It’s Trump’s party now
It’s Donald Trump’s party now.
GOP voters have handed the reins over to a real estate tycoon and celebrity TV host who has as much business running the country as Dr. Phil does performing surgery. It seems the decades-long project of destroying the GOP is nearly complete.
There are still many establishment Republicans — from George H.W. Bush to Mitt Romney — who can’t quite believe it, who still cannot fathom their voters’ intentions or discern the follies and provocations that brought them to this unhappy place. They are deeply in denial, steeped in self-serving analyses that allow them to escape blame.
They should know better. For the last 50 or 60 years, prominent Republicans have fed the anti-government paranoia, fueled the fear and pandered to the prejudices that paved a path for Trump. He is the harvest that they so recklessly sowed.
Just look back a few years to 2012, when Trump endorsed Romney for president. By then, The Donald was already a leader of the so-called birther movement, a collection of hysterics and crazies who insist that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States. The birther movement is simply a way of rendering the president illegitimate, a usurper, a fraud. It is stark racism animated by certain white voters’ revulsion to a black man as president of the United States.
Given that, Romney would have done well to reject Trump’s endorsement, to make clear that he would have nothing to do with a man who was so clearly a victim of what has become known as Obama Derangement Syndrome. Instead, Romney stood meekly near Trump at a podium in Las Vegas and accepted his support.
Over the years, prominent Republicans haven’t responded much better to the frequent attacks on women from some in their ranks, especially women who presumed to act intelligent and outspoken in public. When Hillary Clinton was advertised as her husband’s partner during his presidency, she was met with ferocious and outlandish attacks. An Indiana Republican Congressman named Dan Burton shot a watermelon in an effort to prove that she and her husband had murdered a White House lawyer, Vince Foster, who actually had committed suicide.
And so it has been through several decades, as the Republican Party has increasingly become the preserve of a contingent of aging white voters uncomfortable with social and cultural change and fearful as a wave of social movements swept over the land and unmoored them from familiar touchstones.
Any political party that hoped to grow with the modern world would have sought to reassure its voters, to help them adapt as black Americans demanded full equality, as women assumed positions of leadership, as gay and lesbian Americans stepped out of the shadows. A political party that had its eye on attracting a broad base of younger voters would have tried to reassure its older constituents about immigration, reminding them that their ancestors, too, came here from other lands.
Instead, leading Republicans pandered to the fears and prejudices of their constituents. They updated and refined the old Southern strategy to signal to their voters that the party remained skeptical of black Americans’ continuing fight for social justice. They played along as conservative media outlets, such as Fox News, fed GOP voters a steady diet of pseudo-facts and manufactured outrage.
Instead of trying to prepare their constituents for a more diverse country, GOP leaders caved when their voters balked at immigration reform. (Yes, the party’s 2012 postmortem called for outreach to Latino voters, but that was too little, too late.) And Republican leaders helped to stoke the fires of mistrust and resentment of Obama, engaging in the most irresponsible tactics and outlandish rhetoric to sink his agenda.
Along comes Trump, perfectly positioned to abandon the subtle dog whistles of past campaigns and engage in full-throated bigotry and misogeny. Despite his insistence that he can moderate his pitch for the general election, he’ll go after the Democratic nominee, likely Clinton, with the same unhinged and outrageous invective for which he is so well known.
He is the harvest, yielding its bitter fruit and poisoning the party of Abraham Lincoln.