Jeb Bush swings at Donald Trump over “dog whistle” politics and misses badly

Jeb Bush is trying out a new line of attack on Donald Trump, calling his proposal to ban all Muslims — including citizens — from entering the United States “dog whistle” politics.

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Said Bush:

Americans are scared. Republicans and Democrats alike are very scared with the situation we have now, but to make his proposals out there just to basically — these are dog whistle proposals to prey on people’s fears and consume the news. It’s not a serious campaign.

Bush then dodged the question of whether he would support Donald Trump should the Mussolini knockoff win the Republican nomination.

Jeb Bush, screenshot via YouTube

Jeb Bush, screenshot via YouTube

There are two rather glaring problems with Bush’s claim here. First, Donald Trump isn’t dog whistling. Dog whistling is what normal Republican candidates like Jeb Bush do. Trump is taking messages that would normally be delivered in dog whistles and repeating them in plain English, at a pitch well within the hearing range of the rest of the electorate.

Normal Republicans dog whistle about “inner-city violence;” Trump amplifies overtly racist propaganda using made-up stats to claim that black people are murderous, violent thugs. Normal Republicans dog whistle about the need to “secure our borders;” Trump says that the Mexican government is deliberately sending the country’s rapists and murderers here. Normal Republicans dog whistle about “radical Islamic terrorism;” Trump claims that thousands of ordinary American Muslims streamed into the streets to celebrate on 9/11.

Those aren’t dog whistles. Those are explicit appeals to the white, nationalist (and white nationalist) undertones of the Republican Party’s agenda.

The second, more embarrassing problem for Jeb(!) and his misunderstanding of political terminology is that, as a member of the Bush family, he wouldn’t be where he is today without decades of dog whistle politics. On top of all of the standard Republican dog whistles mentioned above, George H.W. Bush’s 1988 campaign used an ad — which featured grainy, menacing footage of a black man named Willie Horton to imply that Michael Dukakis would let (black) rapists and murderers out of prison — that was so dog-whistle-y that it remains synonymous with anti-black dog whistles to this day.

The ad was so memorably racist that when Donald Trump ran a similar ad against Jeb Bush earlier this year, it was as much a reminder of the elder Bush’s past racism as it was an example of Donald Trump’s current hate-based campaign. Bush couldn’t hit back because, well, for him to attack Trump over using race to call an opponent weak on (racial) crime would be rank hypocrisy on his part.

By the time George W. Bush ran for president, the family’s political operation had gotten even more creative in making appeals designed to be sensed but not perceived. That includes appeals like this straight-up subliminal ad that Bush ran against Al Gore in 2000, priming viewers with the word “RATS” before tying Al Gore to “government bureaucRATS.”

Check this screenshot from the 0:20 mark. It only flashes on the screen for a split second:


That’s worse than a dog whistle. That’s a cynical attempt at affective conditioning — the effects of which were confirmed in a controlled experiment years later.

Jeb Bush doesn’t get to call dog whistle politics disqualifying for the presidency without pointing at least a few fingers at his party, his family and himself. They have been an essential part of “a serious campaign” for the Republican nomination, and the presidency, for decades.

At this point, if Bush wants to claw his way back into relevance in the Republican primary without painfully embarrassing hypocrisy, he might have better luck sticking with conspiracy theories:

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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9 Responses to “Jeb Bush swings at Donald Trump over “dog whistle” politics and misses badly”

  1. 2karmanot says:

    YOU GO! jeb’

  2. rwlorenz says:

    Of course if Republicans did not have “dog-whistle” politics they would have little to say at all. And still Jeb! fails to understand what it even means.

  3. The_Fixer says:

    I don’t think “Dog-Whistle” means what Jeb! thinks it means. I mean, a “dog-Whistle” statement has some measure of subtlety to it. Trump is anything but subtle. As Becca points out below, he’s as subtle as an air horn.

    It’s clear that there is a dumb gene in the Bush lineage and it is rather well-expressed.

  4. nicho says:

    Laugh at Jeb all you want, but he will always be known — especially when he’s trotted out on Fox for his “expertise” — as the son of a president, the brother of a president, and a “former presidential candidate.” Sarah Palin made a bundle with a resume much thinner than that.

  5. BeccaM says:

    I think it’s both. Jeb Bush basically bought the Florida governorship through his family name and the connections and money it brought. His entire political career consists of working on a few campaigns (including his father’s) and then two terms as governor, ending after 2006.

    But yeah — Bush’s other problem is he isn’t quite radical enough for the current neo-fascist GOP orthodoxy.

  6. noGOP says:

    seen on the back of my truck:

  7. Hue-Man says:

    I can’t work out whether Jeb! has zero political skills or whether his polling tells him that the entire TeaParty/GOP primary voter base is as fascist as Drumpf. (or both) This response is pathetic.

  8. BeccaM says:

    The key to a dog-whistle, politically speaking, is it needs to be plausibly deniable in terms of intentional racism, sexism, or any other expression of bigotry intended to rile up the base. The other is it’s only supposed to be clearly heard and understood by the target audience.

    Hence, for example, the classic interview with Lee Atwater in 1981 in which he explains the GOP’s Southern Strategy, promoting terms like “forced busing” and “states rights.” (I’ll not repeat the passage in which he uses the N-word to make his point.) Later, they would introduce terms closer to the overtly racist line, such as “Cadillac-driving welfare queens”. Then there was the Jesse Helms ad when he was challenged by Harvey Gantt, talking about ‘racial quotas’, with white hands crumpling up a piece of paper in frustration, obviously intended to suggest a job rejection based on reverse racism.

    Lately, the Republicans have adopted a number of dog-whistle strategies–such as saying the right to discriminate against LGBT folks is an issue of religious freedom and ‘deeply held religious beliefs.’ Plus they’ve totally absorbed the whole ‘states rights’ thing into every issue where a state wants to enable discrimination or other forms of repression, but our federal courts and Congress have overruled them.

    Bush, Cruz, Rubio and all the rest engage constantly in their own dog-whistling, and tried repeatedly to spin their current positions in those terms.

    Donald Trump has tossed out the dog-whistle and has adopted the air-horn approach. His messages are crystal clear. If you’re not white and Christian, he seems to think interment and/or deportation is appropriate. Even if you are an American citizen. They’re even taking the WWII interment of Japanese Americans and claiming it was appropriate and a good idea, and not a moral abomination of panic, racism and xenophobia.

    Just in case the pundits and media want to give him an out when he says something horrific and bigoted, he or his spokespeople make it clear he totally meant the appalling thing he just said. Just today, one of them on CNN, in responding to a question about Trump’s call to ban all incoming travel for Muslims, even American citizens, said, “So what? They’re Muslims.”

    That’s not a dog-whistle at all. The only positive thing to be said is at least Trump is being honest in his avowed bigotry and hate speech. Doesn’t excuse the content of his hate speech though…

  9. 2karmanot says:

    Poor lil Jebbya—-what a dweeb.

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