Recent Republican fundraising efforts have been ugly and, worse, have fueled conspiracy theories, hatred, and demagoguery. Sen. Josh Hawley and Donald Trump have raised millions off the Big Lie about the 2020 election. Sen. Ted Cruz this week sent out an email enticing contributions by offering anyone who donates to his campaign war chest a vote on whether “we machine gun [John Boehner’s new memoirs], take a chainsaw to it, or burn the book to light cigars.” (In his book, the former Republican House Speaker slams Cruz as a “reckless asshole who thinks he is smarter than everyone else.” And a bunch of GOP politicos have rattled the cup with false claims that Dr. Seuss was being canceled. But perhaps the foulest fundraising email of recent weeks came a few days ago when the Republican National Committee sought to haul in money by slyly embracing Tucker Carlson’s racism.
The email was zapped out on Wednesday, and it looked like this in my inbox:
“Do you watch Tucker Carlson? He’s absolutely right.” Now to what was this referring?
A few days earlier, the Fox News host had come under fire for endorsing or legitimizing what’s known as the “great replacement theory”—the racist conspiracy theory that holds that white people in America are purposefully being replaced by people of color. White supremacists and other racists have for years claimed that evil powers have been plotting in this way to destroy white America. As the Anti-Defamation League explains:
“You Will Not Replace Us” is a white supremacist slogan that became popular in early 2017, as did its acronym version, YWNRU. The slogan appeared on white supremacist flyers, banners and graffiti in a variety of places in the first six months of 2017, gaining wider attention when white supremacists used the phrase at several rallies held in Charlottesville, Virginia, culminating in the large and violent Unite the Right event in August 2017.
At one of those rallies, racist demonstrators also shouted, “Jews will not replace us!”
The ADL notes that this conspiratorial notion was popularized with a 2011 book by a French author titled The Great Replacement, which contended that the mass immigration of Black people and Muslims into Europe would supplant traditional European culture. “Such arguments,” according to the ADL, “evolved into ‘replacement theory,’ which became popular with the far right in several European countries…Replacement theory was promoted as early as 2015 by American white supremacist groups.”
On his April 8 broadcast, Carlson scoffed at criticism of “white replacement theory.” In a mocking tone, he said, “Everyone wants to make a racial issue out of it: ‘Ooh, the white replacement theory.'” He proceeded to assert that the Democratic Party indeed was “trying to replace the current electorate, the voters now casting ballots, with new people, more obedient voters, from the Third World.” He claimed that naturalized citizens were “diluting” the political power of other Americans. You didn’t have to read between the lines to know which Americans he had in mind.
The next day, the ADL sent a letter to Fox News calling on Carlson to resign. The language he had used, the group said, “was not just a dog whistle to racists—it was a bullhorn.”
In a reply to the ADL, Fox CEO Lachlan Murdoch defended Carlson, pointing out that years ago the ADL had honored his father, Rupert Murdoch. ADL chief executive Jonathan Greenblatt shot back: “As you noted in your letter, ADL honored your father over a decade ago, but let me be clear that we would not do so today, and it does not absolve you, him, the network, or its board from the moral failure of not taking action against Mr. Carlson.”
Meanwhile, Carlson relished the controversy. On Monday night, he derided those who had denounced his comments: “They get so enraged! It’s a riot!” He then once again endorsed the core element of replacement theory—without using its name: “Demographic change is the key to the Democratic Party’s political ambitions. In order to win and maintain power, Democrats plan to change the population of the country.” He told his viewers the “goal” is “to make you irrelevant.” Call this white replacement theory lite. Or paranoid white supremacism dressed up in a suit rather than a hood.
So back to the GOP. On the heels of this firestorm, the Republican National Committee blasted out an email to thousands of possible contributors—or hundreds of thousands or more?—and it proclaimed Carlson was “absolutely right.”
The letter, though, did not specify what he was right about.
The GOP’s solicitation merely noted that the “Radical Left” wants to “cancel anything they don’t like” and “force their twisted ideas on the American People.” There was no mention of any specifics. But here was the Republican National Committee looking to exploit the criticism Carlson had drawn for his whitewashing embrace of replacement theory. In fact, the email told the recipients that if they donate and become a “sustaining member” of the GOP, “you’ll be defending conservative voices, like Tucker Carlson.”
It’s unclear how sending money to RNC headquarters will help Carlson. But it’s obvious the cash-grubbers of the Republican Party were hoping to fill the party’s coffers by aligning the party with Carlson following his combative support of a racist idea that has been embraced by white supremacists. The GOPers were too clever to spell out why they were defending Carlson at this moment. But their plea for bucks was also not a dog whistle but one very loud bullhorn.