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President Donald Trump defended his decision to pardon Joe Arpaio, calling the former Arizona sheriff a “patriot” who loves his country. (Aug. 28)
AP

Republicans know they can get away with voting and incarceration policies that enforce white supremacy, as long as they reject public bigotry.

A federal judge found last summer that North Carolina Republicans had passed voting restrictions that “target African Americans with almost surgical precision” in an effort to “impose cures for problems that did not exist.”

In other words, North Carolina’s GOP was trying to cure an epidemic of black people voting.

The ruling confirmed that conservatives in a crucial swing state had been engaging in unrepentant suppression of black voters — yet not one prominent Republican threatened to quit the GOP, as many had over the presidential nomination of Donald Trump. There weren’t even vague condemnations of their own party’s resumption of this nation’s centuries-long effort to deny African Americans the ballot.

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But the same silence did not meet President Trump’s insistence this month that “many sides” were at fault for the violence at the “Unite the Right” protest in Charlottesville, Va., which left counterprotester Heather Heyer dead.

Members of the president’s own party quickly denounced Trump’s rhetoric, if not him. “We should call evil by its name,” Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch said. “My brother didn’t give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home.” 

Why has Trump’s comfort for white supremacists provoked bipartisan recriminations while North Carolina’s GOP’s effort to deny black Americans the vote did not? Why are conservatives silent about reports that the Indiana GOP has limited early voting in urban areas while letting it flourish in suburban communities?

Perhaps Republicans know they get away with policies that enforce white supremacy through voting restrictions and mass incarceration, but to do this, they must reject public displays of bigotry. This unstated compromise is the heart of a strategy that has helped the party accumulate more political power