In 2015, Lindsey Graham called Donald Trump “a race-baiting, xenophobic religious bigot.” In the intervening years, Trump has done nothing to refute this characterization, yet Graham has refashioned himself as Trump’s favorite senatorial pet. In the wake of Trump’s latest racist tirade, Graham appeared on Fox & Friends to deliver a supportive pep talk to the president. “We all know that AOC and this crowd are a bunch of communists,” he ranted, in a performance so obsequious that a delighted Trump tweeted out quotations of it in four parts.
In reality, Trump is not going to take down his comments. He’s not going to do better, aim higher, or any other positive-sounding alternative his Republican enablers offer up. Trump’s career began by systematically excluding African-Americans from his father’s housing projects and relentlessly defying federal government orders to stop. He whipped up hysteria against innocent boys accused of rape in Central Park, and has continued to falsely insist upon their guilt. “Donald Trump makes racist comments all the time. Once you know him, he speaks his mind about race very openly,” says Jack O’Donnell, former president of Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City. Another former Trump employee, Michael Cohen, has supplied many more such examples. He keeps saying racist things because he believes them.
Republicans usually avoid acknowledging Trump’s long history of discriminatory actions (it’s the past!) or private racist comments (hearsay!) But because Trump is not clever enough to gauge the point at which his racist insinuations cross the line into the kind of overt racism that will discomfit his party, he sometimes does it in public, too. Famous examples include his insistence that a Mexican-American judge is inherently biased, the Nazi demonstrators in Charlottesville included “very fine people,” and his recent attribution of foreignness to nonwhite Democrats in Congress.