What took GOP leaders so long to pull away from Trump?

    Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally

    Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally

    I have long believed that Donald Trump was created by the Republican Party’s peddling of racial resentment.

    Trump, you see, represents a natural progression. He has taken the offensive whispers that have long taken place in the dark recesses of back rooms, and he has shouted them unabashedly in the light. 

    That’s why I was not surprised when a tape surfaced of Trump in 2005, telling reporter Billy Bush that when he sees a beautiful woman his response is to “just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the [genitals]. You can do anything.”

    However, when Trump dismissed his lewd comments as “locker room talk” in the second presidential debate, I was appalled. Not only because he was trying to excuse what amounts to sexual assault, but also because he had indeed been allowed to “do anything” up to that point.

    That GOP leaders are only now denouncing Trump speaks not to Trump’s own attitudes toward women, religious minorities, and people of color. Their failure to denounce him until now speaks loudly about what the Republican Party has become.

    I’m not impressed that U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan has announced that he will not campaign for Trump or defend Trump’s remarks. I don’t care that Sen. John McCain has pulled his endorsement of the GOP presidential nominee. I am not heartened that former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice has urged Trump to withdraw from the presidential race.

    Their bluster is like tinkling brass. Their outrage is utterly disingenuous. Their actions are both too little and too late, because if the GOP wanted the support of a broad cross-section of Americans, the party leadership should have spoken up long before this.

    I watched as the GOP faithful refused to denounce Trump’s unconstitutional rhetoric on profiling Muslims, or banning them from the country, or engaging in torture, or employing a deportation force, or broadening the racially discriminatory practice of stop and frisk.  

    I waited in vain for Republican leadership to pull their support when Trump falsely equated the black community with crime, implied that all African Americans live in hellish environments, and said that Mexican undocumented immigrants are criminals and rapists.

    I hoped that when Donald Trump took to the Internet to mercilessly troll a former Miss Universe who happened to be of Latino descent, that those who now claim to be defenders of women would run to her aid.

    However, the outrage never materialized.

    Only when Trump offended white women—a key political demographic for Republicans—did the party establishment begin to pull its support.

    That tells us nothing new about Donald Trump, but it speaks volumes about the party he represents.

    For too long, the GOP has focused on only a portion of the electorate, and though party leaders claimed they would look beyond white voters after Barack Obama’s reelection in 2012, they not only failed to woo voters of color. They doubled down on their efforts to disenfranchise us. 

    Soon after the Supreme Court crippled the Voting Rights Act in 2013, many traditionally Republican states including North Carolina, South Carolina, Mississippi, Texas and Virginia attempted to put restrictive Voter ID laws in place.

    Several of those laws were weakened by legal challenges while others, like North Carolina’s, were stricken completely by the courts.

    In fact, a federal appeals court said North Carolina’s Republican-sponsored Voter ID law targeted African American voters with “almost surgical precision.” 

    That’s no surprise. Until two days ago, the Republican Party supported Donald Trump—a candidate whose rhetoric targeted African Americans, Muslims, Mexicans, and refugees with the same level of precision. Their decision to do so communicated more than just a lack of concern for those in the minority. It communicated outright hostility.

    Even in the face of that reality, there are blacks, Latinos and Muslims who believe in the GOP, and there are more who would like to do so. 

    But when the GOP remains silent about the racially, ethnically and religiously offensive rhetoric of its standard bearer, that doesn’t just hurt the Party. It hurts the country.

    If we’ve learned anything from the candidacy of Donald Trump, it is this: Republicans can no longer afford to limit their concern to white voters, because America can no longer afford the politics of division.

    Perhaps the GOP will apply those lessons sooner than later.

    Maybe that way, they won’t have to try to restrict minority votes. Maybe that way, they’ll actually have a chance to win them.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.