Former Secretary of State Colin Powell is one of the few Republican leaders to address the problem directly. He has acknowledged that there is a "dark vein of intolerance in some parts of the party." He added, "What I mean by that is they still sort of look down on minorities." Donald Trump is surging among Republicans in polls now because he is appealing to that dark vein of intolerance within the Republican Party.
For the past year, I have been studying the intolerant in the Republican Party for my forthcoming book America Is Not Post-Racial: Xenophobia, Islamophobia, Racism, and the 44th President. This book examines the 25 million Obama Haters in America. While not all Obama Haters are Republican, 9 out of 10 of them are. Obama Haters are more likely than other Americans to vote in presidential primaries, and, thus, they are overrepresented among the Republicans being polled today.
One might ask, "Why would Obama Haters be drawn to a candidate claiming that Mexican immigrants are criminals and rapists?" We need to recall that in the last presidential-campaign season, Trump insinuated that Barack Obama is ineligible to be president because he is an immigrant, and that Obama had perpetrated "one of the greatest scams of all time."
The Obama Haters believe that Barack Obama is an immigrant, and they hate immigrants. When asked what is the most important problem facing the country one Obama Hater says, "the Mexicans in the United States." Another says, "Wetbacks. People from other countries that slipped into the United States." And another says, "Illegal aliens are the cause of our health care crisis. With our open borders, we are also permitting terrorists to enter freely." A number of Obama Haters agree with Trump that immigrants are a menace to American society.
Other Obama Haters are anti-immigrant because they believe that immigrants come to the United States to live off of welfare. They say, "illegal immigrants are getting financial aid from the government," and "too many illegals are in our country for a free ride." And they claim that we are "just giving out more [welfare] and to people who aren't even citizens."
Of course, none of these claims are true. Immigrants cannot all be called criminals and rapists any more than the U.S.-born can. In fact, immigrants are less likely to commit crime than the U.S.-born. Our borders are not open. President Obama has been called the "deporter-in-chief" by the head of the nation's largest Latino advocacy organization because of the high level of border enforcement and deportations under his administration. Immigrants tend to come to the U.S. to work, not for welfare. Mexican immigrants are more likely to be working than the U.S.-born population. Unauthorized immigrants are not eligible for welfare benefits. But, as with Trump, it is doubtful that these facts can penetrate the armor of the Obama Haters.
The relative success of Donald Trump among Republican primary voters highlights the challenge facing the Republican Party. For decades, Republicans have succeeded by focusing their attention primarily on conservative white voters. This strategy continues to be very effective at the state and local levels, but with each passing year, as the nation becomes more racially and ethnically diverse, it becomes less effective at the national level. In time, it will be less effective at the state level too.
The Republican Party faces a true dilemma. On the one hand, a significant and highly-energized portion of the party is composed of the intensely anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, and anti-black Obama Haters. On the other hand, Obama Haters are a poison to the long-term health of the party in a diverse America. Offending the Obama Haters by not catering to their prejudices could harm the Republican Party today, but embracing the Obama Haters could harm the Republican Party tomorrow.
The Republican Party needs to remember the American ideals of openness to immigrants, religious tolerance and equal opportunity. They need to honor these principles by rejecting the Obama haters. They can begin this task by taking a strong stand against Donald Trump.