach that this question—what if Trump revealed himself to be a racist?—be treated as a laughable future hypothetical, even as, in the actual world in which we live, it has already repeatedly come to pass. This is because a world in which Trump is a real, live racist is the worst of all possible worlds for a conservative public figure. There is no exit strategy, none whatsoever, available to him: Trump and his media lackeys have convinced an enormous swath of the American right that all accusations of racism—unless they’re aimed at Democrats, obviously—are stupid and laughable. The facts of the matter don’t matter in the least. Say a Republican did something racist, and a critical mass of conservatives won’t wait to hear what he did: They’re already sneering and rolling their eyes. Get a load of this guy, who believes it when the Fake News and the Left say somebody’s a racist.

What’s most bewildering about this is how little it’s seen as a potentially devastating vulnerability for conservatives, even among some on the dwindling Trump-skeptical right. There’s a certain breed of Republican pundit who, when he sees examples of conservatives turning a blind eye to genuine bigotry, likes nothing better than to wag a finger at the left: “Maybe if you guys hadn’t played so fast and loose with the accusations of racism against genuinely decent men like Mitt Romney, we’d be paying more attention to the accusations of racism against the racist dorks now!”

And you know what? There’s definitely some truth to this argument! Keep making it, if it makes you feel better, less responsible for the crisis at hand. But acknowledge that it does absolutely nothing to solve that crisis. It isn’t the responsibility of the left to keep conservatives from tolerating bigotry in their ranks. That responsibility belongs to conservatives.

To fail in this responsibility isn’t just a moral disaster. It also has devastating political consequences. Young people just getting into politics aren’t taking a look at Republican apathy toward racism and thinking to themselves, “Wow—what a shame that the left overplayed their hand on racism and made Republicans like this!” They’re just thinking: “Yikes—I guess this is where all the bigots are hanging out.” Once they get there, they’re not looking back.

But hey: I’m not saying anything Trumpworld doesn’t already know. The GOP has already consigned itself to the bargain bin for a generation, so why worry? They’re focused on living their best life now.

You’d just think, that being the case, that they’d have better things to do than debase themselves on cable TV.

Andrew Egger

Andrew Egger was a senior writer at The Bulwark.