It Was All a Lie: How the Republican Party Became Donald Trump (18 page)

that hasn't stopped Republicans from making California their go-to nightmare scenario. In 2018, Senator Ted Cruz warned that liberals wanted Texas to be “just like California, right down to the tofu and silicone and dyed hair.” Democratic candidates for governor were accused of trying to turn Nevada and Florida into California, and Colorado into “RadiCalifornia.” In the Georgia governor's race, Republican Brian Kemp's stump-speech mantra about Democrat Stacey Abrams was that she was trying to import “radical California values.” The Republican National Committee's nickname for Harris in its news releases is “California Kamala,” and it rarely mentions her without mentioning her “San Francisco values.”
22

With the exception of the 1964 Goldwater landslide, Republicans carried California in every post–World War II presidential election until 1988. Then it started to slip away for Republicans. Now the Republican Party is officially the third-largest group of voters, behind Democrats and independents, which in California are called NPP (no party preference) voters. Donald Trump barely broke 30 percent in 2016. One out of every eleven voters in the country lives in California, and there is a long history of trends in California as harbingers of what America will become. As the largest state, it has often served to be an insight into what the country is becoming, and it should terrify Republicans. In 1980, California was 66 percent white and 19 percent Hispanic.
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In the 2010 census, it was 40 percent white and 37 percent Hispanic.
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This gets to the heart of why Republicans have now decided they hate California. Not surprisingly, California has decided it hates Republicans: There are a lot of brown people in California. A lot.

In 1994, Governor Pete Wilson ran a now-infamous ad in his reelection campaign for governor that showed a video of Mexicans climbing over a border wall with an ominous voice-over: “They keep coming. Two million illegal immigrants in California. The federal government won't stop them at the border, yet requires us to pay billions to take care of them.”
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That same year a statewide initiative, Proposition 187, was on the ballot. Marketed under the “SOS: Save Our State” label, it called for the termination of all government benefits, from education to health care, for illegal immigrants. It passed with almost 60 percent of the vote, but with only 31 percent of Hispanic support.
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Pete Wilson won reelection, but the measure sent a signal to Hispanic legal residents of California that they were unwanted by Republicans. The parallels to Donald Trump's announcing his campaign calling Mexicans “rapists” are obvious. By contrast, in 1994 in Texas, George W. Bush ran for governor with a welcoming message to Mexican Americans, and it helped secure the Republican Party's dominance in Texas. In his 1998 reelection, George W. Bush had almost 50 percent of the Hispanic vote. As
The New York Times
reported in an article analyzing Bush's direct appeal to Hispanic voters, “When Mr. Bush was re-elected by a landslide, he also by one estimate won nearly half the Hispanic vote statewide. He even won El Paso. It seemed like political magic; he had found votes in places Republicans usually dared not tread.”
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In the 2018 Senate race, that support dropped to 35 percent for Ted Cruz, a number still above the sub-30 percent both Mitt Romney and Donald Trump received. But it's a warning sign for Republicans as Texas becomes increasingly Hispanic. What sort of future is there for the Republican Party? Good question.

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HOW DO LIES END?

Watching the Republican Party is like watching a friend drink himself to death. There’s a mix of sadness and anger tinged by a bit of sympathy for the misery he tries to hide. But alcoholism is a disease, and political cowardice is just what it looks like: weakness and opportunism mixed with fear and self-loathing. Most Republican elected officials wish that one of the other fifteen candidates who ran for president in 2016 were now in the White House. They love to whisper this to each other and to journalists off the record, as if this somehow absolves them of any responsibility for supporting a man who violates nearly every value they avowed their entire careers. Few realize this only makes them look even more pathetic and compromised.

Those who opposed Trump in 2016 but now accept him have evolved ever more fanciful rationalizations for their moral collapse, such as this piece in the
National Review:
“Acknowledge Trump’s achievements and help him win reelection. Then roll out a new party, not as a spoiler but as support for conservative principles.”
1
This from the magazine that famously ran an entire issue in February 2016 dedicated to the urgency of Republicans’ defeating Trump. The issue was a collection of essays by various conservatives representing the spectrum of issues that have most defined modern conservatism, from cultural to foreign policy, arguing the urgency of defeating Donald Trump. Some of those authors—Mona Charen, a longtime conservative columnist, Dr. Russell Moore, a prominent Southern Baptist leader, and Bill Kristol, former editor of
The Weekly Standard
—have continued to stand by their principles and taken the associated heat. At the yearly gathering of conservatives known as CPAC, a security detail had to protect Mona Charen after she said it was wrong for conservatives to support the accused child molester Roy Moore or ignore the women who have accused Donald Trump. “You cannot claim that you stand for women and put up with that,” she said.
2
The ex-governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee, a former Southern Baptist preacher, called for Russell Moore to be fired by the Southern Baptist church for Moore’s principled stand on Trump. Huckabee said he was “utterly stunned that Russell Moore is being paid by Southern Baptists to insult” Trump.
3
With little room in the conservative media for anything but lavish praise of Trump, Bill Kristol’s
Weekly Standard
went out of business.
4

As I write this in the fall of 2019, the 2020 election looms large with an impossible-to-predict outcome. As discussed before, since the demise of federal funding for presidential general elections, an incumbent president has a tremendous financial advantage. But if Trump wins or loses, it is a fantasy to think that the impact of a nation’s major center-right party embracing a racist unprepared to be president with Trump’s deep psychological problems will not be lasting. Perhaps what passes for the establishment in the Republican Party will be able to conjure a cover story to explain why they embraced a man who mocked the disabled, attacked a former POW hero, paid off a porn star from the Oval Office, defended Vladimir Putin’s murder of journalists, bragged about assaulting women, and implored foreign governments to investigate his political opponents. Let’s say our Republican overlords can convince us that these were just personal quirks of a “black swan” leader who kept us from the horror of…a former secretary of state, U.S. senator, and First Lady becoming president. To avoid the nightmare of having a president who had actually spent decades preparing for the job, it was necessary to nominate a reality-TV figure who talked openly of his desire to have sex with his own daughter and lectured Republican members of Congress on Article XII of the Constitution, which exists only in his mind. This positions Donald Trump as the Necessary Monster history demanded to save the Republican Party.

Say that combination of amnesia, self-deceit, and desperation is possible, what remains is a simple question: What does a center-right party in America stand for? Once this was easy to answer: fiscal sanity, free trade, being strong on Russia, personal responsibility, the Constitution. Now? Can anyone honestly define what the Republican Party stands for beyond “owning the libs”? Whatever that means. Can any governing party exist as a credible force with no defined principles? Can a governing party exist when the supposed Wise Men and Women of that party trampled over every value in which they swore they believed, in a desperate attempt to flee from the need to defend their values? What institution of the center right stood firm against the disgraceful idiotocracy of the Trump years? One by one the supposed leaders of the party, in office, frantically shed their uniforms of principle to don the uniform of the new ruling power. A few held firm, but in a nation that claims to value heroism under battle, the Armies of the Right fled in terror from…a tweet. The stench of their fear hangs over our body politic like gangrene on a rotting limb. Perhaps these men and women deserve some of our pity for their pathos, but they have proven they deserve none of our respect. They had a sworn oath to defend the country and chose to defend Donald Trump, the most anti-American president in the country’s history.

On a personal level, I feel a mix of sadness and disgust. Many of these men and women lied to me when I listened to them explain why they wanted to be elected, and I and others worked so hard to get them in office and keep them in power. For what? So they could disgrace themselves by breaking every principle they swore they so deeply believed in? I blame myself for believing them, for not detecting their weakness, for helping to put them in power so that they could lie not just to me and others personally but to the nation and the world. History is a strange and unpredictable creature, but seldom is cowardice showered in glory, and I find it difficult to believe that on their deathbeds, this generation of Republicans who abandoned their allegiance to country to swear a new oath to Donald Trump will not look back on this period of their lives with a mixture of shame, sadness, and regret. Many politicians prove they stand for not very much over the course of their careers, but these men and women have proven themselves unworthy of such a benign and bland reckoning with history. This generation went out and fought and bled for…Donald Trump. Each bent the knee and kissed the ring, and though like the courtiers of old among themselves they tried to convince each other they had maintained dignity and joked about the foibles of their king, they know in their hearts they have proven to be small men and women unworthy of the greatness of the country they were elected to defend.

These are not evil people. Live next door to most of them, and they will be good neighbors who help out when they can, laugh at your jokes, cheer for sports teams you both love. This was my tribe. I did not think them perfect; no man may be a hero to his valet or political consultant. I never pretended to see even glimmers of greatness in most of them, but I did hold out for an assumption of decency. They have proven me wrong, and the sadness I feel is difficult to express. No one wanted this moral test, but most of my tribe have failed it. When and if my old friends read these words, some will be angry with me and feel betrayed. They will call me hypocritical for happily taking the rewards of the tribe—money, access to power, something that hints at influence—then choosing to betray my fellow members. For this charge I have no answer. They are right. I did. I ate the queen’s bread and fought the queen’s wars. While they worked through the tedious process of government, trying to make a difference on the edges, I left that hard work to others and spent my non-campaign time roaming the globe chasing snow, in pursuit of athletic challenges with no meaning. They would argue they did the hard work and I was over-rewarded for playing a bit part in our political drama.

That’s all true. But as much as they may try to blame me, I am confident I have asked myself the same and much tougher questions with the hollow realization I had no good answers. I can’t change any of that. But as imperfect a messenger as I may be, what my tribe has encouraged, blessed, and promoted should not be forgotten or forgiven. Even if Donald Trump loses in 2020, the Republican Party has legitimized bigotry and hate as an organizing principle for a major political party in a country with a unique role in the world. While it is true that many of the institutions, particularly the judiciary, have survived this stress test of Trump anti-Americanism, it is despite the Republican Party, not with its encouragement and blessing. A few years ago it was possible to read a professional hate website like Breitbart and sort of chuckle that this was the odd corner of the political universe where the weirdos and freaks hung out to share grievances. Now that can be said of the national Republican Party. From the party of Lincoln, Republicans have become the party that endorsed Roy Moore and cheered when the man they would choose for president called Mexicans “rapists.” The White House welcomes and empowers those on the right who peddle conspiracy theories and religious and racial bigotry on the internet. Strange, angry freaks like Sebastian Gorka and Stephen Miller are celebrated, not shunned. Across the country almost every state party is now dominated by the angry and aggrieved who seem to believe the purpose of our politics is to make America at last safe for white people.

These are the new segregationists, who have convinced themselves they are fighting a just war to defend the values of “our way of life.” They are unified by a shared vision of America not as a just force to help equalize the worst impulses of society but rather as a heavy mace they can use to club the future into submission. They will and do lie and swear they are trying to “save America,” but what dark force in politics has not argued some noble purpose to justify its betrayals of decency? In today’s Republican Party, a George W. Bush would be crushed by a Sean Hannity, whose growing body and seemingly enlarging head respond to lies like Pinocchio’s nose. The Trump Republican Party has abandoned any pretense of kindness or compassion as a desirable human quality. All his life Donald Trump has seen these as weaknesses, not virtues worthy of aspiration. Now so it is with the Republican Party.

So how does this change? Only through defeat and desperation. Any appeal to country over party has long been proven as ineffective as a Texas governor organizing days of prayer for rain. What must be understood is that these Republicans like what they are championing. They like being the voice of white America. It is impossible to move them by any appeal to patriotism because they see themselves as putting patriotism first when they fight for their misguided vision of America. The party will only change when its desire to revel in its worst instincts is challenged by its fear of losing power. There will be a role for a white party for a long time in America, but it will soon not be a party that can win national elections, and perhaps that will force the party to adapt. But that will take a long time, and history tells us that once those in power legitimize hate, it is difficult to manage. There has always been a market for hate in America, but it’s never been the dominant market. But we’ve never had a major party led by a man so consumed with hate and so deeply broken. There have been the Father Coughlin–like figures before, but Father Coughlin was never president. Donald Trump did not change the Republican Party as much as he gave the party permission to reveal its true self. The Lindsey Grahams of the world have not changed. We are only now seeing who they always were, freed from any need to pretend.

The Republican Party has many weapons it will use to fight to remain in power. But it seems clear that embracing change will not be among them. Even though the party has all but abandoned any pretense of a moral justification for its existence except to defeat Democrats, it remains the official party of a white governing class in America, and with that comes tremendous money and power that will be employed to defend the party. But how long can a political party that is defined as a white party cling to power in a country changing as rapidly as America? The proper perspective in contemplating the future of the Republican Party is not that of the Whigs or the Bull Moose Party but rather that of a colonial power in a foreign land. Like the Raj, unless the party changes, its future is determined, with only the question of how long until the decline becomes a rout and it collapses inward like a dying star.

Today there exist two Republican parties that are linked mostly in name only: the Republican Party of Washington elected officials and the infrastructures that support them, and the Republican governors. The dichotomy is striking. Some of these governors seem to understand their role is to govern and solve problems, not just raise money, attack Democrats, and go on Fox News. In the Northeast in deeply Democratic states, three Republican governors—Phil Scott of Vermont, Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, and Larry Hogan of Maryland—are among the most popular governors in America. They are the last outposts of a dying civilization, the socially moderate, fiscally conservative Republican Party. I’ve worked for all three. I’d like to say that their breed will continue, but it’s difficult to understand how what they represent can coexist with the empowerment of the Trump elements within their state parties. Their greatest electoral difficulties lie not with the larger electorate but within their own party. Can their success push the Republican Party into the future? In a world in which whatever happens in Washington dominates the national conversation like never before, it’s difficult to imagine the calm competence of these Republican governors having much impact on the direction of the Republican Party.

In the many campaigns I worked in, I was invariably the optimist, the guy who thought we always had a chance, that no setback couldn’t be overcome. I didn’t win every race, but I won most of them, and I always thought there was the possibility of winning, if only that one perfect ad or argument could be conjured. I never walked out on the field and thought we couldn’t win, whatever the odds. So I find myself in a very strange and uncomfortable position of looking out at the political landscape and seeing no reason for hope that the party I spent decades working for can be redeemed. Nor any compelling reason it should be. As the Democratic Party drifts more leftward, there is an urgent need for a center-right party to argue for a different vision and governing philosophy. But how can the party that gave us Donald Trump be a legitimate voice for conservatism as a positive force? Without moral legitimacy, a center-right party becomes a soufflé of grievances and anger that exists to settle scores, not solve problems. A political party without a higher purpose is nothing more than a cartel, a syndicate. No one asks what is the greater good OPEC is trying to achieve. Its purpose is to sell oil at the highest prices possible. So it is with today’s Republican Party. It is a cartel that exists to elect Republicans. There is no organized, coherent purpose other than the acquisition and maintenance of power.

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