As Hoosier Republicans wring their hands over the hateful light in which their narrow-minded governor has cast Indiana, their national counterparts are sweating the irreparable harm they think Donald Trump is doing to the once-Grand Old Party.
“How could this happen?” they wonder. How? Take a look in the mirror.
For decades, Republican leaders—desperate to boost dwindling numbers as old white men die and minority populations grow—have embraced anyone who would have them, from corporate CEOs to white supremacists, gun enthusiasts to evangelicals, anti-abortion activists to warmongers.
They gave lip service to opening a big tent, yet signaled their real sentiments with veiled racial references to Chicago welfare queens, anchor babies and “macaca”; not-so-veiled promises to keep out “others,” such as Mexicans and Syrians; and unbridled and irrational hatred for President Obama for nakedly racist reasons.
Their plan worked: Republicans won legislative majorities—even super majorities, as in Indiana—across the country and in Congress; gerrymandered their way into virtually permanent power; and installed the most political Supreme Court in history, which gave them Citizens United and permanent fundraising dominance. (There is a reason Mitch McConnell is denying the president the opportunity to appoint the next justice.)
Now they are shocked, shocked, to find that something awful is going on here. David Brooks of the New York Times wrote that “Trump is the culmination of the trends we have been seeing for the last 30 years: the desire for outsiders; the bashing style of rhetoric that makes conversation impossible; the decline of coherent political parties; the declining importance of policy; the tendency to fight cultural battles and identity wars through political means.”
Oh, but he is so much more. Trump is the natural progression from those who have cast Obama as a foreign-born outsider, a usurper with the audacity to be black and elected president. Trump is heir-apparent to those who ridicule political correctness—that is, civil and respectful speech—and fail to condemn a congressman’s vile invective, “You lie,” shouted at the president. Trump’s heedless willingness to say anything mirrors Republicans’ unprecedented obstructionism and willingness to shut down the government, whatever the consequences. His crude style and trite pronouncements are the next domino after the coarse cluelessness of Sarah Palin, whom the Republican establishment gleefully inflicted on us.
Now the GOP finds itself with an electorate fed up the party hasn’t delivered on what those wildly disparate voters perceived to be promises and looking for a leader who will listen—or at least echo their disaffection. Republicans can’t claim they weren’t warned their amoral coalition-building might backfire. In the last several years, as Trump-light candidates won legislative and congressional seats, leaders bemoaned the difficulty of finding compromise with such an inflexible bunch. It was tempting then, and more so now, to remind them that they got into bed with these types; now they can lie in it.
But the future of our country is at stake, and gloating seems wrong. Brooks said the answer to Trump “is politics. It’s acknowledging other people exist. It’s taking pleasure in that difference and hammering out workable arrangements.”
Brooks must be smoking something if he thinks that can happen in 2016. McConnell appears intransigent; Trump seems inevitable. A lot of nutcases have been validated and energized. The only hope is that a larger number of levelheaded people will recognize the gravity of the election and cast their votes accordingly.•
Dieter, a writer and an editor, is the former Statehouse bureau chief for The Courier-Journal and press secretary for Gov. Frank O’Bannon. Send comments on this column to firstname.lastname@example.org.