The mainstream media is slowly coming around to the idea that Donald Trump‘s success is fueled by racial resentment, but they’re having trouble making the same diagnosis to the broader GOP electorate. A new poll by Democratic-leaning but deadly-accurate Public Policy Polling has everyone talking about how Trump fans don’t believe President Obama was born in the United States, is definitely secret Muslim, and wants to end birthright citizenship.
But according to the mainstream media, these views are somehow not mainstream among the broader Republican electorate. Exhibit A: Politico honcho Jim VandeHei, on Wednesday’s Morning Joe, described the results as proof that there’s a “segment” of “white, hostile” voters in the Republican Party:
Then, as co-host Mika Brzezinski repeatedly made distinctions between the results from Trump voters and the “mainstream” of the Republican Party, no less a mainstream journalist than Chuck Todd joined in with skepticism over the result:
Todd: They have a history of asking the questions very leading in how they do it. Whenever they mess around on this topic, you start looking and say, ‘Boy, you’re asking for an answer here, too much.’ I’m not saying that there aren’t, you know, I’m just saying that it’s instead of 41 percent it’s 61 percent the way they do it, that’s all. I would be skeptical.
Scarborough: The Bloomberg poll did find similar things there. But I think it will take a few more polls.
Vandehei, et al, are right that Trump fans are more racist than the rest of the Republicans, but the views they’re talking about are still decidedly mainstream within the party, and not a “certain segment.” On the Muslim question, a clear majority of Republicans (54 percent) said they believe President Obama is a Muslim, but a whopping 86 percent either believe he’s a Muslim, or aren’t sure, despite the fact that his first presidential campaign was famously almost derailed over Obama’s regular attendance at a Christian church.
Not only that, the same poll finds Ben Carson‘s supporters answering that question the same way Trump’s did, at 61 percent. Republican supporters who believe President Obama is a Christian are a distinct minority across the board. The only candidate whose supporters believe President Obama is a Christian is Chris Christie.
The results on the birther question are a little more spread out, but among all Republicans, fully 70 percent of them either don’t believe President Obama was born in the United States, or aren’t sure. The only majorities to concede the President Obama was born here were Chris Christie and John Kasich supporters.
Tom Jensen from Public Policy Polling tells Mediaite, via email, that the concern over the wording of the questions is a non-issue. “We released the exact wording of the questions, as we do with all our polls, and the wording couldn’t have been much more straight forward,” Jensen said.
“The first time we polled on Birther-ism in 2009, 36% of Republicans thought he was born in the United States, 44% thought he was not, and 20% weren’t sure,” Jensen continued, adding that “In 2011 when we polled on it, 28% of Republican primary voters thought he was born in the United States, 51% thought he wasn’t, and 21% weren’t sure. So it’s bounced around some but the numbers have generally been in a pretty similar range.”
On the Muslim question, Jensen said “I don’t think we’d polled on Obama being a Muslim nationally before, but when we asked about it in Alabama and Mississippi in 2012 we got similar numbers to the ones from the weekend.”
But it’s not just PPP. As Scarborough noted, a new Bloomberg poll found a low number of Iowa Republicans willing to believe Obama was born in the United States, and other reputable polling firms like Pew, Gallup, CBS News, Fox News, and Time Magazine have been polling these questions for years. There is a clear trend among Republicans.
Nobody likes to be called racist, but don’t take my word for it that the birther/Muslim issue is racist, I’m a filthy liberal. Don’t even take the word of prominent Republicans who say that it’s racist. Listen to science, which says that birtherism is racist.
Concurrently, nobody in the mainstream media likes to call anyone racist, so they’ve all been slow to come around to calling Donald Trump’s success what it is. Even many liberal commentators have fallen for the “Washington outsider” line. The mere fact that the top two presidential candidates are supported by those who hold these views is, by definition, sufficient to call these views mainstream among Republicans. The actual numbers show that they’re more than mainstream, they’re majority views, and the media needs to stop being afraid to say it.
That is not to say that Republicans have a monopoly on racism. After all, it was Hillary Clinton’s campaign which leaked the infamous “Muslim garb” photo to Drudge, and who could forget Hillary’s own response to the Muslim question in 2008?
There are also some common strains of racism among right-leaning Democrats who are susceptible to pandering about crime and welfare, and among left-leaning liberals who take black votes for granted, and become hostile when they’re insufficiently grateful for the crumbs they’re given. None of these views could be considered “mainstream” among Democrats, although they do need to be called out and worked on.
But decent Republicans have, at best, tolerated and/or denied the racism that pervades their ranks, even as others have nakedly exploited it the way Donald Trump is now. The first step to solving any problem is admitting it exists, and the mainstream media is doing Republicans no favors by pretending this one doesn’t. This isn’t a Trump problem, it’s a Republican problem.
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