On Friday, Republican Representative David Lewis cited a blog I wrote on the House floor to justify the gerrymandered districts he’s pushing. The quote he used said, “Democrats have basically ceded rural America, giving the GOP an advantage in district configurations here and across the country. Democrats might be able to garner majorities in statewide and national elections, but they win with large margins in highly concentrated areas.”

I’ll stand by that assessment but the corollary to that quote is that lack of a coherent Democratic message has allowed Republicans to exploit racial fears to generate majorities in areas racked by high economic upheaval and declining populations. The GOP has stood silent while Donald Trump calls Hispanic immigrants “rapists.” They’ve only belatedly and reluctantly called out the president for his empowering white supremacists in the wake of Charlottesville. They’ve stood silent as Trump pardons a man who bragged about using racial profiling and ignored sexual abuse in jails he described as “concentration camps.”

On matters of policy, the GOP created the myth of voter fraud to justify disenfranchising African-American voters. They’ve refused to fix the Voting Rights Act. They intimidated the Muslim community by passing a law to ban Sharia law despite no evidence that it’s a threat to anyone. They’ve consistently opposed affirmative action laws that help combat systemic racism. They’ve scuttled almost every attempt to reform our immigration system including one proposed by George W. Bush more than a decade ago.  Their education policies are leading to the re-segregation of our public schools. And, yes, they’ve used racial discrimination to water down the influence of African-American legislators in the North Carolina General Assembly through extreme gerrymandering.

And in the midst of the fight to take down monuments to Confederate soldiers, Dallas Woodhouse and other Republicans have been casting modern Democrats as the party of racism because of events that took place more than 100 ago. No Republican leaders, not Dallas Woodhouse, Party Chair Robin Hayes, House Speaker Tim Moore, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger or Rep. Lewis, have called for removing statues commemorating the righteousness of the Lost Cause or the virtues of white supremacy. If they did, they know they would lose a significant portion of their base. So instead, they passed legislation protecting the monuments with no regard for the feelings of African-Americans.

I don’t believe most Republicans are racists and I don’t believe most rural white Southerners are. I know, though, that racists have aligned themselves with the Republican Party and the GOP has pandered to them for almost fifty years. If they lost the racist wing of their base, they would sit solidly in the minority in states like North Carolina. Instead of confronting white supremacy in their ranks, they created an environment where it could fester just beneath the surface of society. With their nomination and election of Donald Trump, it’s become a full-blown infection and the GOP bears much of the responsibility.