The Donald Trump phenomenon has exposed many an uncomfortable truth about America in 2015, including the degree to which his message of white resentment and nativist exclusion sells like hotcakes to Republican voters, and beyond. The coverage of his Friday night rally in Des Moines, Iowa has further exposed the uncomfortable truth that our mainstream media has a blind spot on race that blots out the sun. The rally was Trump's first opportunity to address rival Ted Cruz's backroom sniping at Trump, even as he desperately makes nice in public.
Watching news coverage of the event Saturday morning, you would think that the worst thing Trump did was mock Cruz's truckling puppy-dog orbit of Trump's every utterance, and his opposition to ethanol subsidies. Here's the bit that's getting all the play:
“Everything I say, he agrees with me. No matter what I say. I was gonna do one really wild, but he agrees. But really, with the ethanol, he's got to come a long way, because he's right now for the oil.”
The part that for some inexplicable reason is getting less attention is Trump's full-on racist attack on Cruz's Cuban-American roots. Boasting about Rev. Franklin Graham's endorsement of his no-Muslims policy (during which he made some random guy stand up for some reason), Trump made a blatant attack on Cruz's heritage:
“I think we're going to do, we're doing really well with Evangelicals. And by the way, and again, I do like Ted Cruz, but not a lot of evangelicals come out of Cuba, in all fairness. It's true. Not a lot come out. But I like him nevertheless. But I think we're going to do great, we are doing great with Evangelicals."
The remark has gotten little play, and what play it has gotten has been as "religion-baiting," but what Trump is clearly saying is that no matter his professions of evangelical faith, Ted Cruz isn't really one of you because he's Cuban. The fact that Cruz didn't "come out of Cuba" (Cruz was born in Canada) only serves to underscore the racist taint that Trump is trying to cast onto Cruz. It's not his upbringing or national origin that's in question, it is the purity of his pedigree. Ted Cruz can say he's evangelical, but he's still a dirty Hispanic at heart.
The media has a really hard time with the racism of Trump's hardcore supporters, but this isn't even a close call. Being Cuban isn't supposed to be a liability for a Republican because Cubans and Republicans have enjoyed a long embrace over their shared hatred of communism. That's probably why Trump's remark got such a chilly reception in the room, but Trump was speaking to the part of the Republican party that has never been all that comfortable with that embrace, or has been downright hostile toward it.
The uncomfortable part of this for the media and the Republican establishment has been finding out just how wide and deep the reservoir of nativist white resentment is in their party's electorate. If voters continue to embrace Trump after he tossed Cubans onto the racist trash heap along with the Mexicans, Muslims, and blacks, it might just succeed in alienating the last 20% of Hispanic votes the Republicans were still getting.
I'm betting that Trump drops this line of attack, since it went over so poorly in the room, but if the media helps him out by underreporting this the way they did his attack on black people a few weeks back, it shouldn't hurt him any more than anything else has.
In fact, if Cruz reacts the way his recent actions would seem to indicate, it will only serve to bolster Trump in the minds of voters who don't want truckling wimp for a candidate. How do you think this is going to sound after Trump attacks Cruz for being Cuban?