Following the 2016 presidential election, the popular refrain on the left was that 53 percent of white women voters supported Donald Trump and fucked everyone over. But that 53 percent isn’t easily embarrassed—if anything, they’re getting ready for their close up.
By any reasonable measures, this week should have been a public relations nightmare for Trump: He told four congresswomen of color to go back to their original countries—a racist taunt suitable for a playground—and doubled down, insisting that his comments weren’t actually racist. The outrage was swift and palpable: One USA Today poll found that over two-thirds of Americans who were aware of the controversy considered Trump’s comments “offensive.” On Wednesday the House voted to formally condemn Trump’s remarks. But for Trump loyalists, the week is a test drive in solidarity for the 2020 election, and white women are ready.
On Tuesday night, CNN interviewed a small panel of mostly white Republican women (most of whom have ties to the Trump campaign and have previously appeared on CNN panels of Republican women) and asked if they found the president’s comments offensive. They said no.
“He didn’t say anything about color [in his tweets],” Gina O’Briant said. She later added, “He dated a black woman for two years. Two of his wives are immigrants. He’s not a xenophobic racist.”
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“Even though [the congresswomen are] American now—so to speak—they’re not acting American,” Kathleen Lieberman said.
“The first black billionaire is endorsing President Trump, how can you call him racist?” asked Dena Miller, perhaps referencing BET founder Bob Johnson who recently praised Trump, but did not go so far as to endorse him. Miller suggested that the four congresswomen Trump targeted are the real racists, echoing one of Trump’s tweets.
“Why are they not racist? How come they haven’t befriended one of their white female congresswomen colleagues and let her join?” asked Miller “They don’t like white people. Come on, they’re racist!”
The women demonstrated their elementary understanding of racism as well as how little that actually matters. Most Americans have a poor grasp of how racism functions, and for the many whose definition of racism is “someone getting lynched right in front of me,” these women spoke their language fluently.
These weren’t just a random assorted group of Republican women; they were women with pull both in their communities and nationwide. Three of the women on the panel—Kathleen Lieberman, Geni Manning, and Gina O’Briant—are members of the Texas Women for Trump Coalition. Miller is the national director of Trumpettes for America. (CNN didn’t disclose this.)
Their enthusiasm was matched at the official launch of Women for Trump in Pennsylvania on Tuesday, where Lara Trump (wife of Eric Trump), Kimberly Guilfoyle (former Fox News stooge, current Trump 2020 stooge, and girlfriend of Donald Trump Jr), Katrina Pierson, and Diamond and Silk stoked the crowd of nearly a 1,000 overwhelmingly white women.
Vice News covered the glorified pep rally, which acted as a safe space for women to hoot and holler while Guilfoyle shared “empowering” slogans like, “Nothing makes a snowflake melt faster than a strong woman who clings to her Bible and guns!” But corny declarations aside, this event wasn’t one to laugh off. Forty-two percent of women voters supported Trump in 2016. Lara is tasked with increasing that number to 46 or 47 percent, and it’s clear from the rally, she knows exactly where to look for those voters.
“I want to inspire women to get out there, talk to their friends, talk to their neighbors, talk to their co-workers, and really make it okay to outwardly support Donald Trump,” Lara told Vice News. “I just really think that there is a hidden vote out there when it comes to women. We saw it in 2016. All the polls said that he would not get the support of women, that he would not win the election as a whole. And we saw that to be wrong.”
When asked if the president’s tweets were racist, Lara was dismissive.
“[Racism is] a talking point that is always used against any Republican, especially this president,” Lara said. When asked if Trump stokes racial tension, Lara responded by citing the First Step Act, a meager attempt at prison reform that Trump signed into law that Lara says will “help the black communities in this country.”
This is the script. It’s not a new script, but it’s one that the white women hoping to re-elect Trump can coast on. It comes naturally to women on the Trump train who can cite empowerment and solidarity even as they are tasked with giving a man who has been accused of sexual harassment and assault necessary cover. Deflecting racism while embracing the pseudo-feminist rhetoric of empowerment might seem hollow, but it’s a clear signal for growing Trump’s support among white women and dissuading those women who may be thinking about hopping off the Trump train.
While Democrats are hoping to scoop up white women voters who are turned off by Trump’s boorish behavior, these women may not exist in the numbers Democrats hope. Even if they do, their worries are being soothed away in the form of people like Lara Trump and leaders of the Trumpettes. After all, it’s easier to be convinced that you did nothing wrong than to be guilted into a change of heart.