The media barely noticed it the other day when Republican US Senate nominee Mehmet Oz gave a speech, with an NRSC backdrop, directly in front of none other than Adolf Hitler’s car, emblazoned with a big fat swastika. Those outlets that did note it called it “unfortunate” or “what Oz probably didn’t realize” or said things like: “Oz most certainly did not intend to pose with a car adorning a swastika while running for office […] No one advising the candidate apparently recognized it might become an issue…”
To which I respond: Where have you people been for the past six years? The Republicans have made appealing to white supremacist voters an open, explicit, core part of their strategy. We go through this dance every week or so: a major Republican figure sends a signal to the Nazi wing of the GOP base that he or she is with them; somebody on Twitter or wherever calls attention to it; the figure in question will (at best) do some kind of weak walk-back while all the right wingers ridicule everyone who dared point out these subtle or not-so-subtle overtures to the haters who are also voters.
Make no mistake: the recipients of these messages receive them and fully grasp all the nudges and winks involved. They appreciate the interest that Republican candidates and officials are paying to their vote and respond accordingly. This is called “motivating the base.”
You don’t need a fleet of spy drones to see all of this happening in plain sight. There’s Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania paying the antisemitic website Gab as a “consultant” to his campaign. There’s Kari Lake in Arizona endorsing (and then un-endorsing) an Oklahoma state Senate candidate who denounced Jews as “evil”. There’s House candidate Joe Kent in Washington sitting down for an interview with a Nazi sympathizer who has called Hitler ““a complicated historical figure which many people misunderstand.”
If you pay even casual attention to the political news, you know that I could just keep going and going with examples like these all day. But how do we know these aren’t just all “coincidences” that Republicans should be allowed to laugh off as they sing “Oops!…I did it again”?
Because, as anyone worthy of the title “pundit” or “political analyst” should know and admit by now, Donald Trump and Steve Bannon made soliciting the white supremacist right an essential part of their 2016 campaign and it has become an organizing principle of Republican political strategy ever since. (Yes, I know that GOP political hat tips to the racist right long predate donald, but he was the one to bring this deal with the devil out of the shadows and into the blinding light of day.)
Steve Bannon qualified to be campaign manager for the Republican nominee for president based on his leadership of Breitbart Media, which he proudly called “the platform for the alt-right,” an intentionally cutesy (wink, wink!) Internet-era term for the white supremacist movement. Just a few months before he took over the campaign, he posted an “Establishment Conservative’s Guide to the Alt-Right,” complete with the racist Pepe the frog meme, that “praised the anti-immigrant site VDare, the white nationalist site American Renaissance, and white nationalist leader Richard Spencer, as the alt-right’s ‘dangerously bright’ intellectual core.” (You do remember Richard Spencer and his “Hail Trump” moment, right?)
We don’t talk much about the “alt-right” these days, but it was defined by couching its deeply racist assault on the very concept of equality in a free-wheeling, ironic and supposedly humorous style giving its viciousness a mocking, dismissive tone – i.e., “you libs just don’t get the joke.” That tone perfectly fits donald-style politicians who want to attract white supremacists to the polls with blaringly loud dog whistles while also being able to deny they are doing exactly the thing that they are doing.
This all fit seamlessly and quite unsubtly into donald’s campaign, focused on spreading the big lie that most of the immigrants at our southern border were “murderers and rapists” and that Democrats and rich Jews like George Soros were funding the “great replacement” of white Christian Americans with menacing dark-skinned newcomers. Sites including Media Matters and Mother Jones tracked how donald throughout his campaign and then presidency kept repeating the “gaffe” of appealing to white supremacists, denying what he and his associates just did, and then doing it again.
Let’s be clear on the political strategy here. Republicans from rank-and-file to leaders refused to follow the advice of the Republican party “autopsy” completed after Mitt Romney’s loss to Barack Obama in 2012, which counseled softening right wingers harsh tones and welcoming minorities in order to attract more voters from the political center. The GOP’s 2016 nomination of donald was a direct rebuke of that approach – but what was the alternative way to find the votes to win?
Those votes (and phone calls and door knocks, etc.) had to be gathered from people so far to the right that they had long been shunned and alienated from politics – for good reason. The trick was to invite the Nazis in without turning off the rest of the base. And the Trumpist solution was to so radicalize their base – while playing off of the permanent benefit of the doubt according by a press determined to play “both sides” – that even alleged Republican moderates become willing to play the game and let the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers of the world into their big tent.
And so now we have a GOP re-created in donald’s image, in which candidates for the U.S. Senate openly spew “replacement theory” talking points, slander members of the LGBT+ community as pedophilic “groomers” and use code words like “globalism” and “George Soros” to define an enemy otherwise known as JEWS.
So what can we do about this dismal situation? Well, besides fighting hard to elect Dems and beat these bigots, don’t allow them to just laugh it off and ridicule you when you point out that you know why they’re giving speeches in front of Hitler’s car or giving interviews to known white supremacists. Call them out, shame them to their face and make sure that their sins are exposed to the light of day and not forgiven. Most Americans, even most Republicans, know that Nazism is horribly wrong, but we must force them to confront the evil they are increasingly bringing to the corridors of power, before it is too tragically late.