Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders were asked directly if Donald Trump is a racist at Wednesday’s Democratic debate in Miami.
“Secretary Clinton, you have known Donald Trump a long time. You have seen what kind of campaign he’s running,” the Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty said 20 minutes into the debate. “Secretary Clinton, is Donald Trump a racist?”
Clinton first said she prefers to keep the Democratic primary about Democrats, then reiterated her criticisms of Trump’s xenophobic and anti-immigrant rhetoric — and added a splash of spanish.
“I was the first one to call him out. I called him out when he was calling Mexicans rapists, when he was engaging in rhetoric that I found deeply offensive. I said basta,” she said, drawing applause from the room. “And I am pleased that others are also joining in making clear that his rhetoric, his demagoguery, his trafficking in prejudice and paranoia has no place in our political system. Especially from somebody running for president who couldn’t decide whether or not to disavow the Ku Klux Klan and David Duke.”
Pressed by Tumulty, she again demurred from the journalist’s label but said the Democratic nominee “can make the case against him, if he is the nominee, by pointing out what he has said, what he claims to believe in, the values he’s promoting. I think that’s a better way for the American people to draw their conclusions.”
Tumulty put the question differently to Sanders, asking if it was fair to say Trump is racist. Sanders also declined to provide a direct yes-or-no. After saying that Americans will never elect someone who insults Mexicans, Muslims, women, and African-Americans, Sanders pointed out Trump’s prominent role in a racist smear of Barack Obama.
“And let us not forget that several years ago Trump was in the middle of the so-called Birther movement trying to delegitimize the President of the United States of America,” Sanders continued, to applause. “My dad was born in Poland and I know a little bit about the immigrant experience. Nobody has ever asked me for my birth certificate. Maybe it has something to do with the color of my skin.”
Meanwhile on the right, Trump’s rise has helped reinvigorate avowed white supremacist groups. “Demoralization has been the biggest enemy and Trump is changing all that,” Stormfront founder Don Black recently told Politico.
The Southern Poverty Law Center’s recent report on white nationalist activity in 2015 found a 14 percent rise in the number of hate groups, and cites other research finding more people were killed by domestic terrorists in 2015 than in any year since 1995. According to the group, this moment is comparable in radical white racist activity to 1968, the year Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. In a sense, then, the Grand Old Party is coming full circle on its long-running strategic deployment of coded racism that prominent Republican strategist Lee Atwater described at the dawn of the Reagan era.