I think that there is no doubt whatsoever that racism is still very much alive in American politics today, long after it seems we should have moved past it. When one thinks of racism in our politics one is drawn back into our history concerning slavery. Back then it took a war in which one in five Americans became a casualty of some kind. Then there was the birth of the new Republican party that opposed slavery and it went nose to nose with the much longer lived Democratic party that supported (for the most part) the old South and it's "Traditions". I am among the first and most eager to give the Republican party of the 1860's it's due for what it once stood for and what it accomplished. Still, that party bears little resemblence to the GOP of today.
After the Civil War came Jim Crow, the American version of Apartheid. Whites only bathrooms, drinking fountains, eating areas, parks, motels, bars, libraries, schools, etc., spread racism throughout the old South in a thinly disguised version of the slavery it replaced. The disease of racism even infected most other parts of the nation in the form of housing discrimination, ownership rights, subtle discrimination, military service and marriage rights. All of America suffered a fever, while the old South had the plague.
Then, starting in the 1940's, with men like Hubert Humphrey, the Democratic party began to separate itself from the racist element that was a cancer on it. Throughout the 1950's and 1960's they slowly, but surely, forced the old South racists out of the party. Yes, it was ugly and yes there were some old time racists that hung on in the Democratic party until nearly the end, but still we made it. After a decades long struggle the truth is the the Democrats have purged themself of the illness of racism. Is it perfect? No, of course not. There are still bad people in the party, but the truth is that in the last 40 to 50 years, the Democrats have become the party of the people. The true big tent party that is mostly interested in human rights for all Americans, no matter the color of their skin, their sexual orientation or their religious affiliation, among others.
The GOP, on the other hand, in the late 1960's launched the concept of "The Southern Strategy", wherein they actively recruited the dis-affected racist former Democrats and drew them in as a voting block. Many Democrats saw this and renounced their former racism, however many more fell for the siren song of acceptance of the GOP to their ideology, just as long as they stayed fairly quiet, voted Republican and didn't actively embarrass the party. There were, of course, some in the Republican party, then and today, who hate the racist element the party that, if they did not openly approve, at least condoned for the votes they cast. Men and women such as Eisenhower, Rockefeller, Ford, O'Connor, Hagel, Snowe and Collins.
Unfortunately there has been little outcry and much acceptance of racism in the GOP. Groups such as the Birthers, anti-immigration groups and the Tea Party paint a thin varnish over their surfaces trying to disguise the simple fact that they just don't want people of color to take control of America away from them and what they see as their birthright. They are terrified that America is quickly (and much beyond their control) becoming a nation of different colors where white people will no longer be in the majority. Since America was founded white people, mostly men, have been in charge of this country and, in spite of how much they wish it wasn't so, that is soon no longer be the case.
We have our first black President (though he is, in truth, also white) and soon Hispanics will outnumber white people in population and at the polls. To many whites this is a truly frightening idea. I'm not sure why though? Do they think that people of color, once in charge, will treat themas they treated them over the centuries? While I suppose that would be justified, I doubt it will happen. I doubt that people of color want some sort of revenge. I suspect they want what all Americans want, a bite of the apple. A chance to live under one of the freest governments (at least for now) in the history of the world. A chance to work hard, have children, raise families and just be treated with the simple respect and deference due a human being.
We have our first President of color and we are now in the middle of an anguished backlash against it. Are all of his opponents racist? Of course not! That's a ridiculous idea! I'm a left wing liberal Democrat and I oppose many of his ideas. As far as I'm concerned he's moved so far to the right that George W. Bush could be his more liberal older brother. I will even concede that many on the far right that currently has the once proud Republican party by the throat are not pure racist either. However, for groups like the tea party members to present themselves as Simone clean and Simon pure is an obscenejoke. For their defenders to say their movement has nothing to do with race, destroys all of their credibility. Until they make an effort (even an imperfect one), as the Democrats did, to rid their organization of the racists that infect it, then all intelligent American voters will reject them as a fringe group. Until the far right denounces the crazies and racists in it's midst, they'll be a joke to any thinking American.
Sadly they'll still have a pretty good chance of getting elected by fooling enough idiots enough of the time.