After Mitt Romney lost the 2012 presidential race, the Republican National Committee chairman, Reince Priebus, commissioned an internal party study to examine why the party had won the popular vote only once since 1988.
The results of that so-called autopsy were fairly obvious: The party needed to appeal to more people of color, reach out to younger voters, become more welcoming to women. Those conclusions were presented as not only a political necessity but also a moral mandate if the Republican Party were to be a governing party in a rapidly changing America.
Then Donald Trump emerged and the party threw all those conclusions out the window with an almost audible sigh of relief: Thank God we can win without pretending we really care about this stuff. That reaction was sadly predictable.
I spent decades working to elect Republicans, including Mr. Romney and four other presidential candidates, and I am here to bear reluctant witness that Mr. Trump didn’t hijack the Republican Party. He is the logical conclusion of what the party became over the past 50 or so years, a natural product of the seeds of race-baiting, self-deception and anger that now dominate it. Hold Donald Trump up to a mirror and that bulging, scowling orange face is today’s Republican Party.
I saw the warning signs but ignored them and chose to believe what I wanted to believe: The party wasn’t just a white grievance party; there was still a big tent; the others guys were worse. Many of us in the party saw this dark side and told ourselves it was a recessive gene. We were wrong. It turned out to be the dominant gene.
What is most telling is that the Republican Party actively embraced, supported, defended and now enthusiastically identifies with a man who eagerly exploits the nation’s racial tensions. In our system, political parties should serve a circuit breaker function. The Republican Party never pulled the switch.
Racism is the original sin of the modern Republican Party. While many Republicans today like to mourn the absence of an intellectual voice like William Buckley, it is often overlooked that Mr. Buckley began his career as a racist defending segregation.
In the Richard Nixon White House, Pat Buchanan and Kevin Phillips wrote a re-election campaign memo headed “Dividing the Democrats” in which they outlined what would come to be known as the Southern Strategy. It assumes there is little Republicans can do to attract Black Americans and details a two-pronged strategy: Utilize Black support of Democrats to alienate white voters while trying to decrease that support by sowing dissension within the Democratic Party.
That strategy has worked so well that it was copied by the Russians in their 2016 efforts to help elect Mr. Trump.
In the 2000 George W. Bush campaign, on which I worked, we acknowledged the failures of Republicans to attract significant nonwhite support. When Mr. Bush called himself a “compassionate conservative,” some on the right attacked him, calling it an admission that conservatism had not been compassionate. That was true; it had not been. Many of us believed we could steer the party to that “kinder, gentler” place his father described. We were wrong.
Reading Mr. Bush’s 2000 acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention now is like stumbling across a document from a lost civilization, with its calls for humility, service and compassion. That message couldn’t attract 20 percent in a Republican presidential primary today. If there really was a battle for the soul of the Republican Party, we lost.
There is a collective blame to be shared by those of us who have created the modern Republican Party that has so egregiously betrayed the principles it claimed to represent. My j’accuse is against us all, not a few individuals who were the most egregious.
How did this happen? How do you abandon deeply held beliefs about character, personal responsibility, foreign policy and the national debt in a matter of months? You don’t. The obvious answer is those beliefs weren’t deeply held. What others and I thought were bedrock values turned out to be mere marketing slogans easily replaced. I feel like the guy working for Bernie Madoff who thought they were actually beating the market.
Mr. Trump has served a useful purpose by exposing the deep flaws of a major American political party. Like a heavy truck driven over a bridge on the edge of failure, he has made it impossible to ignore the long-developing fault lines of the Republican Party. A party rooted in decency and values does not embrace the anger that Mr. Trump peddles as patriotism.
This collapse of a major political party as a moral governing force is unlike anything we have seen in modern American politics. The closest parallel is the demise of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union, when the dissonance between what the party said it stood for and what citizens actually experienced was so great that it was unsustainable.
This election should signal a day of reckoning for the party and all who claim it as a political identity. Will it? I’ve given up hope that there are any lines of decency or normalcy that once crossed would move Republican leaders to act as if they took their oath of office more seriously than their allegiance to party. Only fear will motivate the party to change — the cold fear only defeat can bring.
That defeat is looming. Will it bring desperately needed change to the Republican Party? I’d like to say I’m hopeful. But that would be a lie and there have been too many lies for too long.
A lot of good, honorable Republicans used to believe there was a safe middle ground. You didn’t have to tie yourself hip to hip with Donald Trump, but you didn’t have to go all the way to the other extreme and commit political suicide like the dissident Jeff Flake, either. You could sort of float along in the middle, and keep your head down until this whole Trump thing passed.
Now it’s clear that middle ground doesn’t exist. That’s because Donald Trump never stops asking. First, he asked the party to swallow the idea of a narcissistic sexual harasser and a routine liar as its party leader. Then he asked the party to accept his comprehensive ignorance and his politics of racial division. Now he asks the party to give up its reputation for fiscal conservatism. At the same time he asks the party to become the party of Roy Moore, the party of bigotry, alleged sexual harassment and child assault.
There is no end to what Trump will ask of his party. He is defined by shamelessness, and so there is no bottom. And apparently there is no end to what regular Republicans are willing to give him. Trump may soon ask them to accept his firing of Robert Mueller, and yes, after some sighing, they will accept that, too.
.. Compare the tax cuts of the supply-side era with the tax cuts of today. There were three big cuts in the earlier era: the 1978 capital gains tax cut, the Kemp-Roth tax cut of 1981, and the 1986 tax reform. They were passed with bipartisan support, after a lengthy legislative process. All of them responded to the dominant problem of the moment, which was the stagflation and economic sclerosis. All rested on a body of serious intellectual work.
Liberals now associate supply-side economics with the Laffer Curve, but that was peripheral. Supply-side was based on Say’s Law, that supply creates its own demand. It was based on the idea that if you rearrange incentives for small entrepreneurs you are more likely to get start-ups and more innovation. Those cuts were embraced by Nobel Prize winners and represented an entire social vision, favoring the dispersed entrepreneurs over the concentrated corporate fat cats.
.. Today’s tax cuts have no bipartisan support. They have no intellectual grounding, no body of supporting evidence. They do not respond to the central crisis of our time.
.. The rot afflicting the G.O.P. is comprehensive — moral, intellectual, political and reputational.
Political caricatures don’t come much broader than these. Strange was the establishment incarnate; Moore was the Republican electorate’s id made ruddy flesh, an avatar of the latent nativism and conspiracism that Donald Trump’s detractors inside and outside the Republican Party blamed for his rise.
.. This was a “Jurassic Park” vision of the Republican base, in which party leaders, after fecklessly creating and nurturing a monster, find themselves powerless to stop it once the electric fences go out on the island.
.. Reagan’s 1980 campaign won seven percent more of the labor-union vote than Gerald Ford did in 1976, but he won just 10 percent of the nonwhite vote, significantly less than Ford.
.. Many of the major contenders for the 1988 Republican presidential nomination ran explicitly on the idea of bringing nonwhite constituencies into the party — none more enthusiastically than Representative Jack Kemp of New York.
.. Kemp believed that his vision of racial outreach could bring the party control of Washington.
.. Kemp lost to George Bush — himself a self-identified base-broadener, but one whose candidacy was marred by the race-baiting “Willie Horton” ad
.. Lee Atwater, Bush’s campaign manager, vowed — and later apologized for vowing — that “by the time we’re finished, they’re going to wonder whether Willie Horton is Dukakis’s running mate.”
.. It was a testament to the party’s cynicism, naïveté or both that Atwater, in taking the helm of the Republican National Committee after Bush’s victory, was tasked with improving outreach to black and Hispanic voters.
.. The base had, in Gingrich’s formulation, become something new: not a coalition to be expanded but a force to be propitiated or crossed at Bush’s peril. It was not there to be molded by politicians like Jack Kemp. It was there to give orders to them, through mediums like Gingrich
.. When Bob Dole — who had campaigned for the 1988 nomination on, as his spokeswoman put it, the “need to broaden the base of the Republican Party” — said he had no “litmus test” for the abortion views of his running mate in 1996, he drew harsh words from James Dobson
.. It implies that the Republican Party is not a coalition of interests but the tribune of an essentially unified tribe.
.. Conservatives often point out, correctly, that today’s Democratic base is, if anything, more monolithic in its policy views than its Republican counterpart, with more uniform positions on issues like abortion, immigration and taxes.
.. Republican voters, meanwhile, passed over candidates with actual fiscal-conservative and evangelical bona fides, like Ted Cruz, in favor of one whose only sustained and consistent point of contact with past Republican practice was the winking subtext of the party’s white identity politics, delivered without the wink. One party’s base knew what it believed; the other’s knew who it was.