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.
Stanley Greenberg discusses his book, “R.I.P. G.O.P”, at Politics and Prose.
One of our top polling experts, Greenberg follows his America Ascendant, in which he illuminated the Republican Party’s decades-long fight against a secular and diverse “New America,” with an update of that cultural war based on trends from the 2016 and 2018 elections. Drawing on results from his focus groups and polls, Greenberg argues that the GOP is vulnerable on several fronts, mainly from the growing ranks of millennials and immigrants, and predicts that the losses the Party suffered in 2018 will continue in 2020. To take advantage of Trump’s alienation of blue-collar voters, however, he argues Democrats must develop robust programs for providing American workers with a level playing field.
STANLEY B. GREENBERG is the coauthor of the New York Times bestseller It’s the Middle Class, Stupid! and polling adviser to presidents, prime ministers, and CEOs across the globe. He lives in Connecticut and Washington, D.C., with his wife, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT).
Six words that changed conservatism, and American politics.
The president’s lawyers had been pushing a narrative that the Russia investigation would fizzle out.
That seems hard to maintain, given that one of the president’s closest advisors alleges treasonous activity behavior by Don Jr, Manafort, and Jared Kushner, which the president likely knew about.
You now have 3 factions within the Republican Party:
Mr. Wolff has a history of combining anecdotes that are true with sweeping assertions that include no substantiation and are often merely his personal conclusions. The media know this, but Mr. Wolff’s quotes and stories reinforce the contempt they have for Mr. Trump so the tales are too good to ignore or try to disprove.
.. Most striking, despite the juicy quotes, is how little new the book reveals. Everyone knew Mr. Trump was surprised to win the election, that he then tried to run the White House like he had his family business with rival factions and little discipline, and that the place was a chaotic mess until John Kelly arrived as chief of staff. We also knew that Mr. Trump knew almost nothing about government or policy, that he reads very little, and that he is a narcissist obsessed with his critics. Any sentient voter knew this on Election Day... Mr. Bannon fed Mr. Trump’s political paranoia and his worst policy instincts such as tearing up Nafta. Mr. Bannon resembles Pat Buchanan, a protectionist predecessor to Mr. Trump, in being at heart an American declinist. He rails against the present in favor of a more idyllic past. Recall the “American carnage” of the Trump inaugural... The President finally fired Mr. Bannon after Mr. Kelly came aboard and Mr. Bannon defied the new chief by attacking his colleagues in an unapproved interview. The White House has since become a saner place, notwithstanding Mr. Trump’s Twitter effusions... The President’s worst mistakes have come from heeding Mr. Bannon’s desire to blow up the status quo first and pick up the pieces later—think of the travel ban. The President’s successes have come when he has bursts of discipline while pursuing the more conventional conservative agenda on judges, tax reform, regulation and foreign policy
Avik Roy is a Republican’s Republican. A health care wonk and editor at Forbes, he has worked for three Republican presidential hopefuls — Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, and Marco Rubio.
.. “I don’t think the Republican Party and the conservative movement are capable of reforming themselves in an incremental and gradual way,” he said. “There’s going to be a disruption.”
.. He believes it means the Democrats will dominate national American politics for some time. But he also believes the Republican Party has lost its right to govern, because it is driven by white nationalism rather than a true commitment to equality for all Americans.
.. “I think the conservative movement is fundamentally broken,” Roy tells me. “Trump is not a random act. This election is not a random act.”
.. “Goldwater’s nomination in 1964 was a historical disaster for the conservative movement,” Roy tells me, “because for the ensuing decades, it identified Democrats as the party of civil rights and Republicans as the party opposed to civil rights.”
.. Goldwater opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He himself was not especially racist — he believed it was wrong, on free market grounds, for the federal government to force private businesses to desegregate.
- .. First, it forced black voters out of the GOP.
- Second, it invited in white racists who had previously been Democrats.
Even though many Republicans voted for the Civil Rights Act in Congress, the post-Goldwater party became the party of aggrieved whites.
.. the Republican coalition has inherited the people who opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — the Southern Democrats who are now Republicans,” Roy says. “Conservatives and Republicans have not come to terms with that problem.”
.. This revisionism, according to Roy, points to a much bigger conservative delusion: They cannot admit that their party’s voters are motivated far more by white identity politics than by conservative ideals... they deny that to this day, Republican voters are driven more by white resentment than by a principled commitment to the free market and individual liberty... conservatism has become, and has been for some time, much more about white identity politics than it has been about conservative political philosophy. I think today, even now, a lot of conservatives have not come to terms with that problem.”.. By refusing to admit the truth about their own party, they were powerless to stop the forces that led to Donald Trump’s rise. They told themselves, over and over again, that Goldwater’s victory was a triumph... Trump’s politics of aggrieved white nationalism — labeling black people criminals, Latinos rapists, and Muslims terrorists — succeeded because the party’s voting base was made up of the people who once opposed civil rights.
.. “Either the disruption will come from the Republican Party representing cranky old white people and a new right-of-center party emerging in its place, or a third party will emerge, à la the Republicans emerging from the Whigs in the [1850s],” Roy says.
The work of conservative intellectuals today, he argues, is to devise a new conservatism — a political vision that adheres to limited government principles but genuinely appeals to a more diverse America.
“I think it’s incredibly important to take stock,” he says, “and build a new conservative movement that is genuinely about individual liberty.”
.. For the entire history of modern conservatism, its ideals have been wedded to and marred by white supremacism. That’s Roy’s own diagnosis, and I think it’s correct. As a result, we have literally no experience in America of a politically viable conservative movement unmoored from white supremacy.
.. what actual political constituency could bring about this pure conservatism in practice. The fact is that limited government conservatism is not especially appealing to nonwhite Americans, whereas liberalism and social democracy are. The only ones for whom conservatism is a natural fit are Roy’s “cranky old white people” — and they’re dying off.
With virtually no Republican votes to spare in the Senate, where his agenda hangs in the balance, he has nonetheless become estranged from two key figures in his own party. First it was John McCain of Arizona, over his defiance of the president on health care. Next it was Bob Corker of Tennessee.. Mr. McCain is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee; Mr. Corker is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Thus, the president is alienated from the two most important Senate figures on national security at a time when two critical national-security issues are coming to a boil: the fate of the nuclear deal with Iran and the increasingly dangerous standoff with North Korea... “Bannon’s current obsession is to blow up Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Republican Senate incumbents whom he regards as hostile to his brand of nationalism.”.. Mr. Trump would like to lead, and Mr. Bannon would like to create, a Republican Party different from the one that exists. It would be a party molded in the Trump image: nationalist, skeptical of immigration and trade agreements, dubious about the virtues of diplomacy and international negotiations, with economic strategies skewed to help workers in traditional American industries... wants the GOP to be the party “of the American worker.”.. The current version of the GOP was built largely by merging the interests of the business community with the agenda of social conservatives. Neither of those groups would win top billing in the vision for a new, Trump-inspired party... it isn’t at all clear that such a new Republican Party would, in fact, be a majority party... The current party has just 52 members in the Senate, and, as noted, Mr. Trump doesn’t have the loyal support of all of them. Mr. Bannon and his allies are threatening to challenge other Republican incumbents in primary elections next year, which won’t exactly keep those targeted at his side.