Republican insiders are so desperate to stop Donald Trump from winning their presidential nomination that they’re coalescing around Marco Rubio. Think about that. A guy who rarely shows up for work, has an agenda that’s almost as extreme as Trump’s, and who even the most expensive image-makers in the world will never make fit for prime time, is their last best hope. A guy who hasn’t yet come close to winning anything, and is polling far behind everywhere, is somehow supposed to win everything.
For decades the Republican establishment has played the faith-based voters for fools, but now it is they who are looking increasingly foolish in their desperate search for faith. They have no one to blame but themselves. For decades, they have played to racism, misogyny, bigotry, and thuggishness, and having loosed the American id, it’s now theirs to live with, untamed, unfettered, and out in the open where they never wanted it to be. It’s a monster of their own making. As Mitt Romney might say: They built that.
It’s been written about before and bears repeating, again and again: This is the inevitable end of a process that has been evolving for decades. Republicans like to pretend they are the Party of Lincoln, but that was not just more than 150 years ago—it was an entirely different political universe. The Republican Party was founded to oppose slavery, but now 20 percent of the supporters of its leading presidential candidate think freeing the enslaved was a bad idea. Trump himself openly laughs at the extremism his followers openly embrace. And all of it is the fault of the Republican Party establishment.
If not for his long, bombastic personal history proving that he means every bit of it, one almost might wonder if Trump is just trolling the Republicans, making them see what they have become. But the history is there. Trump is what he is. His followers are what they are. And the Republican establishment did what it did.
Some may not remember, but for generations Southern bigots remained Democrats because they wanted nothing to do with the Party of Lincoln. Those grand Democratic majorities supposedly enjoyed by Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson included many racist conservatives who remained Democrats precisely because they remained racist, and still couldn't forgive even the increasingly conservative Republican Party for what they deemed to have been the sins of its past—sins such as having won the Civil War. The moderate Republican of the recent past was met and perhaps surpassed by the truly conservative Democrat of that recent past.
The change began in earnest at the 1948 Democratic Convention. A platform plank calling for passage of a Civil Rights Act tore the party apart. The turning point, both for the plank and the party, was an electrifying speech by Minneapolis mayor and Senate candidate Hubert Humphrey.
My friends, to those who say that we are rushing this issue of civil rights, I say to them we are 172 years late. To those who say that this civil-rights program is an infringement on states’ rights, I say this: The time has arrived in America for the Democratic Party to get out of the shadow of states' rights and to walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights.
After the plank was passed, some Southern delegates walked out. They were led by South Carolina Governor Strom Thurmond. A lot of people don’t remember that Thurmond once was a Democrat. But in 1948, he helped create the Dixiecrat Party, and became its presidential standard bearer. In that famously volatile election year, Thurmond won the states of Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina. But the realignment of the parties was only beginning. A lot of Southern conservatives still hated the Republicans that much. Thurmond himself found his way back to the Democratic Party, and served as a Democratic senator until 1964. When President Lyndon Johnson succeeded in passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, he told aides that they had lost the South for a generation. Thurmond was among the first to leave. But the realignment still took time. A lot of Southern conservatives still hated the Republicans that much. But times were changing.
Richard Nixon's 1968 presidential campaign’s Southern Strategy was designed to capitalize on the evolving loyalties of racists, and segregationist Democrat George Wallace ran under the banner of the American Independent Party and won five southern states. Still, changes in party affiliation continued to lag. In 1980, Republican presidential nominee Ronald Reagan cynically and despicably launched his general election campaign by invoking "states' rights" in racist fire zone Philadelphia, Mississippi. The people he wanted to impress were duly impressed. In 1988, the kinder, gentler George H.W. Bush nakedly race baited his way to victory. The Bill Clinton presidency completed the realignment. Some may not remember, but modern Republican stalwarts Phil Gramm and Richard Shelby first went to Washington as Democrats. They long had belonged in the modern Republican Party, but until the Clinton era they had remained holdouts. No longer.
The increasing polarization of the political parties has been a long time developing. In some ways, it has been a natural realignment along ideological grounds that was forestalled only by the bitter vindictiveness of Southern racists, including those who like to pretend that their bitter vindictiveness isn't about racism. But it is. And the now obviously racist undercurrent of so much modern Republican politics and right-wing media should not be a surprise. Racism is not incidental to the modern conservative movement. It has been one of its defining characteristics. Donald Trump is nothing new, but for his being open about it.
Conservatives have courted the ugliest instincts in the American psyche, and now they own them. Misogyny
. Support for torture
. Racist nativism
. None of it is new to the Republican Party. None of it is unique to one presidential candidate. It is what the Republican Party has become. All of it. It is how the modern Republican Party courted and catered to its modern base of voters. All of them. And now Republicans leaders are terrified of Donald Trump? The simple truth is that he personifies everything the modern Republican Party has become. Perhaps they thought they could keep it hidden. Perhaps they thought the major media would continue to help them pretend
. But they can’t keep it hidden anymore, and they can’t pretend. Donald Trump has torn off the modern Republican Party’s mask. It is neither accident nor fluke that he is becoming their leader. Donald Trump is
the modern Republican Party. They own it, and he owns them.