The rabid, unrestrained behavior of Trump is nothing new for the GOP, but will it succeed in taking him all the way, or will Republicans grow tired of his incessant rhetoric?
For most of the summer, well-known businessman, television celebrity and presidential candidate, Donald Trump has sent the Republican Party and much of the mainstream media in a political whirlwind. His ascendance to the top of the 2016 Republican presidential polls has proven to be a real dilemma for the GOP establishment.
Known for his brash, blunt, abrupt and confrontational style, Trump has been giving his fellow Republican candidates, major party donors, as well as top officials, more than high blood pressure and a few headaches. His bombastic behavior, ranging from personal attacks attacks on GOP 2008 presidential candidate and prisoner of war John McCain, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, renowned neurosurgeon Ben Carson, to questioning the competence and intelligence of several of his GOP rivals, coupled with his personal and sexist attacks on conservative women such as FOX news host Megan Kelly and fellow GOP presidential rival Carly Fiorina have angered many establishment Republicans, endeared him to many hard line right of center voters and has struck a considerable degree of fear, confusion and paranoia in the hearts and minds of others in the conservative movement. The situation became so alarming that republican party chairman Reince Priebus privately contacted Trump, asking him to tone down his rhetoric in order to quell the tension, anger and chaos engulfing the party.
It is obvious that Trump had no intentions of heeding Priebus’ advice or making nice with most of his political rivals. If anything, Trump decided to have doubled down, throw in the kitchen sink, go full force and hurl obliterating verbal hand grenades into the GOP tent and leaving his rivals dumbfounded and frustrated at their inability to quell his acerbic antics.
While some Republicans see Trump as a political liability and others revere his brash, take no prisoners racist, sexist, xenophobic rhetoric and persona, the fact is that, for over the past half-century, the Republican Party has engaged in the sort of behavior that has allowed individuals like Trump to rise and flourish in its ranks. Much of it can be traced back to the 1964 Republican National Convention in San Francisco where the radical right elements of the party were successful in wrestling power away from the more centrist Rockefeller wing who they snidely referreed to as a group made up of “weak sissified men.”
It was at this same convention that some of the few black and other non-white delegates, including baseball legend Jackie Robinson, were verbally and, in some cases, physically attacked by the more racist delegates. This was also the year that the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Bill was ratified by Congress. Approval of this monumental piece of legislation caused vehement dissention and outrage among a number of conservative, mostly Southern Democrats ― including staunch Dixiecrat leader Strom Thurmond (who fathered a secret black child with his family’s maid)― that they denounced the party and became Republicans.Thus, in the minds of many GOP men, true, real red blooded men were hard core segregationists.
Capitalizing on those sentiments, the GOP apparatus, led by its 1968 nominee Richard Nixon, a man who was considered deeply emasculated by many people on both sides of the political spectrum, employed the infamous Southern strategy. This was a method (along with the slogan, “law and order”) that a number of Southern governors of the era, namely George Wallace, (also a 1968 independent presidential candidate) employed in their campaigns to appeal to white Southern Democrats who were growing ever resentful at what they saw as the growing diversification and radicalization of America. This was a message that played on the racial resentments of whites while subtly, and in some cases, overtly promoting segregationist themes.
With Nixon successfully winning the presidency in 1968, this sort of political dog whistle politics among Republican operatives was the standard for more than two decades. It remained an effective strategy for more than a quarter of a century except for a brief period of derailment with the election of President Jimmy Carter in 1976.
General dissatisfaction with Carter’s performance, coupled with international crises, allowed this form of resentment politics to return in the early 1980s. Indeed, Ronald Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign started off in Philadelphia, Mississippi, advocating for states’ rights. For those of you unaware of the significance of this, that city is where three civil rights workers: two white Jewish men from New York City—25 year old activist, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman a 20 year old college student, and another man, 19 year old Mississippi resident, James Cheney were murdered by Mississippi Klansmen and law enforcement in July 1964. These southern men justified the murders as crucial in preserving their way of life and white womanhood from supposed “communists and outside agitators.” It was chivalry of the most brutal and perverse form.
Understandably, the optics of the Reagan move sent shock waves through many progressive and liberal political circles at the time. This was the same campaign that would go on to speak of “welfare queens” riding around in pink Cadillacs and sexually objectify black men by referring to “Big Black Bucks” using food stamps to purchase T-Bone steaks. Radical leftists and “militant feminists” were also targets of their cowboy diplomacy campaign and conservative message. This strategy managed to secure Reagan two terms as president.
This would continue in 1988 when the Bush campaign “Hortonized” Democratic Party nominee Michael Dukakis by running an ad depicting the story of a Massachusetts prisoner, Willie Horton, who had murdered a young white couple while out on a weekend furlough. This sort of message was designed to play on the fears of conservative whites who harbored deep, pernicious, arguably unhinged fears of black people , particularly black men. The ad was also intended to depict Dukakis as a typical, limp-wristed, wimpy, meandering northeastern liberal who lacked the “balls” so-to-speak to be tough on crime and keep those “savages “(read predatory black men) in check. “Reaction to the Horton ad was swift. Many Democrats cried foul. Even some Republicans tried to distance themselves from the ad. Unfortunately, for Dukakis, his response to the issue (like much of his campaign) was less than satisfactory. It is important note that the 1988 GOP nominee George Bush Sr. was accused by a segment of his own party and Newsweek Magazine.
In 1992, the GOP bought out its best and brightest extreme elements at its party convention in Houston, Texas. From 700 Club host Pat Robertson arguing that feminism encouraged women to refuse to bake cookies and encouraged them to practice witchcraft to eventual presidential candidate Patrick Buchanan declaring that America was in the midst of cultural war and other assorted fringe-party spokespersons who took to the podium to espouse their whacked-out rhetoric, it looked as if the party lunatics had taken over the convention asylum. In fact, many political pundits argued that such a garish spectacle was the reason for William Jefferson Clinton and the Democratic Party capturing the White House for the first time since 1976.
By 1996 we saw a sad, old, desperate, previously moderate Sen. Bob Dole practically sell his soul by refusing to speak at the NAACP convention that year in an effort to appease the party’s racist elements and did not hesitate to criticize social programs geared to empower minority communities. His running mate, GOP middle-aged alpha male, the late Jack Kemp, suddenly (opportunistically) abandoned his once earlier support for affirmative action and other racially progressive measures designed to benefit people of color and women.
In both, 2000 and 2004, George W. Bush Jr. did about as dismal a job with black voters as Barry Goldwater in 1964. In 2008, John McCain had the challenge of running against the first black man nominated by either major party for president. His age (72 at the time) was a factor as well. Moreover, he chose a much undisciplined candidate (Sarah Palin) as his running mate. Mitt Romney’s 2012 Mr. Businessmen, boy’s club, elitist and to some degree, sexist campaign turned off many voters. Moreover, his blatant disrespect to President Obama was a thorn in the side to many black voters.
It remains to be seen how the 2016 election will eventually transform. However, one thing is for certain: the rabid, unrestrained behavior of Trump is nothing new for the GOP. The fact that some Republicans appear to be dismayed by his continual ascension is surprising. Truth be told, such bewilderment is amusing. Trump embodies the spirit, values and message that have defined a sizeable segment of the Republican Party for more than half a century. One that has been racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic and indifferent to all those who do not fit into all (or many) of the aforementioned categories Thus, it is hardly surprising that he is performing so well in the polls. The God, guns, gays and feminist message is very appealing to a significant segment of the GOP base. There is nothing at all noteworthy or ironic about his ascendancy. It is likely a prime example of GOP chickens coming home to roost.
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