DALLAS – Donald Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric is leading to increasingly open anger between his supporters and detractors, which hasn’t hurt the GOP front-runner’s poll numbers but is raising questions about potential long-term damage to the Republican Party’s hopes of attracting minority voters.
In Dallas on Monday night, Trump nearly filled the 20,000-seat American Airlines Center with wildly cheering supporters, while outside hundreds of protesters marched, holding “Dump Trump” and “Stop the Hate” signs.
Tempers flared as the two groups met on the sidewalk outside the arena after the rally. Police on horseback moved in to separate them as they shouted at each other.
“Go back to Mexico!” yelled one Trump supporter, then another, then more, at Latino protesters. “You can’t vote, anyway!” shouted another person.
Jennifer Moreno, a nursing student and the daughter of Mexican immigrants, shot back that she is a U.S. citizen and has every intention of not only voting against Trump but getting others to do the same. “This is our country, too. Trump is stirring up hate.”
The increasingly ugly tenor of such clashes has brought even sharper focus to Trump’s rhetoric, which Republicans and Democrats alike have described as divisive and even racist. It has elevated the anxiety of Republicans trying to grow the party’s appeal – not shrink it. And it has left many of them wondering whether the conflicts could get worse before they get better.
Trump drew sustained applause on Monday when he called city policies that shield undocumented immigrants from deportation “sanctuary cities crap” and promised that if he is in the Oval Office, “They will be out of here so frickin’ fast!”
Tamara Estes, 54, a bus driver from Valley View, Texas, said she came to Monday’s rally because she finally sees a candidate who is talking about what she cares about. She said she is fed up with thousands of “illegals” having babies in Texas hospitals and leaving hard-working American taxpayers, including her, with the bill.
Trump is “willing to take the heat” that comes with talking about race and immigration, she said. And the way he does, she added, “shows a bold arrogance that is very appealing.”
Estes said too many Mexican immigrants “are not assimilating.” She can’t even talk to the children of immigrants across the street, she said, because they say to her, “I no speak English.”
“I mean, these kids go to U.S. schools! For years! And don’t speak English,” she said. “Donald Trump calls a duck a duck. He is right that a lot of the illegals are criminals, they are driving the wrong way on highways and causing crashes, and [they are] in gangs.”
Many others who lined up for hours in 90-degree heat to hear Trump applauded him for “not being bothered about political correctness” and addressing issues important to “mainstream America.”
“I think white people think their sovereignty has been infringed on,” said Mark Jones, 65, a Dallas-area resident who fixes air conditioners. He said he works with many Hispanics who work hard. Some even served in the U.S. military in Iraq, he said, but many Texans see the huge numbers of Hispanics moving into their state and “they think their country is changing.”
Carlos Quintanilla, president of Accion America, a civil rights group in Texas and an organizer of Monday’s anti-Trump rally, said the candidate’s relentless talk about “anchor babies,” building a huge wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and deporting millions of undocumented immigrants has led to a flood of “ugly” anti-Hispanic talk on the radio.
Quintanilla said others are emboldened to insult Hispanics when they see Trump eject Jorge Ramos, one of the most respected Hispanic journalists in the United States, from one of his news conferences, saying, “Go back to Univision,” or they hear him belittle those who speak Spanish. Trump recently mocked GOP rival Jeb Bush, a fluent Spanish speaker, for addressing reporters in Spanish with this tweet: “Jeb Bush is crazy, who cares that he speaks Mexican, this is America, English!!”
Trump critics said that when Trump uses phrases such as “the blacks,” he sounds like an out-of-touch Mad Men throwback, if not Archie Bunker. “The Hispanics love me!” – a phrase he used – signals that Hispanics are “other,” “different and maybe lesser,” said Janet Murguia, president of National Council of La Raza, the country’s largest Hispanic civil rights group.
“Our experience with people who talk like that is what follows is never good,” she said.
Less clear is whether Trump is inciting his supporters on purpose.
Claudia Rankine, an English professor at University of Southern California who has written about social justice, says Trump is deliberately “playing a game with language.”
He doesn’t use the most offensive words, but “the tone you take is in recognition of your audience, and in this case, he is appealing to people in our culture who hold racist and sexist beliefs.
“The rest of us should understand it is a performance,” she said, adding, “He doesn’t care if it upsets some people, because those people are not his intended audience.”
Trump has said it is absurd to call him racist, and he insists he will win the black and Hispanic vote. Neither he nor the country has “time for political correctness,” he has said. He has mocked those who criticize his “tone,” saying that it is a silly distraction when the country has much more important issues to worry about.
Nevertheless, some critics say Trump is responsible for the effects of his rhetoric. Mike Castillo, 55, a truck driver who came to the United States when he was a child, is among them.
“It’s not good,” Castillo said, standing with a group of nearly all-Latino protesters outside the arena, that “we are here and all the white people are inside cheering him on.”
One thing is clear: the rhetoric is not going away, and it is making other Republicans uncomfortable at a time when the GOP is trying to expand its appeal to African American and Latino voters.
Former Florida governor Jeb Bush, one of Trump’s rivals for the GOP nomination, said Trump is “divisive and mean-spirited.” According to Politico, he went as far to say in New Hampshire that “those are dog-whistle terms; he knows what he’s doing. These are very divisive terms. If we’re going to win elections, we need to be much more open – open and optimistic – rather than sending signals that prey on people’s angst.”
Peter Wehner, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center who served in the past three Republican administrations, said in an interview this week that the clashes between Trump supporters and protesters “are a harmful, radiating effect of Donald Trump that is difficult to contain, whether it’s with ethnic groups, with women, or more broadly, with the public.
“The Republican Party, as represented by Trump, isn’t an inviting and hopeful party. It’s angry, it’s vulgar, it’s quasi-nihilistic. And it’s not a pretty sight.”
Added Austin Barbour, a GOP strategist who has advised former Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s super PAC: “Trump is a mean-spirited kind of guy who isn’t for a big tent in any way. Obviously that mentality and approach is spreading to people who are around him. It once again shows how we need a conservative to bring us together, not an opportunist.”
There is good reason for the angst. Polls consistently show Trump leading the pack of GOP candidates in surveys of likely Republican voters – but polling miserably with minorities.
Eight in 10 African Americans and Hispanics view him unfavorably, according to a recent Washington Post/ABC poll.
Even more discomfiting for some is the appeal Trump has among organizations known to harbor white supremacist views.
“He’s on the verge of articulating a widespread angst among white Americans that the world their grandchildren will live in will be hostile to them,” said Richard Spencer, president of the National Policy Institute, a think tank “dedicated to the heritage, identity, and future of European people in the United States and around the world.”
Trump’s views on immigration, Spencer said, are resonating with many white people who fear that “America is becoming a Hispanic country.”
“It’s real,” he said. “You feel like you are losing your home.”
A smattering of people who call themselves “white nationalists” or supporters of “white identity politics” have shown up at Trump rallies or voiced their support for Trump.
David Duke, the former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, praised Trump’s candidacy as “a great thing” and supported Trump’s call to deport all 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.
“He’s saying what no other Republicans have said,” Duke said recently on his radio show.
Asked about Duke’s support, Trump told Bloomberg News, “I don’t need his endorsement. I certainly don’t want his endorsement. I don’t need anybody’s endorsement.”
As more and more protesters show up at Trump events carrying signs with such words as “racist” and “hate,” the potential for more conflict remains. A protest similar to the one in Dallas, for instance, occurred Tuesday at Trump’s foreign-policy address in Los Angeles, where chants of “Donald Trump, he’s a racist,” reverberated across a parking lot. Another protest was expected Wednesday in Simi Valley, Calif., the location of the second GOP debate.
Supporters say such protests are an unfair ploy to discredit Trump. Some are even calling the protesters racist – because they are anti-white.
The divide was illustrated by two very different attendees of the Trump event in Dallas. Outside with the protesters, Seth Gomez held a sign that read “Trump=Hate.” He said it was “not presidential” for a candidate “to stereotype people and associate crime with skin color.”
But Michael Oehlers, who took his eighth-grade son, Cody, out of school to hear Trump, said he admired the businessman for “speaking his mind.” In an era when people take offense easily, he said, “I like that Trump calls illegal aliens ‘illegal’ and not ‘undocumented.’
“He is his own man,” he said, adding, “He’d be even higher in the polls if he quit the name-calling