(UPDATED: December 8, 2015)
Dear Grand Old Party,
Listen, I know we don’t get along. At all. The animosity has gotten out of hand at times but who hasn’t forced their roommate to invade another guy’s house based on lies or allowed the bank to short our mortgage knowing we couldn’t pay?
But I’m not angry about that anymore (SIDENOTE: I’m still totally angry about all of that). You had Bush for eight years and Democrats had Obama for eight years. Seems like an even trade-off, right? Eight years of neocons ripping up America’s carpet and eight years of bumbling Democrats trying to add new wood floors.
Part 1 of this series examining the modern Republican Party was published in late June after the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to make same-sex marriage legal nationwide in the United States. The GOP’s tone was predictably apocalyptic and it has only grown since. The party continues to do everything in its power to lose presidential elections, a process only hastened by the metastasizing malignant tumor known as Donald Trump. Sadly for the GOP, this tumor might be inoperable.
My instinct when peoples’ tone skews apocalyptic is skepticism. Sure, today is apocalyptic with the future of America at stake . . . just like it was in 2012, 2008, 2004, 2000 and every election in American history. It’s just regurgitated language that has lost its meaning over the decades. However, now I think there is reason to believe it. America’s beloved melting pot has come to a boil and the 2016 election will be set a definitive path post-Obama. There’s a fork in the road: right or left. And that path may already be set.
Based on what is happening today, as of December 6, 2015, dear reader, you and I can safely assume, nay know, that this is what 2016 has in store for us:
The GOP, already combating intraparty fighting and demographic changes, will be felled in the 2016 election by its own nominee, Donald Trump, who will lose to Hillary Clinton in a landslide electoral bloodbath not seen since Barry Goldwater’s loss to Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964.
Let’s break down exactly where it went wrong for the Republican Party and why the future for the GOP looks pretty bleak today.
Like Trump, Goldwater was a truth-telling soothsayer and populist who campaigned in a similar unapologetic fashion against incumbent Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964. His campaign slogan read “In your heart, you know it’s true.” A disgruntled Republican base bypassed the establishment to elect their poster boy and, well, loss is a charitable word for what happened that November.
The kind of campaign Trump is running not only echoes Goldwater’s, but seems to come straight from a playbook circa 1984, not 2016, when Reagan crushed Democrat Walter Mondale after a contested primary election, offering another useful comparison to today. The only difference is the name of the fractured party in question – Democrats then, Republicans today.
Much of the history of the party relative to issues at the core of the 2016 election was chronicled by The Washington Post‘s Janell Ross in her October 12 article “The seeds of today’s GOP’s infighting were planted long ago.” I highly recommend reading it in full for its excellent historical perspective but there are some pieces I’d like to point out.
The “party of Lincoln” was founded in 1854 by opponents to slavery, tragically destined to go from an anti-slavery party to an openly-racist one. The founders weren’t saviors in the least, more concerned with the broader, destabilizing impact slavery has on society and the economic power it gave the South. Post-war, the assassination of Lincoln and prolonged Reconstruction saw the party back away from black enfranchisement, leading to the rise of Jim Crow laws, particularly in the South where Democrats (many former Confederates) harbored grudges over losing the Civil War.
African-Americans finally began leaving the Republican Party in droves when FDR took office because some of his New Deal policies were among the first to provide federal help to black people since the immediate aftermath of the Civil War. For more on this oft-forgotten period of history, I recommend Pulitzer Prize-winning author and journalist Isabel Wilkerson, who spent 15 years chronicling the the time between Reconstruction and Civil Rights, in her book The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration.
When the Civil Rights Act passed in 1964, President Johnson correctly predicted that the price Democrats would pay would be the loss of the South for decades to come. His claim became prophetic when Republicans capitalized on this opening to win the support of the South for the past several decades. So deep was their racist intent that pro-segregation “Dixiecrats” refused to forgive the party that fought for equal rights for African-Americans and switched party labels en masse to Republican. Today, there is a grand total of two (2!) Democrats holding public office in the entire American South (more on the GOP’s collapsing “Southern strategy” further down). Ross writes:
“In essence, Republican candidates made themselves appear to be or were sympathetic to pro-segregationists, neo-Confederates and people who feared that more traditional American way of life was vanishing. Also part of the message was the idea that increased liberty for some groups had given way to a black criminal menace and more intense competition for jobs.”
As you can see, (and as infamous creator of the Southern strategy Lee Atwater flat-out admitted) race has always been a deal-breaker with Republicans, especially if its talked about as a societal construct instead of an incident of birth. They have a long and storied history of using racism, barely-masked in disingenuous language, to stir up their voting base. And evidence and studies have shown that racism’s prevalence in the GOP is not a correlation, it’s causation. Is it a coincidence that the Republicans’ next choice after America’s first black president is someone as quintessentially white as Donald freaking Trump?
No, party leaders will say, that’s wrong. They’re focused on conservative ideas, not on the “identity politics” of the Democrats. They’re true devotees, believing wholeheartedly that no matter race, class or gender, conservatism and the free market will save us all.
(UPDATE 12/8/2015: The irony of their outright rejection of identity politics is that it has turned the GOP, as Ben Domenech noted in The Federalist in August, into a party of one identity: whites. And as the party’s base gets whiter, the more white supremacist talk seeps into their rhetoric.
Trump’s leap off the moral event horizon yesterday – putting out a policy paper demanding all Muslims, including Muslim-Americans abroad, be barred from the U.S. – was met with a standing ovation at his rally of over 10,000 in South Carolina.
The polling numbers he used to justify this were gathered by the Islamaphobic conspiracy theorist Frank J. Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy, which also happens to be classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.)
Paul Ryan, recent recipient of the least-wanted job in Washington, Speaker of the House of Representatives, gave just that message last Thursday in his first address as Speaker since taking over for the ousted John Boehner in late October.
In perhaps the most public way the party’s fault lines have been exposed, the House Freedom Caucus – a collection of 40+ hardline conservatives mostly elected in the Tea Party waves of 2010 and 2014 – was able to force Boehner to resign as Speaker of the House. Later, they were able to blacklist his number two, Kevin McCarthy, from replacing him.
(UPDATE 12/8/2015: An amazingly-reported piece by Ryan Lizza in The New Yorker breaks down in detail the House Freedom Caucus’ kamikaze strategy to governing. Lizza writes of an interview with one of the caucus’ leaders Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho),
“[Low favorability ratings by Republicans] is what happens when we do nothing,” he said. “This is the new G.O.P. majority in 2015, when we stand for nothing.” The problem, in his view, was that the Party was “governing,” he said, adding air quotes to the word. “If people just want to ‘govern,’ which means bringing more government, they’re always going to choose the Democrat.”
These right-wing extremists in the Freedom Caucus are against government working because their worldview holds that government cannot work. Which in turn makes them prevent the government from working. Ah, self-fulfilling prophecies.)
In the article “From Trump, Ryan, Cruz and Rubio, clues to the Republican Party’s identity” The Washington Post‘s chief political correspondent Dan Balz reports on Ryan’s speech.
On Thursday, Ryan delivered his first major speech since taking over the top leadership in the House. He used it to sketch out his ambitions for his first year as speaker. His aims include helping to deliver a Republican victory in the presidential race. He pledged to use his House majority over the next year to set forth, as he put it, a conservative policy agenda that would provide “a complete alternative to the left’s agenda.”
The program, which he sketched only in the broadest of strokes, includes comprehensive tax reform, stripping away federal regulations, restructuring safety-net programs, repealing the Affordable Care Act and rebuilding U.S. military forces. It is an agenda for smaller central government at home and a more robust presence abroad.
“If we want to save the country, then we need a mandate from the people,” he said. “And if we want a mandate, then we need to offer ideas. And if we want to offer ideas, then we need to actually have ideas.”
Ryan conceded that President Obama would probably veto much of the conservative legislation that Congress might pass. But his larger aim, he said, would be to provide a substantive policy foundation that would be embraced by the party’s eventual nominee in 2016.
Though he decided not to enter the 2016 race as a candidate, Ryan clearly hopes to play a central role in shaping his party’s direction. His recommendations, substantively and politically, will resonate among the party elite.
Key words: “party elite.” The problem, Speaker Ryan, is that your base does not want your “ideas.” It does not want a conservative agenda.
Your base wants Donald Trump.
“Trump’s candidacy is the antithesis of Ryan’s approach — anti-elite in almost all respects,” writes Balz.”He has put forth some policy proposals, but that’s hardly the basis of his appeal. His ideas lack ideological consistency. He does not offer a conservative alternative to the left. Instead, he offers an alternative to what many angry conservatives regard as weak leadership, whether from the president or their own party leaders.”
Ah, the Donald. The apotheosis of All-American anger, representative of the right and embodiment of its pessimism and rage. To those outside the U.S., he is a manifestation of America’s worst excesses.
The party was quite proud of what it called its “deep bench” of 2016 presidential candidates, what with a moderately-diverse field including a two Cuban-American senators, a female former CEO, and a black neurosurgeon along with the prerequisite cavalcade of older white men. Little did they know the whole process was about to become Trump’s new reality show. As Balz writes, his supporters “appear not to be looking for ideological purity, an optimistic vision or a well-packaged policy agenda.” Their rage is destructive, not constructive.
I’ve written rather extensively on what a Trump presidency would be like (SPOILER ALERT: Get ready for gold-plated ID cards). He is everything the establishment is not. He doesn’t coat his bigotry in soft language. He peddles it directly to the consumer and they lap it up. Mexicans are taking our jobs! Muslims are secretly destroying America!
What’s most fascinating to me about the Trump phenomenon is not how successful he’s been but how happenstance his success was. While Trump has hijacked, in effect, the face of the Republican party well on his way to being its official presidential nominee, it’s hardly indicative of his self-touted intelligence or foresight. Quite literally, he stumbled on the illegal immigrant issue, bringing into the mainstream such fringe ideas as a border wall and mass deportation. The hostility Trump engenders from those he scorns cannot be understated and will destroy him come Election Day.
Ideas previously thought to be evil, immoral but most of all expensive (Republicans couch everything, even human rights violations, in tax and money talk), Trump was a spokesman when the disgruntled Republican base needed one. In his infamous announcement speech calling Mexicans rapists and criminals and blaming their country’s government for purposefully shipping them here, he ran afoul another brewing cultural epidemic: the rise of – and backlash to – actions labeled politically correct or P.C. And that’s the final piece of the puzzle that is the Trump phenomenon.
Trump is unapologetically racist, unapologetically xenophobic and unapologetically divisive. Trump’s “gaffes” are not actually gaffes in the traditional sense; they’re proof to his supporters that he’s their guy. Not because he says what’s on his mind, but because he says what’s on their mind. He gives voice to every bad impulse and thought they have and then license to act accordingly, regardless of the truth, facts or reason.
Thanks to the quickening of global communication, issues fly by at such a rapid rate, Marty McFly and Doc Brown would get broken necks from whiplash if they time-traveled to today. We can’t settle one Donald Trump lie before he barrels into his next one. Most stunningly, illegal immigration was the very issue he blasted Mitt Romney for screwing up the 2012 election with his “self-deportation” rhetoric.
In an post-election interview in November of that year, Trump told Ronald Kessler of Newsmax that “the Republican Party will continue to lose presidential elections if it comes across as mean-spirited and unwelcoming toward people of color.”
Here’s the full exchange:
“Republicans didn’t have anything going for them with respect to Latinos and with respect to Asians,” the billionaire developer says.
“The Democrats didn’t have a policy for dealing with illegal immigrants, but what they did have going for them is they weren’t mean-spirited about it,” Trump says. “They didn’t know what the policy was, but what they were is they were kind.”
Romney’s solution of “self deportation” for illegal aliens made no sense and suggested that Republicans do not care about Hispanics in general, Trump says.
“He had a crazy policy of self deportation which was maniacal,” Trump says. “It sounded as bad as it was, and he lost all of the Latino vote,” Trump notes. “He lost the Asian vote. He lost everybody who is inspired to come into this country.”
I don’t recognize this guy as the same guy campaigning in Iowa yesterday but the irony is delicious.
2012 Trump actually seems pretty reasonable because the facts back him up. The GOP is white and only getting whiter while the national percentage of white people has decreased substantially. African-Americans don’t vote Republican. Hispanics don’t vote Republican. Asian-Americans don’t vote Republican. Take a look at the exit polling from 1968 to today.
The GOP can’t stop thinking of ways to alienate increasingly-diverse demographics, whether it’s Trump’s coarse rhetoric against Hispanics and Muslims, Chris Christie’s hostile dismissal of the #BlackLivesMatter movement or Jeb Bush saying Asian-Americans are the primary perpetrators of “anchor babies.”
But let’s not forget about Trump’s candidacy isn’t torpedoing the party’s election chances by himself. The GOP has had the problems he exacerbated for a long time. Republicans may not like “identity politics” but they’re going to have to learn to because the identity of America is changing faster than ever and they’re falling way behind. As the party becomes increasingly white, the previous electoral Southern strategy of the GOP has left them hamstrung and dependent on diminishing portions of the population.
It did it again in 2004 when Karl Rove, in his wisdom, gave up on swing voters and drove evangelicals to the voting booths by pointing to Bush 43’s support for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Cut to 2015 and that campaign promise seems grossly short-sighted in a “win the battle, lose the war” kind of way. On the bright side, that may be the last Republican presidential administration for sometime, because as the party stands today, it is in very real danger of losing the White House for decades to come.
Looking back, that election was the last chance they had, the last time the loosening grip of white Christian America was able to throw presidential politics in a meaningful way. They don’t have a good track record since (their champions were Mike Huckabee in 2008 and Rick Santorum in 2012, to give you perspective). Most are with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and, to a lesser extent, Ben Carson this year. This cycle, make no mistake, will make them 0-3 in the last eight years.
The nominee is irrelevant. They will get crushed come November. Each one of them will lose. Trump will lose worst of all. Why? Numbers, according to Balz.
“If the 2016 nominee gets no better than Romney’s 17 percent of the nonwhite vote, he or she would need 65 percent of the white vote to win, a level achieved in modern times only by Ronald Reagan in his 1984 landslide. Bush’s 2004 winning formula — 26 percent of the nonwhite vote and 58 percent of the white vote — would be a losing formula in 2016, given population changes.”
The Trump phenomenon is a fascinating rebuke of the GOP’s Growth and Opportunity Report, a study commissioned after Romney’s defeat in 2012. The 100-plus page document advised the party, among other changes, to do exactly the opposite of what Trump has done, which is alienate Hispanics and tack the party even further to the right on immigration reform.
The only person hated more by the GOP establishment than Trump is Cruz. In fact, The New York Times reported that some Republican strategists refuse to attack Trump solely because he is keeping Cruz from first place. Cruz’s strategy hinges, like Trump, on defying what the Republican Party laid out in 2013: a tacit refusal to court Hispanic or minority voters, instead focusing even more heavily on base voters like white evangelicals and hardline conservatives, essentially repeating Rove’s 2004 strategy.
The same numbers that prove the general election is beyond reach of Republicans show that, at least on a state and local level, the GOP is not only in control, they’re dominating. During the Obama administration, Democrats have lost 900+ state legislature seats, 12 governors, 69 House seats, and 13 Senate seats. That’s just an embarrassment for the party (I’ll be detailing how the Democratic Party has failed and what needs to be done to succeed in an upcoming column). However, there are a whole host of factors affecting those numbers, not all attributable to Obama or his administration.
Theories attribute the GOP’s success here to an increase of dark money, organizations like the Koch brothers-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), intense Republican backlash to President Obama and abject failure on the Democratic Party’s part. In no way does this invalidate the general election math and turmoil the GOP is grappling with. State and local elections are radically different beasts with more homogeneous voting populations. Still, the failure of all of those gains to achieve the kind of change the conservative/Tea Party base have long desired has driven them into Trump’s arms, so perhaps you could say their victories have backfired.
So they are clearly the healthier of the two parties yet Democrats are more likely to be optimistic about the future of America than Republicans? If the party is truly are better off yet the base remains pessimistic, does that mean nothing can possibly satiate the Tea Party beast?
As Peter Wehner, a former member of the Bush administration, wrote in an article “The GOP Is Killing Itself,” the answer seems to be nothing. The toxic rhetoric employed makes achievement impossible while at the same time dooming the party’s future.
“The message being sent to voters is this: The Republican Party is led by people who are profoundly uncomfortable with the changing (and inevitable) demographic nature of our nation. The GOP is longing to return to the past and is fearful of the future. It is a party that is characterized by resentments and grievances, by distress and dismay, by the belief that America is irredeemably corrupt and past the point of no return. “The American dream is dead,” in the emphatic words of Mr. Trump.”
That’s the truth.
The truth is that no matter how many Republicans are elected, no matter how bills or reforms are introduced and no matter if they even succeed, pass and become law, it will. Never. Be. Enough.
The problems GOP voters are worried about can’t be solved by good governance or bipartisan legislation. That’s why they’re so opposed to both. What they want is a return, to safety, to blissful ignorance from racial hatred and class inequality, to a time when the rest of the world was pulverized or rebuilding but America emerged as the only country intact. You know, the 1950s.
The GOP’s conundrum isn’t that it’s not conservative enough; it’s already plenty batshit conservative. This race-to-the-right is self-defeating because the one thing the Republicans can’t outrace is time.
It’s that simple. Times, they are a- changin’ and no amount of subliminal racial messaging (the silent majority!) will bring back the “good ole days” before our first black president, before Civil Rights, before the sexual revolution, before the rise of secularism. All the things that make the traditional GOP voter (older, whiter and conservative) awash in fear. So what do they do? They will listen to literally anyone who promises them it’s not true, even if that messenger is as vain, venomous and vile as Trump is. They will bury their heads in the sand and grow increasingly bellicose as the world changes faster than they can accept it.
Kind of like what’s happening right now.
Where does this end? Right now, it ends with the party’s preconceptions in tatters after a devastating rebuke to Trumpism in the general election. At that point, one of two things happen: a) the base is finally cowed by a staggering defeat and the establishment reasserts control, like what happened with Goldwater or b) the base becomes further inflamed by losing and a deeper, even uglier fracturing occurs, something that would have unknown consequences for America as a whole.
So please, I beg of your Republicans. Stand up to Trump. For the sake of your party, my sanity and America’s health, stop with the “anyone would better that Hillary for president” crap. That is objectively false. Party leaders need to be adults and, by saying no to Trump, say no to the ugly history of racism that is keeping the party in the past. You can’t survive in the past and the longer the party remains there, the more likely it’s going to get ugly when the base realizes time is linear and there really is no going back.