Trump’s racism alienates a growing voting block


As their only declared presidential candidate holds his first public event in 2023, Republicans must ask themselves a question: If you’re too afraid to confront Donald Trump on ideological or moral grounds, how about doing it for crude political purposes?

Former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao this week issued one of the strongest condemnations yet of her former boss’s racism — specifically, a series of blatantly racist comments directed at her. Chao had tried to ignore Trump, and encouraged the media to do so as well. But for whatever reason, Chao decided she couldn’t keep quiet any longer.

Not only is she right, but other Republicans should follow her lead. It’s not often that the right thing to do is also the politically expedient thing to do — but in this case, given the growing influence of Asian Americans in American politics, it is.

Trump’s cruel rhetoric here is different from his “Kung Flu” references during the first weeks of the 2020 pandemic. These could perhaps be excused as attempts at juvenile (and offensive) humor at a time when many Americans were looking for some relief from their anxiety. But calling a Taiwanese-American woman “Coco Chow” — name-calling is, as Chao notes, painfully common for many Asian Americans — crosses a line rarely seen in politics (at least if you don’t count Trump).

It is also politically stupid. There is at least anecdotal evidence over recent elections that Asian Americans are becoming more conservative on crime, education and possibly the economy. In New York state, Asian-American voters not only moved significantly to the right in the 2022 gubernatorial election, they also helped Republicans gain four seats in the US House. And an Asian-American Republican ousted a 36-year incumbent Democrat on the New York City Council.

In California, despite 2018’s blue wave, two Korean-American Republican women, Michelle Steel and Young Kim, flipped Democratic seats in Orange County — a one-time GOP stronghold that has turned blue in recent years. Steel and Kim retained their seats in 2020 and 2022 and are now members of the Republican majority in the US House.

Meanwhile, Trump’s animus is almost pathological. And Republicans cannot excuse his behavior as mere bellicose pettiness stemming from Chao’s departure after Jan. 6 or the many times Trump was criticized by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Chao’s husband. How else to explain Trump’s strange mockery of Virginia Governor Glen Youngkin’s name: “Sounds Chinese, doesn’t it?” Could the insult have something to do with Youngkin’s status as a possible 2024 candidate?

On a positive note, this was a rare occurrence when Trump was actually called out publicly by an elected Republican: Former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, whose wife and children are Korean-American, called Trump’s comment racist.

If Trump continues to make racist comments about an Asian-American woman who served more than ably in four Republican administrations (including his own) — while other Republicans don’t say a word of disapproval — well, the Democrats’ 2024 political ads are practically writing itself. Especially if Trump is the nominee.

There are at least two ways for Republicans to avoid sabotaging their new relationship with the fastest-growing minority group in the country. They can condemn Donald Trump when he goes on one of his racist rants, as he inevitably will. And they can nominate a presidential candidate who does not have racist baggage.

More from Bloomberg Opinion:

• Trump takes his insults to a new low: Timothy L. O’Brien

• Insulting a fallen soldier is a bad look for Trump: Cass Sunstein

• In praise of Mitch McConnell’s direct speech on January 6: The Editors

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This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editors or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Robert A. George is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist and editorial board member covering government and public policy. Previously, he was a member of the editorial boards of the New York Daily News and the New York Post.

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