From his first days as a presidential candidate, the gravest political risk Donald Trump has presented the GOP is that he would stamp it as a party of racial and social intolerance precisely as the most diverse and inclusive generations in American history—the Millennials and the post-Millennials behind them—are growing into decisive roles in the electorate.
After Trump’s morally stunted response to the recent violence in Charlottesville, that wolf is now at the party’s door.
Trump’s election “may be one of the most costly presidential victories in history for a political party, because [it is leaving] a crimson stain on the party,” said Peter Wehner, the former director of strategic planning in the George W. Bush White House. “I don’t think it … will be easy to get away from.”
Through Trump’s first months, the danger of him branding the GOP as intolerant has steadily smoldered, as he’s rolled out polarizing policies on undocumented and legal immigration, crime and policing, affirmative action, and voting rights. He’s also moved to reverse protections for transgender Americans in schools and the military.
But Trump’s belligerent response to the unrest in Virginia has detonated this slowly burning fuse. His pointed refusal to unambiguously condemn the white-supremacist and neo-Nazi groups who gathered there may crystallize, in a way no policy debate could, the picture of him as racially and culturally biased, particularly among younger voters. “The truth is, I bet that Millennials have not paid that much attention to the policy stuff he’s done,” said Andrew Baumann, a Democratic pollster who has extensively surveyed the generation. “But I think Charlottesville is a whole different thing. This is a watershed moment.”