Yes, Trump dog-whistles racist things. Not everyone hears them or pays attention. People pick and choose.
Some people are mostly just Republicans. Simple as that.
There is an idea going around within liberal punditry that all Trump supporters are racists and that it is OK--maybe even mandatory--to call them out on their racism. Example After all, Trump is openly following the George Wallace playbook and therefore Trump supporters are either racist themselves, or tolerant of racism. Condoning it makes one a party to it.
|Charlottesville: "Very fine people on both sides."|
This is both factually wrong and politically foolish. Not all Trump supporters are racist and in any case people hate to be accused of racism, even when it is true, and especially when they think it untrue.
Everyone knows someone more racist than themselves, and those are the racists.
Trump is skilled at choosing his opponents and covering his tracks. He dog whistles. People who want to hear it, hear it. People who don't, don't. His least elegant cover-up was his opening remarks after coming down the escalator to announce his campaign, when he said Mexicans were criminals and rapists, "and some, I assume, are good people." His tone was reluctant, as if he were forced to admit a rare exception, but even then he offered a fig leaf.
People who want the fig leaf have it. He is against drugs and rape, and he assumes some
Mexicans are not. See? Not racist.
|Ali ex wife: Pardon someone who kneels instead.|
The example represents the whole. Trump points to MS-13. He saves--then condemns--black shoplifters. He describes in detail murders by undocumented people from Mexico. He says NFL players are unpatriotic for taking a knee. There is an unmistakable pattern, a synecdoche, the bad example representing the whole.
But then, the fig leaf. Praise for Kanye West, pardon for a long dead black prizefighter, Kim Kardashian's intervention on behalf of a black grandmother, talk of a pardon for Muhammad Ali, Ben Carson still in the Cabinet.
See? He can't be racist, not like Woodrow Wilson or the KKK.
People who aren't motivated by racist thinking--or who are offended by it--don't have to hear it and integrate the dog whistle. They can deny it is happening.
Racial anxiety and the displacement of whites, and especially white males, as the default "regular, normal American" is the centerpiece of the Southern Strategy as performed by Trump, but the culture war has multiple battlegrounds and liberals create lots of opportunities for Trump to exploit them. (And if they don't, Trump tweets a provocation and liberals respond.) A person can be uncomfortable with modern LGBTQ politics, and Trump picked a tender spot for a scrimmage: transgender soldiers. A person can be uncomfortable with campus political correctness, or abortion, or with Muslims, or with secularization, or with MeToo, or with bicycle lanes, or with multiple languages on ballots.
It doesn't have to be race.
There has been a great deal of social change in the past 50 years. Watch the TV Show Mad Men to be reminded. The now-cancelled Rosanne show was a depiction of the resistance to that change. Liberals think they won by getting the show removed, but it was a net loss. Liberals lost a primary source book and text.
A person can just be a Republican. The brand matters more than the policy. Being a Republican is an affiliation, like being a Duck fan, a Red Sox fan, a Methodist, or a Texan. The policy implications of being a Republican--as relates to issues of economic power--changed enormously between Romney's message and Trump's, but the coalition of people stuck with their brand. The same people--big business, Wall Street, and anti-regulation libertarians--stayed in in the coalition and still push the levers of power in the Congress, so they passed a tax bill that represents traditional trickle down, not populism. Trump campaigned on a populist message, but never cared about it. He cared about winning, not policy. He got the win; K-Street got the policy. Win-win.
Republicans stayed Republican, a mix of social conservatism and tax cuts. White racists have their party, but the party is much bigger than that. Voters pick and choose, hear what they like, and if nothing else they know what they don't like. Hillary. Hippies, if there are any. Lazy people getting food stamps. Harvard and Berkeley. Self righteous scolds.
A strong economy. A great many Republicans will conclude that whatever stupid things Trump may have done with porn stars or tweets or Russians, he nevertheless must somehow be good for jobs and the economy and the stock market.
It's the economy, stupid. Reason enough for Republicans to vote Republican.