Chao’s statement is an extremely rare case of the former Transportation Secretary wading into the political thicket that her former boss has laid around her since the end of his administration. It suggests that discomfort with Trump’s anti-Asian rhetoric has reached a new level amid several high-profile shootings targeting Asian Americans.
On at least a half a dozen occasions, Trump has taken to his social media platform, Truth Social, to criticize McConnell’s leadership, and to suggest, among other things, that he is conflicted because of his wife’s connection to China. Last fall, in a message widely viewed by Republicans and Democrats as a threat, he said that McConnell “has a DEATH WISH.”
But the personal attacks on Chao have stood out above the others, both for their overt racism and the relatively little pushback they’ve received. McConnell and his staff have not replied. Chao has asked reporters to inquire about McConnell and his team on rare occasions. to not amplifyThe remarks. Others Republicans dismissed the accusations as Trump being Trump. The former president “likes to give people nicknames,” Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) said in October on CNN.
Chao came to America as a child in Taiwan. She is the sixth of six daughters of James S.C. Chao (the founder of the Foremost Group), a large shipping firm based out of New York. After graduation from Harvard Business School, Chao served in numerous Republican administrations. She was also the first Asian American woman in a presidential cabinet as Labor secretary under George W. Bush and Transportation secretary under Donald Trump.
Chao’s personal story played an important role in her tenure. She spoke on air, particularly with local media, about her immigration story, and the promise America holds to others from faraway places.
Trump was a frequent critic of her husband’s bureaucratic skills, and he often criticized her husband while she was in his Cabinet. Chao claimed that she was loyal to both men despite differences.
“I stand by my man — both of them,” Chao told reporters at Trump Tower following a 2017 spat between Trump and McConnell.
But Chao reached her breaking point after Jan. 6. She resigned from the Cabinet, saying the riots “deeply troubled me in a way I simply cannot set aside.”
Trump was not happy with the statement. He once praised her work in his Cabinet, and began to include McConnell in his attacks. His attacks have “bewildered” Chao, according to a former senior administration official who remains close to her. But she initially decided not to respond since it just “creates another news cycle.”
“Especially for Asians, it’s critical to have filial piety — you honor the family name. And that’s a hit not only to her personal reputation but her name and family,” said the former official, who was granted anonymity to speak candidly about the former secretary. “It’s offensive and a stain on everything he achieved for Asian Americans.”
Steven Cheung, Trump’s spokesperson who is Asian American, said in a statement that the former president’s criticism of Chao was centered on her family’s potential financial conflicts and not race. Chao has been scrutinized over her family’s shipping business. Although an inspector general reportWhile the report released after Trump’s departure did not contain any formal findings about ethics violations, it did provide details multiple instances of Chao’s office handling business related to her family’s company.
“People should stop feigning outrage and engaging in controversies that exist only in their heads,” Cheung said. “What’s actually concerning is her family’s deeply troubling ties to Communist China, which has undermined American economic and national security.”
But few outside Trump’s inner circle dispute that the ex-president’s posts about Chao are racist. GOP officials privately expressed concerns that Trump’s rhetoric is more than background noise. It was an example of how he has fundamentally altered political discourse.
“Trump’s repeated racist attacks on Elaine Chao are beneath the office he once held and particularly despicable in this moment when the Asian American community has been subject to threats and harassment,” said Alyssa Farah, a former administration official turned critic of Trump.
The latest Trump attack — a suggestion that Chao may have been responsible for President Joe Biden bringing classified documents with him to his post-vice presidency office in D.C.’s Chinatown neighborhood — came amid a series of shootings that targeted Asian American communities. All this has occurred against the backdrop of a rise of violenceThis is directed at Asian Americans.
Although the fight against China’s rise has been a rare issue that has received bipartisan support from both parties, lawmakers are concerned about whether anti-China sentiments could lead to violence against Asian Americans. Some Republicans say Trump’s repeated and personal attacks in particular have hurt party efforts to make further inroads among Asian American voters — a task that the Trump 2020 campaignIt was a difficult task.
Trump’s anti-Asian rhetoric has been directed at others beyond Chao. This weekend was a busy one. he went after a Biden aide, Kathy Chung, believed to be responsible for packing the then vice president’s materials when he was leaving office in 2017. He has saidVirginia Governor. Glenn Youngkin’s name “sounds Chinese” (Youngkin is not Chinese). He has mimicked Asian accentsWhen he speaks about Asian leaders. He has mocked Asian accents on the campaign trail; he charged a reporter with asking a “nasty question” about Covid testing while insinuating she was doing soBecause of her Asian heritage. And he called Covid “Kung-flu.”
Lanhee Chen, a Stanford University professor who unsuccessfully ran as the Republican candidate for California controller last fall, claimed Trump’s language has already hurt the GOP’s ability to reach voters.
“I saw that firsthand when I was a candidate,” said Chen, the son of immigrants from Taiwan. “I talked to a lot of Asian American voters in my state and the feedback I got was, ‘What you represent is great, I love the vision, but I don’t know if I can vote for someone from the same party as Donald Trump because of all actual – and in other cases perceived – commentary towards Asian Americans over the last several years.”
“And the attacks against Elaine Chao are really puzzling given that she did really good work in his administration and accomplished a lot and benefited his own presidency.”
According to the Census, 5.5 percent of eligible voters in America are Asian Americans. This makes them one of the fastest-growing voting blocs. Pew Research Center. These numbers will only increase.
Asian American voters tend to lean Democrat. However, the Republican Party has spent millions reaching them in states such as California, Texas and Nevada. In an op-ed before the midtermsRonna McDaniel, RNC Chair, made the case that Asian Americans should join the GOP because of shared concerns about the economy.
But while Trump’s comments haven’t helped with the coalition building, some Republicans predict it will mostly rebound on him.
“It’s a bizarre obsession he has with her,” said Scott Jennings, a Republican strategist and former McConnell aide. “If you heard someone on the street making these rants you’d expect to see them in a sandwich board or a straight jacket.”
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