How Did the Republican Party Become Xenophobic?

Imagine for a moment that you are a political strategist for the opposition party seeking to challenge a candidate who wants to build on the progress of her predecessor. As you try to come up with a message for why change is necessary, you have to combat the reality of that progress.

* Following the worst recession since the Great Depression, unemployment is at 4.9%.

* In the previous year, real median income for Americans rose by 5.2%.

* The number of Americans living in poverty fell by 3.5 million in the last year.

* The number of people who are uninsured dropped below 10% – the lowest in history.

* Crime rates are dropping and “by virtually any metric, Americans now live in one of the least violent times in the nation’s history.”

* Net migration from Mexico has dropped below zero.

* “The chance of an American being murdered in a terrorist attack caused by a refugee is 1 in 3.64 billion per year.”

Now add the fact that the party you are working for built its modern-day iteration on the Southern Strategy to appeal to racist white people and the guy who presided over that record happens to be the first African American president in the country’s history. Beyond that, your party did everything it could to stop him from making any progress by simply obstructing anything he tried to do. How would you make the case for the need for change?

I thought about that as I re-read something Adam Serwer wrote back in 2011 as he began to envision President Obama’s re-election prospects.

The Republican Party had a choice after 2008. They could continue to rely on a dwindling but still decisive share of the white vote to prevail, or they could try to bring more minorities into the party. While I’m not entirely sure how much of the decision was made by party leaders and how much is merely the unprecedented influence of Fox News, but whether it’s pseudo scandals of the past two years, from birtherism to the NBPP [New Black Panther Party] case, the GOP’s nationwide rush to ban sharia and institute draconian immigration laws, or characterizing nearly every administration policy as reparations, the conservative fixations of Obama’s first term indicate that the GOP will end up relying at least in part on inflaming white racial resentment to close the gap.

Of course he was right. The GOP did, in fact, rely “on inflaming white racial resentment to close the gap.” And now they’ve nominated the guy who built his political reputation on claiming that the first African American president isn’t a citizen of this country. In order to make his case, he has to blatantly lie about all of the bullet points above and say things like this about refugees who want to come to here due to the violence and destruction in their own country.

They’re here. And I’ve been saying. This is going to be like the Trojan horse. We’re letting tens of thousands of people flow into this country and they are bringing in, in many cases, this is cancer from within. This is something that’s going to be so tough and you know they stay together, so nobody really knows who it is, what’s happening. They are plotting. They keep plotting, and this has been going on for so long and everybody knows it…

In response to that kind of talk, Josh Marshall asks whether the fascist labels are really too much. I’m not prepared to go there. But the word xenophobic certainly fits.

Fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign.

Just this past weekend, after Trump supposedly put all that birtherism nonsense to rest, we saw a Republican political consultant say this on CNN:

In many ways the Republican Party took this road back in 2008 when they made the decision Serwer referred to up above. Some of them are beginning to express regret for where that decision has brought them. But I haven’t heard any of them be honest enough to articulate the path they chose to get here. Until they do that, I suspect that the GOP will continue to be the party of xenophobia.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.