Again and again, Donald Trump has said and done things that can really only be described as flat-out racist. He's referred to Mexican immigrants as criminals and "rapists." He's called for a ban on Muslim travel to the US. And now he's said that Judge Gonzalo Curiel should be disqualified from overseeing a Trump University case simply because of his "Mexican heritage." Plus, there was that period when he repeatedly questioned whether President Obama was born in the United States.
Indeed, Trump's racism has now become so unmistakable that leading Republicans are no longer even trying to deny that it exists. Instead, they've moved to acknowledging it and condemning it — but maintain that Trump is worth supporting anyway. That was House Speaker Paul Ryan's argument Tuesday morning, according to the Washington Post's Mike DeBonis:
Ryan says Trump remarks on judge are "textbook definition of racism."— Mike DeBonis (@mikedebonis) June 7, 2016
"But do i believe Hillary clinton is the answer? No i do not."
This is the position Republican elites have put themselves in: arguing that despite Trump's racism, he should still be the next president of the United States because of his views on other policy issues. That Trump's racism is an unfortunate thing but something they're willing to live with. That opposition to racism is no longer a bedrock value of the Republican Party but rather something that can be compromised away.
This might strike some as incoherent, but it's arguably clarifying. After all, Republican voters overwhelmingly believe that "discrimination against whites has become as big a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minorities," according to the Public Religion Research Institute's American Values Survey:
Over the past few years, Republican elites have repeatedly attempted to get the party to move to the center on issues like immigration and change the party's tone, to better win over Hispanic voters. "If Hispanics think we do not want them here, they will close their ears to our policies," several leading Republicans wrote in the Republican National Committee's 2013 "autopsy report."
Elites hoped that a Latino politician like Marco Rubio — or one who engaged in a great deal of outreach to Hispanics, like Jeb Bush — would win the 2016 nomination.
But the party's voters have repeatedly hammered down these attempts at moderation. When Rubio joined the Senate's "Gang of Eight" supporting immigration reform, conservative voters were so outraged that he later turned tail and abandoned the effort. And instead of nominating Rubio or Bush, voters turned to the candidate with the harshest anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric of all: Donald Trump.
It is clear that GOP voters don't view bigotry against Hispanic Americans as a particularly big problem in this day and age. And in announcing that he'll continue to support Trump despite his "textbook" racist comments, Ryan is simply moving where his party's voters already are — and clarifying the decision the American electorate as a whole faces.