Republicans Don’t Want to Answer for Trump’s Racist Anti-Immigrant Rant

Trump’s defenders suggest he was merely talking about policy when he said immigrants were “poisoning the blood of the country.” But there was nothing ambiguous about his remarks.
Donald Trump leaves after speaking during a campaign rally at the University of New Hampshire's Whittemore Center Arena...
Donald Trump leaves after speaking during a campaign rally at the University of New Hampshire's Whittemore Center Arena in Durham, New Hampshire, on December 16, 2023.JOSEPH PREZIOSO/Getty Images

There wasn’t anything ambiguous in Donald Trump’s racist rant at a rally in New Hampshire over the weekend. And yet, Republicans are once again bending over backward to pretend he didn’t say exactly what he meant when he said immigrants from South America, Africa, and Asia are “poisoning the blood of the country.”

“I think he was talking about the Democratic policies,” New York Representative Nicole Malliotakis told CNN’s Abby Phillip Monday. “I know some are trying to make it seem like President Trump is anti-immigrant. The reality is, he was married to immigrants—he’s hired immigrants.”

It was an absurd defense, as Phillip pointed out to the GOP lawmaker: “He was talking about people—not policy,” she said. But Malliotakis wasn’t alone: While some of her colleagues on Capitol Hill were either trying to ignore the remarks or dismissing them as merely “unhelpful,” as North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis described them, others have joined her in defending Trump against critics, who have pointed out the similarities between his rhetoric and that of Adolf Hitler.

“I could care less,” Lindsey Graham said on Meet the Press when asked about Trump’s outrageous rally remarks. “The president has a way of talking sometimes I disagree with,” he added. But “if the only thing you want to talk about on immigration is the way Donald Trump talks, you’re missing a lot.”

It’s obviously not just Trump’s manner of speaking or hysteria over “mean tweets,” as far-right Senator Mike Lee implied Monday; Trump’s rhetoric is an expression of the authoritarian agenda he hopes to execute if he returns to power. He has been open about those plans of late, campaigning on a promise to seek “retribution” against “vermin” and not even denying his desire to be a “dictator” like the various autocrats he can’t stop praising. The Republican response to all this? To pretend he’s not speaking literally, but in political poetry, open to interpretation. “We all know Trump uses unique expressions when he explains things,” House Oversight Committee Chair James Comer said of Trump’s “dictator” comments last week, which even Trump critic Mitt Romney downplayed as the ravings of a “little baby” that need not be taken “literally or seriously.”

But Trump, incapable of being anything but totally obvious, can only be taken literally. There’s no mystery to the man, no riddles in his rhetoric. When he says he wants to be a dictator, expresses admiration for authoritarianism, and talks about prosecuting political opponents, he likely means it. But Republicans’ complicity in Trump’s anti-democratic ambitions makes it hard for them to really reckon with them, so they have tried to frame questions about his intentions as ones merely about his choice of words. “Looks like I’m looking forward to another year," Indiana Senator Todd Young lamented to Politico, “of answering these questions.”