President Donald Trump ramped up his war of words against four Democratic congresswomen of color when, on Wednesday night, he reiterated his disdain for Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota at a campaign rally in North Carolina and a crowd of supporters started chanting, “Send her back, send her back.” Most Republicans haven’t had the courage to publicly call out the president for that chant, but the New York Times has reported that privately, some prominent Republicans — including Vice President Mike Pence and his daughter Ivanka Trump — warned that the chant might damage him politically.
And Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent, in his Friday column, reflects on why, behind closed doors, the “send her back” chant is worrying some of the president’s ardent supporters, saying it caused them to “panic.”
Sargent, in his column, offers a timeline on Trump’s latest racist controversy. Over the weekend, Trump ranted on Twitter that the four congresswomen known as The Squad — Omar, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York City, Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan — should return to the “corrupt hellholes” they came from. But Omar, a Somali refugee, is the only one of the four who wasn’t born in the U.S., and she has been a naturalized U.S. citizen since 2000.
Those tweets, Sargent writes, caused “only a bit of discomfort from Republicans.” Sargent adds that when Trump went on to reiterate his love-America-or-leave-it rhetoric, Republicans were happy to “defend his framing.” But after Trump “presides over the ‘send her back’ chant,” Sargent stresses, major Republicans became nervous.
What was the difference? Sargent contends, “I submit to you that the key difference is twofold: Trump’s naked hatred and cruelty was captured on live television, and along with it, so was the seething anger of the hardcore Trump base. The whole nation saw in dramatic fashion that Trump voters understood his meaning perfectly well, and watched them not just agree with it, but also, amplify it with as ugly and hate-curdled a chant as one could imagine.”
Sargent also argues that Trump “suddenly crossed a line” among some prominent Republicans not because they are anti-racist, but because they make the GOP’s anti-refugee policies look bad. Republican strategists, according to Sargent, would rather promote a so-called “benign” form of “Trumpian nationalism” than have a large crowd publicly chanting against a Somali refugee in such an “ugly” way.
“The more that the suburban, educated whites who abandoned the GOP in 2018 grow convinced that this agenda is an outgrowth of racial animus and white nationalism, the worse it is politically for Republicans,” Sargent asserts. Republicans, according to Sargent, are trying to “end asylum-seeking at the southern border” and “slash refugee admissions to near-zero” — and Sargent concludes his op-ed by writing that the overt ugliness of the “send her back” chants harms “that zone of plausible deniability on Trump’s actual policies.”
Sargent asserts, “It becomes a lot harder to inhabit that zone when Trump goes on national television and, seething with cruelty and hate, signals that a prominent representative of the immigrant and refugee community, a naturalized citizen and duly elected member of Congress, is not a member in good standing of the American nation — and his voters are right there with him on all of it.”