Elaine Chao was the secretary of transportation during almost the entirety of the Trump administration, only resigning after the events of January 6th 2021, just two weeks before its end. She held the position of labor secretary during the administration of George W. Bush. She is married to Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. She is also the child of Chinese immigrants and came to the US as a child. Her family also founded a massive shipping company. This latter feature opened her up to charges of using her official government position to benefit the family shipping business but this kind of influence-peddling is now routine. The idea that one should go to great lengths to prevent even the appearance of any impropriety is now seen as some kind of quaint old-world fantasy.
Trump’s racist attacks on Asians, especially Chinese, has now taken a personal turn with him attacking Chao after her resignation, and now she is hitting back.
Over the past several months, the leading Republican presidential candidate has launched a series of racist attacks on the wife of the Republican Party’s Senate leader, a woman who once served in his Cabinet.
But while former President Donald Trump’s taunts at Elaine Chao — demeaning her as “Coco Chow” or a variation of Mitch McConnell’s “China-loving wife” — have been mostly met with silence from fellow GOP officials, the main target of them is now speaking out.
“When I was young, some people deliberately misspelled or mispronounced my name. Asian Americans have worked hard to change that experience for the next generation,” Chao said in a statement to POLITICO. “He doesn’t seem to understand that, which says a whole lot more about him than it will ever say about 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 team have not responded. And on the rare occasion where she has been asked about them, Chao has pleaded for reporters to not amplify the remarks. Other Republicans have dismissed the attacks as Trump just being Trump. The former president “likes to give people nicknames,” Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) said in October on CNN.
But few outside Trump’s inner circle dispute that the ex-president’s posts about Chao are racist. And privately, GOP officials have raised concerns that his rhetoric is not mere background noise but an illustration of the way he has fundamentally altered the spectrum of accepted political discourse.
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.
“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.”
None of the three principals involved (Trump, McConnell, and Chao) are sympathetic characters. Trump is unquestionably awful, McConnell is an unprincipled, ruthless, and power-hungry politician, and Chao has been an enabler of both of them. So in one sense, their feuding is something to be relished. The big negative is that given Chao’s ethnicity, the racist attacks on her will have a spillover effect of encouraging violence against Asians in general by Trump supporters.
Matt G says
“He doesn’t seem to understand that, which says a whole lot more about him than it will ever say about Asian Americans.” -Elaine “racism is bad only when it’s directed at people like me” Chao
Sorry, Elaine, but you knew what kind of person he was when you agreed to work in his administration.
Rob Grigjanis says
That spillover has been in effect for a few years now, since Trump’s many rants about the coronavirus began. How many people of East Asian descent have been attacked, injured, killed since then? Has Chao even mentioned them?
Raging Bee says
I don’t need to have any sympathy for Chao to note that Moscow Mitch has been pretty spineless and pathetic in the face of such crude insulting attacks on his own wife. Sort of like Ted Cruz just meekly rolling over when Trump insulted his wife and his supporters (IIRC) hounded her off the stage at the Republican Convention of 2016. If those supposedly powerful men won’t even stand up for their own wives (or even themselves), they sure as hell won’t stand up for us.
consciousness razor says
Raging Bee, this thread (at least, if nothing else) should’ve probably made you rethink the use of an epithet like “Moscow Mitch.”
I take it that these things are mostly harmless to them, privileged as they are. In any case, it’s also just part of the show…. What I mean is that, if someone’s a disaffected Republican, either because of Trump or the.people he’s “attacking,” then they can of course root for one side or the other. Which party is on that side? The Republican party. Who wins? Nobody. Did it do anything at all to address what made them disaffected in the first place? Of course not.
It’s not always as if Mommy and Daddy are fighting, and you just want it all to be over and to have a nice family. Sometimes, for some people at least, it’s more like your two drunk uncles are having a little spat over some bullshit at the family reunion, and you’re at least mildly interested to see how it all plays out. Maybe there will be blood, maybe not, but it doesn’t matter all that much either way. For someone with this mindset, which not everybody has of course, it can just be entertaining.
Marcus Ranum says
That spillover has been in effect for a few years now, since Trump’s many rants about the coronavirus began.
It also served to obscure effective tracking of the pandemic at its outset. What Chinese-American would want to report sick? It was already bad enough, with people being asked to go to work anyway, even if sick -- but having a demented racist president spewing threats just made things worse.
Pierce R. Butler says
I can’t help but point out that every reunion of the Chao family is pure Chaos!