You start out in 1954 by saying, "Ni***r, ni***r, ni***r." By 1968, you can't say "ni***r" — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now [that] you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I'm not saying that. But I'm saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, "We want to cut this," is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than "Ni***r, ni***r." -- Lee Atwater, 1981Ronald Reagan, the ultimate master of dog whistle politics, launched his first presidential campaign in 1980 in Philadelphia, Mississippi, a place notorious for the 1964 slaying of three civil rights workers, and gave a speech about states' rights: "I believe in states' rights.... I believe we have distorted the balance of our government today by giving powers that were never intended to be given in the Constitution to that federal establishment." What Reagan was really signaling by talking about states' rights in that particular venue was that he was squarely on the side of White America. It presaged his relentless hostility to civil rights and voting rights, and his opposition to entitlements for the poor, particularly, African Americans, who he later famously disparaged with another classic dog whistle -- his unsubstantiated story about a "Cadillac-driving welfare queen."
Ever since, Republican politicians have been expert at using coded language to tap into anxiety of white middle and lower class Americans about losing ground culturally and economically to African Americans and immigrants. Support for states' rights, calls for curbing food stamps, blaming poverty on a "culture problem," referring to illegal aliens, expressing fear of the spread of Shariah law, and framing opposition to LGBT rights as "religious liberty" all get the message across without sounding overtly racist, bigoted, xenophobic or homophobic. The references to "Barack Hussein Obama" and relentless questions about Obama's birth certificate, of course, tap into the code as well.
But Donald Trump has discarded the dog whistle. He refers to Mexican immigrants as drug dealers and rapists. He argues for discriminatory treatment of Muslims. And, in his latest remarks, Trump asserts that the judge presiding over the Trump University fraud cases, born in Indiana but of Mexican heritage, must be biased against him in light of Trump's proposal to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico.
Republicans are shocked, shocked at these latest remarks about the partiality of Mexican-American judges, which have since been expanded to include Muslims and presumably all other groups that Trump has disparaged -- which would be everyone other than white males. House Speaker Paul Ryan claimed these comments were "out of left field" when they are simply poorly disguised views out of the GOP playbook. Ryan and others Republicans treat these unabashedly racist statements as mere rhetoric that Trump can -- in the words of Sen. Orrin Hatch -- "tone down a bit," rather than deeply held beliefs of not only Donald J. Trump, himself, but of the entire Republican power structure -- that only white males should be in power and only white male judges can mete out justice. Indeed, take a look at the list of Trump's tentative list of Supreme Court nominees -- cribbed from a conservative think tank and endorsed by the Republican leadership. It is, not shockingly, comprised only of white males.
Of course Republicans are not shocked as much as they are embarrassed and discomfited that their candidate for President has dispensed with the code. And since he is simply saying what they are thinking, all they can do is try to distance themselves from his tone and isolate his specific remarks as unfortunate gaffes. Meanwhile, they continue to support him, the justices he would choose (AND NOT CHOOSE) for the high court, and everything else that he stands for.