For months, Donald Trump has unleashed a string of thinly veiled racist comments about his former transportation secretary, the wife of his party’s Senate leader, to relative silence from other GOP officials.
Days after his latest abuse, Elaine Chao issued a rare rebuke against the former president amid rising reports of anti-Asian hate and shocking acts of violence impacting Asian American communities.
“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,” she said in a statement to Politico. “He doesn’t seem to understand that, which says a whole lot more about him than he will ever say about Asian Americans.”
Mr Trump has repeatedly used a racist nickname or some variation of “China-loving wife” on his Truth Social account to describe Ms Chao, a Republican and the first Asian American woman to serve in a presidential cabinet.
Her husband, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, is frequently criticized by Mr Trump for his insufficient deference to the former president, a rivalry that has accelerated in recent days with the Republican leader’s admission that GOP officials must negotiate with the Biden administration to avoid potentially devastating consequences of the debt ceiling fight in Congress.
Mr Trump also has suggested that the GOP Senate leader is compromised by his wife’s connection to China. In October, Mr Trump said Mr McConnell has a “death wish” if he supports legislation backed by congressional Democrats.
Last month, Ms Chao declined to respond to the former president’s ongoing use of a racist nickname for her and urged the media to avoid repeating it.
“I mean, if it were the N-word or any other word, the media would not repeat it. But the media continuously repeats his racist taunt,” she told CNN. “He’s trying to get a rise out of us … He says all sorts of outrageous things, and I don’t make a point of answering any one of them.”
Ms Chao resigned days before the end of Mr Trump’s term in office in the wake of the attack on the US Capitol mounted by his supporters on January 6, 2021.
“Yesterday, our country experienced a traumatic and entirely avoidable event as supporters of the President stormed the Capitol building following a rally he addressed,” she wrote in a letter to Transportation Department staff one day after the assault. “As I’m sure is the case with many of you, it has deeply troubled me in a way that I simply cannot set aside.”
Ms Chao was born in Taiwan, moved to the US as a young child and was naturalized as a citizen at age 19.
Trump spokesperson Steven Cheung said in a statement to Politico that the former president’s remarks are taking aim at her family’s “troublesome ties to Communist China”, though an inspector general report did not make any formal findings of ethics violations involving her family’s shipping business while she was in office.
Few GOP officials have condemned the former president’s statements; his former communications director Alyssa Farah called his latest remarks “straight up racism”.
“This loaded, racist rhetoric is dangerous,” she said.