By Nikhil Vaish
“I mean, let’s be honest. Who wants to hang out with guys like Paul Krugman and Robert Reich, when you can be with Rush Limbaugh!” (Source: CPAC speech, February 2009).
That was Mitch McConnell, the minority leader of the United States Senate arguably embracing a conspiracy-theory-brewing, hate-spewing right-wing entertainment radio jockey during a speech he gave at one of the most important gatherings of conservatives.
A few months prior to the 2010 midterm election, and barely two years into Obama’s first-term McConnell also declared open war when he told the National Journal’s Major Garrett that “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” (Source: Washington Post article).
There has been much consternation among political pundits, outrage from the so-called establishment and heated discussion on Fox News about how Donald Trump has managed to become the front runner in the Republican presidential primary contest. Nobody seems able to understand or explain why he was able to best the Koch brothers and many other powerful and well-funded candidates backed by the party intelligentsia, brain trust and billionaire donors; Trump even managed to end the run of a powerful dynastic candidate.
That party says he does not represent true conservative values and that they do not support his blatant xenophobia and unabashedly racist comments. They say the that Republicans are not racist and have unequivocally disavowed the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups that have flocked to their party’s front-runner. Yet, nobody has asked that Trump be ex-communicated from the Republican Party. Sure Mitt Romney made a speech lambasting Trump but suggested they try to get to a brokered convention (rather than oust Trump) , and Lindsey Graham has also been launching into Trump, but nobody in the party has come out and said that he has crossed a line and that the party should disown him and let him run as an independent candidate because something bigger than winning an election is at stake. In fact, at the end of the last debate all the candidates on the stage pledged to support Trump if he became the party nominee.
It is not secret that there has long been a vocal minority within the Republican ranks that believes this country has been on an unimpeded road to liberal hell and damnation; dominated by feckless Democrats and lily-livered RINO’s (Republicans in Name Only). This group is blamed for enacting welfare policies and creating a culture of dependency through handouts, slowly destroying the once strong moral and God-fearing social fabric of America.
In the mind of this group, the attacks on 9/11 presented the perfect opportunity, and George W. Bush the perfect patsy, to implement an ultra-conservative agenda. One driven by a strike first and ask questions later foreign policy, and one that was to be followed by an audacious reversal and re-drawing of society and domestic policy to lead us towards the conservative promised land. However, as we all know this dream of a conservative utopia did not quite pan out, or come close to reversing sixty plus years of American policy in Bush’s two terms.
Reeling from the botched and hugely unpopular Iraq war, Bush started to distance himself from Cheney and the Neocons. He began to soften his rhetoric, seeking diplomacy in both North Korea and Iran, and seeking council from Condoleezza Rice over Dick. By the end of his tenure, the Bush presidency not only looked and felt like an unmitigated foreign policy disaster, but Bush had also presided over an unprecedented growth in the size of government, never before seen deficits (financed by borrowing from China), he had championed immigration reform, that would allow current illegals to stay, provided government handouts, the largest corporate bailout in history and even extended unemployment assistance. And there was no more tough talk or threats of war with Iran or any other axis of evil powers.
This betrayal of almost every dearly held conservative principle by Bush led to further disenchantment within the Republican ranks and gave birth to the Tea Party. The Tea Party called itself a grassroots movement and was founded on the promise of being anti-establishment, which was a good thing. However, it quickly became about grandstanding and portraying themselves as anti-government, anti-spending/bailouts/stimulus, anti-immigration and anti-compromise on every major issue, offering an ideological way or the highway.
Initially, the GOP establishment was happy to bring them on board, as it helped them win back the House. Party elders also likely believed they would be able to strong arm the Tea party into submission if they could not find middle ground with them. But on every issue – from reducing size of government, bringing down deficit spending, simplifying the tax code, to reducing personal and corporate tax rates and repealing Obamacare, the Tea party refused to compromise or discuss a jointly agreed path forward. It was clear that their only agenda was to block any hint of compromise with ‘liberals’ and in doing so also hijack the GOP by yanking them much further to the right.
Politics is about compromise; ideology is not. By holding a gun to the establishment GOP, the Tea party really only succeeded in making it the party of ‘NO’ and providing Obama a free pass; even though he has done little to reach out and seek compromise himself.
This growing rebellion within the party also forced every GOP presidential candidate to lean further and further to the right in an attempt to appeal to the evangelical and extreme base of the party. We saw how John McCain’s VP pick, intended to placate this vociferous and growingly powerful base, turned out. We also saw a once moderately conservative and imminently electable Massachusetts Governor forced to expend considerable time and energy trying to prove that he was conservative enough to his base. Romney even embraced the ridiculous and racist birther controversy, born in conservative talk show land and pushed by Trump at that time.
The GOP welcomed this ideologically driven group into their fold, expecting to tame it, but should have known they were opening Pandora’s Box. There is a reason why not ONE Republican Senator or Congressman endorsed or lent support to Ted Cruz’s candidacy, prior to Donald Trump leading the primary race. Most members of his own party openly show disdain for Cruz’s views, his histrionics and zero-compromise political tactics.
Certainly, the level of vitriol today cannot be blamed entirely on the GOP. The democrats have done nothing to change the tenor of the conversation or offer olive branches; they too resorted to personally attacking Bush and each other in 2008. The result of all this has been eight years of vitriol, no compromises, government shutdowns, a mainstream embracing of conspiracy theories and open attacks on elected leaders character’s, and not their policies. But right now the Democrats do not have a potentially authoritarian demagogue as their leading candidate.
Night after night on Fox News, I have watched the likes of Sean Hannity and Lou Dobbs show open disdain for Obama, the man. This while the network has also been routinely whipping up frenzy about terrorism and Muslims; many times with half-truths and even pure falsehoods – like their reporting that many cities in Europe had become Muslim ‘no go zones’ (Source: Washington Post article). Bobby Jindal, the Governor of Louisiana, even mentioned the same blatant lie during his brief and ill-fated run in the GOP primary (Source: Guardian article). A report by 2015 PundiFact found that on Fox and Fox News an alarming “60 percent of the claims checked have been rated Mostly False or worse.” (Source: PolitiFact article).
Republicans have long been playing a dangerous game, while the plight of most working class Americans has continued to worsen in this hi-tech digital economy and world. The party has spent much time and energy trying to block everything Obama did, almost always unsuccessfully, while their base has continued to grow angrier about the loss of jobs, stagnating wages and has continued to become more and more disillusioned with their seeming inaction. Consider that during six of Bush’s eight years, the GOP controlled the House and the Senate (also for the last six years of Clinton’s term). They won back the House after Obama’s first two years in office, and have controlled it for three quarters of his presidency; and they won back the Senate in 2014.
It does not matter that GOP leaders have never used Trump’s blunt language or xenophobic vitriol, but the fact that they have never distanced themselves from the extreme voices within the party and media surrogates like Rush Limbaugh, Anne Coulter and most of the shows on Fox News makes a difference. Even Rubio has consistently and angrily decried that Obama is willfully and consciously destroying the principles and values that America was built on – and this has the same effect of making the man an enemy, not a political opponent.
So, I for one do not understand why the GOP is now behaving like they are surprised and shocked by the rise of Donald Trump and the immense popularity of Ted Cruz (who is right of Trump on a number of issues). Both men are attracting and energizing the anger within the base, one that the party has quietly and dangerously coddled, ignored and nurtured of extremely conservative, evangelical, angry, non-college educated and predominantly white men.
Trump is merely a manifestation of the cancer the GOP created and then failed to treat. Instead of scratching their heads and feigning ignorance or deluding themselves into believing that they can somehow ‘control’ or work with Trump – they need to disavow him. Even if that means breaking up the party (which is more likely to happen if he wins) and losing the election.
This is a moment in history when a party needs to put its country before itself. This is not just about another election; Trump has made it about the kind of country America wants to be in the future.