Washington, DC – From the outset of Monday’s campaign rally for US Senator Ted Cruz, US President Donald Trump received a warm welcome from thousands of mostly red-clad Republicans gathered in Houston’s Toyota Center.
The audience had applauded throughout the speech delivered by Cruz, who is facing off against Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke in a closely-watched race in the November 6 midterm elections.
But when Trump took the podium and his speech took an even sharper rightward turn, the crowd erupted in boisterous applause and chants of “USA!”
On Monday, after addressing unemployment and taxes, among other topics, Trump declared himself “nationalist” who is fending off “corrupt, power-hungry globalists”.
“We’re putting America first… it hasn’t happened in a lot of decades,” he declared, adding: “We’re taking care of ourselves for a change, folks.”
He continued by accusing Democrats of being “globalists” who want “the globe to do well [by] frankly not caring about our country so much”.
“You know, they have a word. It sort of became old-fashioned. It’s called a nationalist,” he continued. “And I say really, we’re not supposed to use that word. You know what I am? I am a nationalist. Use that word.”
Trump used the term, nationalist, again on Tuesday, defending the recently agreed-upon trade deal with Mexico and Canada.
With midterm elections less than two weeks away, Monday’s rally was the latest in a pattern of Trump and Republican candidates nationwide employing increasingly aggressive campaign rhetoric.
In races from California to New Jersey, Republican candidates, campaign ads and mailers have accused Democratic opponents of advocating “open borders” and supporting “terrorism”.
In North America and Europe, far-right and ultra-nationalist groups have routinely disparaged their political opponents as “globalists”, a term that researchers and experts describe as a dog-whistle with thinly-veiled anti-Semitic undertones.
While some right-wing politicians and commentators use globalism interchangeably with globalisation, the term now refers more commonly to a far-right conspiracy theory that alleges that the world is controlled by a shadowy group of economic elites.
Monday was not the first time Trump employed the phrase. In March, the president prompted a tide of criticism when he referred to his outgoing top economic adviser, Gary Cohn, as a “globalist”.
“He may be a globalist, but I still like him,” Trump said at Cohn’s final cabinet meeting, continuing, “He’s seriously a globalist. There’s no question.”
“Never underestimate the power of anti-Semitism in this,” Shane Burley, author of Fascism Today, told Al Jazeera. “I don’t think Trump is making an open reference to Jews, but the logic of anti-Semitism is informing rhetoric.”
The alt-right, a loosely knit coalition of neo-Nazis and white nationalists, surged during Trump’s presidential campaign and following his victory in November 2016.
But alt-right groups found themselves marginalised after differing with many of the president’s policies and facing public backlash after the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in August 2017.
Burley said the movement’s lasting influence can be seen in the Republican Party’s open embrace of far-right talking points, including globalism and conspiracy theories blaming Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros for everything from migration to anti-Trump protests.
“If we think about parts of the Trump base, that rhetoric works very well with them,” Burley said.
In recent weeks, Trump has intensified accusations that Democrats are “radical” leftists who incite “mobs”, claimed protesters are “paid” and repeatedly attacked a US-bound caravan of migrants.
Some Republican incumbents and hopefuls across the country have followed suit, and right-wing Super PACS have aired a slew of televised campaign ads attempting to link their Democratic opponents to “terrorism”.
Others have ostensibly targeted non-white candidates for their heritage, such as Republican congressman Duncan Hunter’s attack ad claiming that his Palestinian-Mexican-American opponent, Ammar Campa-Najjar, is a “national security threat”.
Although the 29-year-old Campa-Najjar is a Christian, Hunter’s ad alleged that the progressive House hopeful was trying to “infiltrate” Congress and is supported Muslim Brotherhood.
And in New York, another attack ad targeted African-American Democratic House candidate Antonio Delgado for his former career as a rapper. Paid for by the Congressional Leadership Fund, the ad accused Delgado of “lacing his raps with extremist attacks on American values”.
On Monday, the civil rights group Muslim Advocates published a pre-election report documenting a sharp uptick in anti-Muslim sentiment among political candidates in 2017 and 2018.
Heidi Beirich, the head of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project, explained that Trump has been “escalating pretty egregiously” the tenor of the midterm election rhetoric.
“You’d have to be a fool not to know that Trump is trying to use race as a way to gin up his supporters,” she told Al Jazeera.
“There are large sections of this election marked by racism, anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant efforts. In some ways, Trump’s win in 2016 unleashed this kind of extremism into our system.”