Donald Trump was the front-runner in the campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, as of Jan. 5.
Let’s stop and think about that for a minute. A xenophobic, racist demagogue with no political experience is currently leading the polls, supported by 6-8 percent of the U.S. population. That’s scary for many reasons, but there is also a silver lining to the Trump candidacy.
First, the scary stuff
All presidential campaigns not only reflect the existing ethos of the population, they contribute to it. Trump brings legitimacy—in the sense they can no longer be denied—to the racist and bigoted dog-whistles that have historically (at least since the Southern Strategy and Reagan’s Moral Majority) been something the GOP have only hinted at. The overt hypocrisy and intellectual laziness in the Republican Party is something Trump has bared for all to see while accelerating and expanding these attributes.
There is also the fact Trump is only a household name (and thus has so much support) because American journalists have adopted a loudest-jerk-wins approach to delivering news. At one time, journalists were serious about providing legitimate analysis of news. That approach has been discarded in favor of a bunch of loudmouths arguing over who would make the better overlord. This is troubling as it allows the lunatic fringe of the party to become disproportionately powerful. The Republican Party can be viewed as a loose consortium of different groups with different political beliefs.
The business conservatives are essentially libertarians: The only thing they want the government to do is fund the military–and give businesses the contracts–and slash corporate taxes. There are the family values/religious conservatives who don’t care one whit about foreign policy or national budgetary concerns, but instead want gay marriage banned and every courthouse to have statues of the Ten Commandments prominently displayed.
Then there is the conspiracy theorists, wing-nut faction—people who identify themselves not by what they want but by what they don’t want. They don’t want Mexicans or Muslims in the country, they don’t want Obama to exist, they don’t want liberals to have voting rights, and they don’t want the disadvantaged to get federal subsidies. These are the Republicans that Trump panders to, the ones that call the other factions Republicans In Name Only.
It’s important to realize each one of these factions either don’t care about the others or are openly hostile to them. Sometimes these divisions can be difficult to see thanks to the aforementioned habit of journalists giving airtime to the most voracious loudmouth on the stage. Thanks to gerrymandering and the local influence of big money from the Koch brothers and their ilk, Republicans control a solid and likely long-term majority of state governments. But that’s not what they want.
The Republican holy war against President Obama, blaming him and his administration for everything under the sun for the past seven years has been for one purpose only: to regain the presidency. They lost the battle in 2012 and, considering the crop of jokers currently vying for the Republican nomination now, will likely lose in 2016.
Republicans, when countering criticisms that their party is the party of racism and hate, like to point out that Abraham Lincoln—the great emancipator and the one who bears most of the responsibility for preserving our union during the Civil War—was a Republican.
And now the silver lining
This is unarguably true but a pointless comparison. Just last month, the Texas Republican Party used its power to try to put secession on the ballot in their state. Yep, that’s right, Texas Republicans want to secede from the Union. A group of secessionists invoking the spirit of Lincoln today seems ironic, to say the least.
Which takes us full-circle back to Donald Trump and the silver lining I alluded to: Trump may be the match that immolates the Republican Party, at least as it currently exists.
Trump proudly stands up and espouses hatred and bigotry while millions of supporters loudly cheer him on. The rest of the country, meanwhile, shakes its head and wonders what happened to the party of Eisenhower. How did it get taken over by loons?
Republicans need to learn–and quickly–that elections are decided by moderates, and moderates don’t want another Reagan; they want another Eisenhower. Fifty years from the now the Republican party will exist but if Trump, Cruz and the rest of the extremists continue to push the party further rightward, it will be pushed over a cliff. And what remains will look nothing like the party that exists today. Considering the current state of the GOP, that’s a very good thing.