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The Trumpification of America (Special Report)

The 'circus act' that is Donald Trump has resulted in many people now OK with politically incorrect speech, no matter where it leads


December 10, 2015 :: 12:58 PM

Rachel Maddow theorizes that Donald Trump may be trying to sabotage his own campaign by tossing out increasingly more incendiary policy bombs because he really doesn’t want to be president—it’s too hard a job—but he needs the Republican Party to slight him so he can walk away and save face. She also notes that if Trump does become the GOP nominee, he has a 50% chance of winning the presidency.

But whether this is an extraordinary exercise in bombastic self-aggrandizement or a political version of really bad reality TV, Trump is nonetheless having a very real and profound impact on American attitudes. He is giving explicit permission to less educated, poor whites to proudly ignore or brush aside political correctness, civility and tolerance, especially with his latest call for all Muslims to be denied entrance to the United States. Behaving badly is a “right,” according to their version of “religious liberty” and the U.S. Constitution. It’s not just a dog-whistle but a clarion call the dark ugly side of America has longed to hear.

“He’s made it ok to talk about these incredible concerns of European Americans today, because I think European Americans know they are the only group that can’t defend their own essential interests and their point of view,” former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard and Louisiana Rep. David Duke told Politico. “He’s meant a lot for the human rights of European Americans.”

The prominent white supremacist group Stormfront—which apparently receives one million unique hits a month—is upgrading their website to deal with “a Trump traffic spike,” Politico reports. “Demoralization has been the biggest enemy and Trump is changing all that,” said Stormfront founder Don Black, who added that there has also been an increase in listeners and call volume to his phone-in radio show. “He’s certainly creating a movement that will continue independently of him even if he does fold at some point.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center is concerned the permission to be politically incorrect could inspire violence, especially against Muslims. “When well-known public figures make these kind of statements in the public square, they are taken as a permission-giving by criminal elements who go out and act on their words.” SPLC’s Mark Potok told Politico. “Is it energizing the groups? Yeah. They’re thrilled.”

This is hardly the image the Republican Party wanted to convey when they issued their “autopsy report” in 2013 with a plan to broaden grassroots outreach “to increase the Party base.” And Trump’s constancy is starting to panic Republican insiders as poll after poll shows Trump with a sizable lead.

For instance, as Rachel noted on Wednesday night, Fox News released the results of a new survey of Republican primary voters in South Carolina showing Trump with 35% support, far ahead of Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio, who are each about 20 points behind the frontrunner.

Rachel’s producer Steve Benen gives a good, pithy synopsis of the latest polls:

The [Fox News] poll, released Wednesday, was conducted Saturday through Tuesday evenings. Trump made provocative remarks Monday about barring Muslims from entering the United States.

It looks like his comments help him in South Carolina. Support for Trump increased eight points after his statement – from 30 percent the first two nights vs. 38 percent the last two nights.

Got that? A plurality of GOP voters in South Carolina were already rallying behind Trump, but after hearing about his anti-Muslim bigotry, Trump’s support went up, not down.

This is consistent with an online Bloomberg Politics poll that found roughly two-thirds of Republican primary voters nationwide agree with the GOP candidate’s plan to ban Muslims from entering the country.

But wait, there’s more.

A national New York Times/CBS News poll was released this morning, and it also shows the New York developer in a dominant position.

  1. Donald Trump: 35% (up from 27% in September)
  2. Ted Cruz: 16% (up from 5%)
  3. Ben Carson: 13% (down from 23%)
  4. Marco Rubio: 9% (up from 6%)

No other candidate is in a competitive position, including Jeb Bush, whose support is down to just 3%. Carly Fiorina’s backing has collapsed to 1%.

This poll, by the way, was conducted from Dec. 4-8, and Trump’s inflammatory announcement was made the evening of Dec. 7.

Finally, there’s the latest CNN/WMUR poll of Republican voters in New Hampshire:

  1. Donald Trump: 32% (up from 26% in September)
  2. Marco Rubio: 14% (up from 9%)
  3. Chris Christie: 9% (up from 5%)
  4. Jeb Bush: 8% (up from 7%)
  5. Ted Cruz: 6% (up from 5%)

Trump’s 32% showing is the best of any Republican candidate in a CNN/WMUR poll in New Hampshire this year.

What do each of these horse-race polls have in common? Trump has better than a two-to-one advantage over his next closest competitor in each one.

Rep. Adam Schiff thinks it’s important to stand up and call out bigotry immediately, lest it fester, he said in an interview on Sunday after an event looking at the issue of LGBT rights globally:

“It’s staggering to listening to what many of the GIOP candidates are saying on the stump – they’re all trying to out-Trump each other. I think they’re making themselves all unelectable in November. But nonetheless, in the interim, they’re doing a lot of damage because they’re conveying an appearance of an America overseas that is inhospitable to the Islamic community. It views everyone within the Islamic Community with suspicion. That really feeds into the ISIS narrative. That‘s not who we’re about.

And it’s important that we not wait until the general election to fight this but that we respond, right now we speak out. People in America should recognize that Muslims are an indispensible ally in the fight against terrorism is the Islamic community in America. They’re very good partners with law enforcement and community members. If there are people at risk of radicalization, we want to encourage that kind of cooperation. And for neighbors who now look with suspicion on their other neighbors is not what we want. It’s not helpful. So it’s very important to speak out against some of these diatribes we hear on the presidential stump.”

But there’s another consideration here, as well. It’s the so-called “Bradley Effect,”named for a polling disparity in which race and political correctness played an invisible role. Popular longtime Democratic Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley was leading in the polls going into the 1982 race for California governor against Republican George Deukmejian; even exist polls predicted a Bradley win. In fact, Bradley did win the majority of votes cast on election day but lost the election by a slim margin after absentee ballots were counted, based largely on undecided voters and a smaller number of white voters going for the African American mayor than polls predicted.

Deukmejian’s campaign manager Bill Roberts predicted a surge in white voters one month before the election, saying that white voters were giving false responses to pollsters so as not to appear racist. Deukmejian disavowed his campaign manager’s comment and Roberts resigned. But what was later coined the “Bradley Effect” has been discussed by pundits in almost every close election since then. Fred Karger, who ran as the first openly gay candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, worked with Roberts at the time. He is worried about the possibility of the Bradley Effect among voters who are not as outspoken as other Trump supporters:

“When Trump talks of a ban on Muslim’s entering the United States, some people may not express their true feelings about his edict, and instead say what they think may be less offensive to the person asking the questions.  So these polls coming out now may not really reflect the public’s true support for Trump’s proposal.”

This is something to bear in mind for any pundit who claims prospective Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton might have a slam dunk win over Trump in 2016, especially if Bernie Sanders supporters pout and stay home.

Here’s an essay I wrote for the current edition of Frontiers magazine about why this erosion of political correctness matters to the LGBT and progressive communities:

While most of the country offered thoughts and prayers of support for the 14 killed and 21 wounded on Dec. 3 in America’s worst mass shooting since the massacre of 20 children and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gloated, “Whenever there’s a tragedy, everything goes up. My numbers go way up.”

That such insensitive bloviating has become acceptable is but the latest strain on party loyalty for some Republicans. “I’m voting for the most moderate and experienced Republican in the race—Hillary Clinton,” says one gay Republican, half-jokingly. He’s not alone. Jimmy LaSalvia, co-founder of the now-defunct gay conservative group GOProud, left the GOP in 2014, and on Dec. 2, he, too, endorsed Clinton.

“The ability to empathize with people who aren’t like they are is the most important trait a president can have in a country as diverse as ours,” LaSalvia wrote for the Huffington Post. “Clinton is the only major contender who has demonstrated that ability.”

Trump would argue that he empathizes with minorities, exclaiming that Hispanics “love” him, despite his calling undocumented immigrants from Mexico rapists and criminals. He also claims the endorsement of several black pastors, despite suggesting that a black protester roughed up at one of his rallies might have “deserved it,” and having created the anti-President Obama “birther” movement that he still touts at times. In 2011, Obama produced his official long-form birth certificate to prove he was born in Hawaii.

“There’s something going on with him that we don’t know about,” Trump said with a “knowing” look to supporters after Obama refused to label the San Bernardino attack “radical Islamic terrorism” while the attacks were still under FBI investigation.

But Trump supporters love his mocking of “the other,” including his excoriating Muslims. Last August, he used an Asian accent to make fun of Japanese and Chinese negotiators, and more recently he gyrated at a rally when mocking a New York Times reporter with a disability who challenged Trump’s factual accuracy about seeing “thousands and thousands” of Muslims in New Jersey “cheering” as the towers fell on 9/11. Indeed, a simple retweet by this reporter of a note from The TimesSerge Kovaleski resulted in a response from a Trump troll saying, “Another LGBT Fail,” though nothing LGBT-related was at issue.

Trump, who does not support marriage equality, has steered away from making LGBT jokes, and even once stood up for the right of a transgender contestant to enter a beauty pageant. It is unclear if his “joke” about Hillary Clinton’s “interesting friendship” with close personal aide Huma Abedin at the Republican Jewish Coalition was a slight on Abedin’s Muslim religion or a reference to an early 1990s right-wing-created, anti-Clinton slam about the former first lady’s sexual orientation.

Either way, the real estate mogul used the GOP forum to patronize the room full of wealthy Jewish conservatives with a slew of stereotypes. “I’m a negotiator, like you folks,” Trump said.

“You’re not going to support me even though you know I’m the best thing that could happen to Israel,” Trump added. “I know why you’re not going to support me—because I don’t want your money. You want to control your own politician.”

But while the crowd was annoyed at some of his policy positions, they still laughed and applauded throughout.

“He’s funny. And if I went to the Catskills for vacation, I’d love to see him,” New York attorney Eric Levine told Politico. “But as president, his lack of knowledge is disturbing to me. … He’s a circus act.”

That “circus act” continues to out-poll his opponents in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. And while his comment about rising numbers after the San Bernardino shooting may be abhorrent, Trump was essentially correct, referring to a series of polls after the Nov. 13 murders in Paris by Islamic extremists that left 130 dead in what many described as France’s 9/11.

Trump’s bluster and fear-mongering on terrorism has won him converts. A Nov. 17 Reuters poll, for instance, found that 36% of voters thought Trump was best suited to deal with the threat of terrorism. “None” came in second at 17%. A Nov. 23 Washington Post/ABC News poll reported that by 50% to 42%, more Americans said they trusted Clinton to handle the threat of terrorism than Trump. But, the Post reported, “Republicans fare better among registered voters, who typically tilt less Democratic. Clinton’s advantage slims or disappears against all Republicans but Trump,” who bested all other candidates in the GOP field. Part of his support resulted from Trump’s call for heightened surveillance of mosques and opposition to allowing any Syrian refugees to settle in the United States after a fake Syrian passport was found among the dead shooters in the Paris attacks.

Another poll taken by CNN/ORC between Nov. 27 and Dec. 1 found Trump at the top of the heap with 36% of registered Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, with his nearest competitor, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, coming in at 16%.

This poll started on the day Robert Lewis Dear brought several guns, ammunition and propane tanks to his shooting rampage after he holed up for hours inside a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic, killing three and wounding nine. Many wanted to call the assault domestic terrorism, especially after it was learned that Dear made an apparent reference to abortion.

“There has long been some interest in defining acts of domestic terrorism as terrorism. It’s become quite a partisan issue,” William Yeomans, a former high-ranking official in the Justice Department’s civil rights division, told AP  on Dec. 1. “Whether it’s domestic terrorism or not, it doesn’t really matter,” given existing federal laws.

Trump was inexplicably recalcitrant on the Planned Parenthood shooting, finally telling Chuck Todd on NBC’s Meet the Press days later that the incident was “terrible” and describing Dear as a “maniac.”

Asked if he thought the shooting happened in part because “the rhetoric got out of hand”—especially from Republican presidential candidates such as Carly Fiorina during the debates—about the organization that provides legal abortion and health care services for women, Trump said, “No. I think he’s a sick person. And I think he was probably a person ready to go.”

Reminded that Dear had referenced “baby parts” during the attack, Trump pointed to a controversial video that featured edited video clips ostensibly showing Planned Parenthood workers “selling” fetal tissue, though no wrongdoing had been found by investigators.

“Well, I will tell you there is a tremendous group of people that think it’s terrible—all of the videos that they’ve seen with some of these people from Planned Parenthood talking about it like you’re selling parts to a car,” he said. “I mean, there are a lot of people that are very unhappy about that.”

“Now, I know some of the tapes were perhaps not pertinent,” Trump continued. “I know that a couple of people that are running for office on the Republican side were commenting on tapes that weren’t appropriate. But there were many tapes that are appropriate in terms of commenting on. And there are people that are extremely upset about it. It looks like you’re talking about parts to some machine or something. And they’re not happy about it.”

Todd pressed, “Does that mean you’re not surprised that someone might take an extreme reaction to it?”

“Well, this was an extremist,” Trump replied. “And this was a man who they said prior to this was mentally disturbed. So, he’s a mentally disturbed person. There’s no question about that.”

Todd then noted, “But it does sound like you understand why people might react this way.”

“Well, there’s tremendous dislike,” Trump said. “I can say that. Because I go to rallies. And I have by far—and you will admit that, I think—the biggest crowds, nobody even close. … But I see a lot of anxiety and I see a lot of dislike for Planned Parenthood. There’s no question about that.”

The exchange is significant because while Trump understands how some people might react violently out of “tremendous dislike” for Planned Parenthood, he doesn’t make the same association with how people might react hearing anti-Muslim rhetoric after the San Bernardino murders conducted by a lone wolf couple gone mad with hatred inspired by terrorists.

And yet the majority of Republican voters now believe Trump—who traffics in hatred for ratings—would make the best president on national security issues.

The next Republican debate is set to air Dec. 15 on CNN.

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