Donald Trump’s campaign manager agrees, in principle, with the most controversial thing Hillary Clinton has ever said on the campaign trail: that some percentage of Trump supporters are deplorable.
They just disagree on the arithmetic.
During an interview on CNN’s State of the Union Sunday, host Jake Tapper played Trump’s campaign manager a clip from a Trump rally on Saturday — at which a supporter stood in front of the press pool and chanted “Jew-S-A! Jew-S-A!”
The first word out of Conway’s mouth was “Wow.” But it soon became clear that the “wow” wasn’t actually a reaction to the behavior of the Trump supporter — even though she agreed that “that man’s conduct was deplorable.” What really shocked Conway was Tapper’s contention that “we’ve seen a lot of anti-Semites and racists and misogynists who support the Trump candidacy.”
TAPPER: We’ve seen a lot of anti-Semites and racists and misogynists who support the Trump candidacy.
TAPPER: Would you call that man deplorable?
CONWAY: Wow. Yes, I would. His conduct is completely unacceptable and does not reflect our campaign or our candidate. Wow. I have to push back on some of the adjectives you just used to describe. I hope you have been to Trump rallies. And I hope that you have seen the tens of thousands, he's had over half a million people easily — no, over, I think, in excess of that — at his rallies. And these are USA-loving Americans…
CONWAY: …who just want their country to be prosperous and safe again.
CONWAY: Well, you just — you just suggested that we're just filled with all these other-isms. And I think that's incredibly unfair…
TAPPER: No. No.
CONWAY: Hillary Clinton surrounds herself with lots of people.
TAPPER: I don't — I'm not saying that at all, Kellyanne.
TAPPER: I'm not saying that at all.
CONWAY: This is an easy one for me.
TAPPER: Let me make clear what I am saying. Let me make clear what I am saying.
CONWAY: That man's conduct was deplorable. And had I been there, I would have asked security to remove him immediately. Clearly, he doesn't speak for the campaign or the candidate.
CONWAY: And I think what he had to say was disgusting.
TAPPER: Well, let me be clear what I am saying. The vast majority of Trump supporters do not qualify as to what I am talking about. But without question, people who are experts on hate groups say that there has been a comfort level that has been offered to people who are anti-Semitic and racist and on and on, and these people feel comfortable coming out in the open and supporting Trump—
CONWAY: Comfort level by whom? The campaign I run, Jake, seriously?
TAPPER: Mr. Trump has refused to condemn, in a very serious way, his racist and anti-Semitic fans. He just has. He says things like, “Oh, sure, I disavow, I disavow.” But he has never seriously said “I don’t want the support of those people, they are reprehensible, they have nothing to do with me” in the same way that you and Mike Pence have.
CONWAY: Yes he has; he has done that. And let me just repeat on his behalf that that’s the way this campaign feels.
Conway’s ginned-up umbrage aside, it’s worth noting that she and Tapper are both agreeing with Hillary Clinton’s famous remarks at an August fundraiser about Trump supporters fitting into a “basket of deplorables” — or at least the slightly amended, slightly backpedaled version she issued in a statement the next day, in which she apologized for putting half of Trump’s supporters in such a basket.
Trump’s campaign manager agrees with Clinton that some of Trump’s supporters are expressing unacceptable levels of bigotry, and ought to be deplored. How many Trump supporters that describes is, on a certain level, secondary — the point, as Tapper says, is that bigotries are being openly expressed during this campaign that hadn’t been condoned for decades.
Clearly, if it’s being deplored, it’s not being deplored hard enough.
Some types of bigotry are apparently more reprehensible than others
Don’t assume that everyone else in the Trump campaign agrees with Conway. She’s often shown a willingness (especially in the past few weeks) to grant premises that her colleagues don’t — like the fact that Trump is currently behind in the race.
But Conway’s eagerness to condemn anti-Semitic activity at Trump rallies does reflect a dynamic we’ve often seen this campaign among other Republicans: that some bigotries are more deplorable than others.
To Conway (and other Republicans), anti-Semitism is uncontroversially bad. To many Republicans, Trump’s misogyny (as expressed in, say, the leaked 2005 Access Hollywood tape) is uncontroversially bad. And to many moderate voters, Trump’s willingness to mock a disabled reporter is uncontroversially bad.
Compare this to, say, Trump’s comments about black Americans having “no jobs, no education” and nothing to lose. Or his attack on the objectivity of a federal judge because of his Mexican heritage — something that some Republicans distanced themselves from when asked, but that didn’t lead to a proactive break with Trump in the way that the Access Hollywood tape did.
The fact of the matter is that calling out racism is a politically polarized act, in a way that calling out anti-Semitism and ableism are not.
Voters know people with disabilities and their families; mocking them just seems like bad etiquette. Many Republicans know and respect Jews, and understand just how disconnected from reality you have to be to believe we actually run the media. Republicans know women as “wives and daughters”; attacking them just seems boorish and rude. (Although, in certain contexts, like accusing Republicans of conducting a “war on women,” sexism attacks can get politically polarized too.)
But thanks to structural racism and social segregation, a lot of Republicans simply don’t personally know many people of color. They don’t understand, intuitively, how calling Mexican immigrants rapists and murderers isn’t seen as a policy statement about border security, but as an attack on the character of Mexican Americans. They don’t get why a so-called “appeal” to African Americans that tells them they’re all impoverished and going to get killed if they walk down the street isn’t actually a promise to make things better, it’s a slur on the lives they lead now.
You can look at this as a problem of political coalition-building: As long as the Republican Party doesn’t feel it needs to stay on the good side of African Americans and Latinos, it’s not going to be as sensitive to their concerns as it is to the concerns of middle-class suburban white women. But the problem goes deeper than that; after all, American Jews overwhelmingly support Democrats, too.
The real problem is that it’s a lot easier to be okay with dehumanizing groups of people if you don’t know any representatives of that group. And the willingness of people like Conway to deplore anti-Semitism, while it’s certainly a lot better than not deploring anti-Semitism, also calls attention to all the things she and others have let slide.