Donald Trump took over the Republican Party due, in large part, to voters who have pretty nasty views about racial and religious minorities. If you want to understand the corrosive effect this bloc is having on the GOP, then this tweet — from actual US Rep. Steve King — is a really good place to start:
King sent out the tweet on September 18, but it just got noticed by a large number of Twitter users on Monday evening. It’s easy to see why: The phrase “cultural suicide by demographic transformation” is an outright statement of white supremacy.
The argument, common among European far-rightists and online racists, is that immigration from certain groups is killing Western societies. If the West wants to save itself from “cultural suicide,” it needs to stop letting Muslims and nonwhites enter Western countries.
It’s a repulsive thing to say. And the company King is keeping underscores just how foul a saying it really is.
The tweet is directed at Frauke Petry, the woman to King’s right in the picture. Petry is the leader of Alternatives for Deutschland, the most successful German far-right party since the Nazis. She’s an anti-immigration, anti-Muslim radical, who has been referred to as “Adolfina” in the press. She once suggested that German police should shoot migrants attempting to cross into their country.
The tall blond man with King and Petry is Geert Wilders, the leader of the ironically named Dutch far-right Party for Freedom. Just this July, Wilders declared, "I don’t want more Muslims in the Netherlands and I am proud to say that.” He has proposed levying a tax on women who choose to wear headscarves; its name, literally translated, is “towelhead tax.”
In essence, King is expressing solidarity with far-right European nationalists, openly endorsing their quest to exclude Muslims and other non-Europeans from their societies.
This tweet wasn’t a one-off for King, one of the most notorious immigration opponents on Capitol Hill. In 2013, King suggested that many Latino immigrants had “calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.” Earlier this year, he argued that every civilization that had ever contributed to the world was run by white people:
This whole “old white people” business does get a little tired, Charlie. I’d ask you to go back through history and figure out where are these contributions that have been made by these other categories of people that you are talking about? Where did any other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization?
It’s tempting to dismiss King as an isolated crank who doesn’t speak for a lot of Republicans. But the rise of Donald Trump has called that once plausible assumption into serious question.
What King’s tweet reveals about Trump
I’ve argued, at length, that Trump and European far-rightists like Petry and Wilders share a common political strategy. Their basic argument is to appeal to the large number of whites, on both sides of the Atlantic, who see immigration and rising diversity as a threat to their sense of how the world should be operate. The more nonwhites and Muslims gain, the thinking goes, the more white Christians lose.
There is a metric ton of evidence for this, but some of the best work (at least on Trump) comes from UC Irvine professor Michael Tesler. Tesler looked at racial resentment scores, a test political scientists use to measure racial bias, among Republican primary voters in the past three GOP primaries.
In 2008 and 2012, Republican voters who scored higher were less likely to vote for the eventual winner. The more racial bias you harbored, the less likely you were to vote for Mitt Romney or John McCain. With Trump, the opposite was the case. The more negative one’s views of blacks, the more likely they were to vote for the self-proclaimed billionaire.
Tesler found similar effects on measures of anti-Hispanic and anti-Muslim prejudice. This shows that Trump isn’t drawing support from the same type of Republicans who were previously picking the party’s winners. He’s mobilizing a new Republican coalition, one dominated by the voters whose political attitudes are driven by prejudice.
"The party’s growing conservatism on matters of race and ethnicity provided fertile ground for Trump’s racial and ethnic appeals to resonate in the primaries," Tesler wrote in the Washington Post in August. "So much so, in fact, that Donald Trump is the first Republican in modern times to win the party’s presidential nomination on anti-minority sentiments."
Trump’s core base of support, then, is people who have Steve King–style views about race and difference. That’s scary — including for Republican leaders who think Trumpism is just a fad.