Protesters hold signs outside a Trump rally in California.
Alex Beinstein learned about Donald Trump’s anti-Semitic tweet on Saturday morning. The 28-year-old Colorado Republican, fresh from an unsuccessful but high-profile primary challenge to a sitting congressman, did two things next. He withdrew his affiliation with the GOP. And he contacted the state party chairman, Steve House, who had been a mentor of sorts for the political newcomer.
House had made nice with Trump the day before. Though Trump supporters had sent the GOP official death threats earlier this year over a Colorado presidential nominating delegate selection process they saw as rigged, House said he and the party’s presumptive presidential nominee were beginning to work together.
Beinstein wanted to know how committed House was to that work. “If Trump jokes about lynching black people, are you also still going to support him?” Beinstein asked House. “This is barbarically and disgracefully nuts. Pathetic and horrendous.”
The interaction that followed, documented in an email exchange shared with The Huffington Post, provides a snapshot of how Trump’s bouts of bigotry place party officials and loyalists in a bind. Beinstein repeatedly mentioned loyalty to the Republican Party and his interpretation of its core principles, but he says there’s no denying that Trump is an unacceptable candidate. House did the strange dance that’s become de rigueur for the many prominent Republicans who say they’ll support Trump and then become forced to defend his excesses.
First he deflected.
“Can you clue me in on why you think that is a Star of David? The Star of David has the top point going straight up. I think they were implying it was a sheriff’s badge because they were talking about corruption and implying she should be arrested.”
And then he hedged.
“If it were the Star of David how does that even fit the narrative?”
Beinstein was more than happy to explain how Trump’s message referred to age-old tropes about Jews and why the explanation that it was something else didn’t convince him.
“Tying Hillary Clinton to the pockets of rich, wealthy Jews totally advances a corrupt narrative,” he wrote. “In fact, it’s the same exact way Adolf Hitler got elected, by blaming all of Germany’s problems on the Jews. Trump, not too differently, seems to suggest all of America’s problems come from Mexicans, Muslims, Hispanics, Jews, etc. (don’t forget Hitler also threw in blacks, gypsies, and gays to the mix).”
He argued that Republicans don’t need to choose between winning elections and condemning Trump when he goes too far. Even if they are not members of the groups Trump is targeting, Republicans should see how his willingness to stereotype segments of society could affect the groups they are connected to, Beinstein wrote. He even offered an analogy: If Trump joked about Irish Catholics to demean Vice President Joe Biden, wouldn’t Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) be upset and withdraw his support?
“I’m sick of the Democrats and I want the Republican Party to thrive, I really do. And I think people like Indian[-American] governor Nikki Haley and Marco Rubio are fabulous at broadening the Party; they are great. But how can the GOP sustain itself and even make inroads into minority communities when stuff like this comes out?… Good, honest folks don’t want to feel like they are voting for Hitler.”
Noah Berger/Reuters. Protesters hold signs outside a Trump rally in California.
In a happier, more reasonable time, the Hitler reference might have been enough to demonstrate why moves like the Trump tweet can’t be dismissed as silly gaffes with no real-world implications. But this is 2016, a year when a major candidate for the presidency can quote directly from Twitter accounts run by white nationalists and live to yell out hate another day. So House, the GOP official, trotted out a well-worn and rarely well-received response to charges of racism: “some of my best friends are…”
“Alex I ran the add [sic] by several very strong Jewish friends I know and none of them recognized that symbol as the Star of David until I ask them if they saw any resemblance to it and even then they didn’t believe it was anti-Semitic in anyway,” House wrote on July 4, two days after the last time Beinstein had contacted him. The GOP official mentioned that he had spoken with the Trump campaign asking it “to be more careful” and received the defense given to the rest of the world — that the presidential candidate wanted to use the symbol of a sheriff, not the Star of David.
Unfortunately for House, Anthony Smith at Mic had dug up the source of Trump’s message — and Beinstein had seen the piece. “Did you see that Trump’s ad came directly from a neo-Nazi website?” the young Republican asked the GOP official.
To him, the fact that Trump had tweeted out an updated version of the image that replaced the star with a circle was an admission of guilt.
“I know many Jewish Republicans, people who would give an arm and a leg to Paul Ryan, that find these comments, amongst others, to be terribly odious and offensive. I totally agree the media has a liberal bias—I just experienced it! And they have, at times, been disingenuous in their reporting of Trump. No question. But in this case, the facts, as Ted Cruz likes to say, are stubborn things,” Beinstein wrote. “You can’t take something directly from a neo-Nazi website and not be accused of anti-Semitism! And one of the reasons I reached out to you is because the GOP itself has been very good to Jews. I know many Jews that feel [Democratic National Committee Chair and Rep.] Debbie Wasserman Schultz is a traitor for voting for the Iran deal. When I was in Israel two winters ago, the people there had tremendous praise for George W. Bush but only cold remarks for Obama. There’s no question the GOP should be the home to Jewish people. … But I think there needs to be more honesty here.”
Hope Hicks, Trump’s influential press secretary, had already given House the campaign’s response. “The change was just because Hope told me that they didn’t want it to offend anyone,” he wrote to Beinstein.
Then the Colorado GOP chairman offered his own aside.
“I wish this guy did things differently for sure.”
Beinstein sent the official two more messages in the same chain, explaining in the first that he wants to stand by the Republican Party but cannot do so with Trump as its leader and describing in the second his own connection to the Holocaust, which claimed the lives of members of his father’s family and fueled his grandfather’s alcoholism. He also took another jab at the stereotype Trump has repeatedly championed — that Jews insidiously use their mythical wealth to mold society.
“My father essentially grew up in a ghetto in Brooklyn — a two bedroom, cockroach infested tenement for a family of five. And at ten years old, he was slapped for asking his father, my grandfather, why is there no food in the fridge,” he wrote. “And the last time I checked Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, the Rockefeller family, etc. have no connection to Judaism whatsoever, none at all. And I wouldn’t consider any of them eligible for food stamps.”
House didn’t respond. He also declined to respond to a Huffington Post request for comment on the email interaction.
I bet you Paul Ryan wouldn’t support him if he joked about drunk Catholics.
In an interview with The Huffington Post on Tuesday, Beinstein said he’s unconvinced by the talking points House and other Colorado GOP leaders are offering to bring reluctant party members into the Trump fold. The desire to prevent Hillary Clinton from appointing Supreme Court justices is a favorite one, he said. To Beinstein, maintaining the Republican hold on Congress is a better way to keep that from happening than putting Trump in the White House.
Beinstein said he understands why rebuking Trump is difficult for House and top Republicans like Paul Ryan, whom he has previously criticized but still sees as his ideal candidate for president. Still, he wants them to be more understanding — and he believes that what’s standing in the way of such sympathy is that they have yet to experience Trump’s vitriol firsthand.
“I bet you Paul Ryan wouldn’t support him if he joked about drunk Catholics,” Beinstein said.
The young ex-Republican never liked how Trump talked about Muslims or Americans of Hispanic heritage, but he always saw it as simply obnoxious and not immediately threatening, he told HuffPost.
“When it hits home like this… I feel bad I wasn’t even more sympathetic.”
Beinstein plans to re-register as a Republican after the presidential election.