Among the many things that should frighten progressives about Donald Trump’s unbreakable post-Super Tuesday lock on the GOP presidential nomination (which will be reaffirmed by his expected victories in today’s caucuses in Kansas, Kentucky and Maine, as well as the Louisiana primary) is that, as part of what my colleague David Atkins described last week as Trump’s pivot to the center, he will make a concerted general-election effort to whittle down presumptive Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s support in communities of color.
The prospect of Trump wooing nonwhite voters seems profoundly far-fetched, considering his mendacious mutterings about Mexicans and Muslims and his support from the white nationalist fringe. However, Trump’s political skills cannot be underestimated, and when he says he can attract voters of color, his words cannot and should not be dismissed lightly. Note his remarks on his potential appeal to voters of color on the February 21 edition of CNN’s State of the Union (the relevant segment begins at 5:09 and concludes at 8:27):
We can’t forget the lessons of history. Despite his years of racist rhetoric, Ronald Reagan won 11 percent of the black vote and 30 percent of the Latino vote in 1980; in his 1984 re-election, he won 10 percent of the black vote and 37 percent of the Latino vote. George H. W. Bush’s racist exploitation of the Willie Horton controversy in 1988 didn’t stop him from attracting 12 percent of the black vote and 30 percent of the Latino vote that year.
In 2000, George W. Bush genuflected to the bigots at Bob Jones University, a school that would not have even allowed his brother Jeb to date his sister-in-law because of the color of her skin. Despite that sad fact, and his choice of Nelson-Mandela-hating Dick Cheney as his running mate, Bush yielded 8 percent of the black vote and 35 percent of the Latino vote; in his 2004 re-election, Dubya attracted 11 percent of the black vote and 43 percent of the Latino vote.
In other words, Republicans have proven that they can engage in shameless, ugly race-baiting and still attract a certain amount of black and Latino support in successful presidential campaigns. This is why Trump’s talk about attracting black and Latino support in a general election cannot be laughed off; a case can be made that Trump–who knows he needs more than just angry white guys to defeat Clinton–is far more politically talented than Reagan, Bush 41 or Bush 43 ever were, and could indeed lure a non-negligible number of black and Latino voters with his rhetoric of economic populism in order to seize the White House.
The nightmare scenario is Trump emphasizing the same facts Bernie Sanders has cited about economic unease in communities of color in a general election, convincing a certain percentage of black and Latino voters–enough to matter in a close election–that President Obama did nothing for them economically, and raising doubts about whether Clinton will be able to do anything for them either. Trump is the master of multiple messages, and one cannot gainsay the possibility that in a general election, he could indeed attract support from both racists and the victims of racism, as Reagan and both Bushes did before him.
Progressives who dread the consequences of a Trump administration should take the prospect of The Donald attracting black and Latino support seriously, as much as it may seem improbable today. As the general election approaches, they should not hesitate to remind those of all races who might be tempted by Trump that the only thing that ever follows a seduction is a betrayal.
UPDATE: Jessica Williams of Vox on why some Muslim-Americans are actually supporting Trump.
THIRD UPDATE: Bernie Sanders defeats Hillary Clinton in Kansas.
FOURTH UPDATE: In something of a surprise, Cruz controls Maine.
FIFTH UPDATE: Bernie Sanders wins Nebraska.
SIXTH UPDATE: Louisiana is Clinton country.
SEVENTH UPDATE: Trump wins big, as anticipated, in Louisiana.
EIGHTH UPDATE: Trump wins Kentucky.