Back when the Tea Party winds stared blowing back in the early parts of this decade, I wondered whether the Republican Party had signed a devil's bargain. It was encouraging the support of fringe elements that had long been outside of the mainstream of American politics, all in order to benefit politically from the rising feelings of resentment among white people.
One such example is the Republican eagerness to put the grievances of the "open carry" movement into law, as just recently happened in Texas. This is a movement that worships guns and views the Second Amendment as a protection against tyranny, as if the only thing standing between the status quo and a dictatorship is a bunch of dudes carrying AR-15's into the local Chipotle. Voters who vote on gun issues tend to be highly motivated, so the Republicans are willing to break bread with armed vigilantes if it means electoral success.
The same goes for white nationalism, although the connections have been blurred more. The continued Republican support for the official use of the Confederate flag (which was only shaken after the terror attack in Charleston), is a case in point. The same goes for the lip service paid by Rick Perry and others to Texas nationalism, which in my experience is an idea limited almost completely to white Texans. The anti-immigrant rhetoric and "show me your papers" laws in states like Arizona are based in a conception of the United States as a white man's country. Sometimes the links between the "secure our borders" rhetoric and the ugly truth beneath those words gets exposed. For example, it came out today that that Earl Holt III, the leader of Council of Conservative Citizens, has given campaign donations to multiple Republican presidential candidates. In case you don't know, this organization was cited directly by terrorist Dylann Roof in his manifesto as instrumental in affecting his worldview.
Now this is not necessarily a case of Republicans actively seeking out the support of extremists. Rather, they have been more subtle, in that they will take their money and promote policy positions that make those extremists happy. Anti-immigrant legislation, voter suppression of people of color, and slashing programs that help Latinos and African Americans in poverty might be called "securing our borders, combating voter fraud, and welfare reform" officially, but everyone with eyes who can see understands that they are all policies that further white supremacy. (Hence their popularity in large sectors of white America.) The horrors of the Charleston killing, as well as the almost comical responses by many conservatives that downplayed any discussion of race, have highlighted just how beholden the Republican Party is to extremist elements. In the wake of a racist terror shooting it must figure out how to spin its long-standing policies of no gun control and defending the flying of the Confederate flag. It was easy to court extremist elements when no one was watching, now it will be much harder to hide. Time will tell if this will actually result in any electoral change.