(Still) A Time for Choosing
This essay was written in July 2018. I haven’t given up on the GOP, but I’m less and less hopeful that the party can pivot after President Trump. David Brooks’ latest column is a look back from 2050 and he seems to think the GOP will be irrelevant by that time. I tend to think so as well. There was a chance in the aftermath of the 2012 election and as the 2016 race began, but a trip down a golden escalator has probably sealed its fate.
I hope to write a follow-up soon on the coming conservative collapse and what can be done, if anything.
I grew up the son of two Democrats, but in my 20s I went to become a Republican. Not your religious right style Republican, but one that did believe in government that is limited, the power of the free markets.
I did have issues with the party. As a gay man, I was a part of Log Cabin Republicans to work for a more inclusive party. I also worked with other groups that I believed worked to modernize the party to make it appealing to the young, concerned about the environment and tolerant of a changing America.
When the 2016 primaries rolled around I was thinking that the party was on its way to becoming a party more open to America’s growing ethnic diversity than ever before. After all, it had two Cuban Americans running for President. There was hope that the “autopsy” document that came in the wake of the 2012 election was going to move the GOP into the future.
Then came Donald Trump.
From the very beginning, Trump focused on stirring up racial and ethnic divisions. Instead of immigration reform, we got from Trump a man who was hostile towards immigrants, illegal or otherwise.
As President, Trump has continued his race baiting. He initiated what would be called the “Muslim ban.” His lackluster attention to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria as opposed to how he reacted to Hurricane Harley hit Texas. He came out against football players who “took a knee” to protest police brutality. He didn’t condemn the white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville. He called Haiti and African nations “shithole” countries, wishing that we had more immigrants that came from places like Norway. He refers to immigrants as “animals” that can “infest” the country.
Trump has made it pretty clear that he has issues with people that don’t look like him. He considers persons of color more often than not to not really be a part of America.
We know that Trump has given the GOP a black eye, but he hasn’t really changed the GOP, has it?
Trump has damaged the GOP brand. But can it be saved? Can it be resurrected rehabilitated? Can it show a way beyond Trump?
Bill Kristol, a leader in the growth of conservatism, has stated that he wants to remain in the party, even though he had talked about a third party in 2016 and 2018. “In the meantime, the Republican party, it seems to me, is very much worth fighting for,” Kristol said.
But is it worth fighting for? Maybe a few years ago, that would have made sense, but today? I think events have pushed me towards saying that we have gone beyond the Point of No Return. Michael Gerson thinks a party under Trump is a party that is built on racial animosity:
For a party at its height of influence, Republicans remain in a tenuous position at the national level because of Trump. They lost the popular vote count by nearly 3 million in the 2016 presidential election, and Trump has done almost nothing to expand his appeal. Long-term demographic trends are running against the GOP, with the non-Hispanic white population declining from 76 percent to 63 percentover the past two decades and the country on track to be majority minority by 2045 .
Some Trumpites are brutally honest about the political challenge in this environment. “I believe that white voters will begin voting for Republicans in larger numbers than they do now,” says Thomas O’Malley in American Thinker. The political challenge for the GOP, in the meantime, is to “seriously reduce immigration and encourage population growth within the country.” Which clearly means population growth in that portion of the country with less melanin.
O’Malley’s wish is coming true: The Washington Post reports that the under Trump immigration from Africa or Muslim nations is down while immigrants from Europe is rising.
Make America White Again.
So can this party be saved?
My own view is that I really don’t think so. I think Trump’s rhetoric and actions have made it near impossible that the party can be rehabilitated once he leaves the scene. I said as much back in 2016, but I still held out hope that things might change, that Trump might not be as bad a president as he has become. Trump, along with the many politicians that have endorsed and copied his style of stirring up racial tensions is becoming a feature of the GOP, not a bug.
What I wrote in 2016 was true then, even if I still held out hope:
Trump has stoked the resentment of the white working class against minorities. His disdain toward immigrants, especially Mexicans, his flirting with racist groups like the KKK and his proposed ban on Muslims will make the national GOP a toxic party for persons of color. While some campaigns have used racial animosity, that hasn’t been the case with all GOP candidates and politicians. George W. Bush, for example, wanted to expand outreach towards Latinos. But Trump and the millions who voted for him show that there are people who want someone in power that speaks up for the white guy. What might have been at the margins of GOP campaigning will without a doubt be at the center of the party. The result is a much smaller party.
The GOP is becoming a smaller and whiter party. Call it the California Effect. In 2016, Matt Yglesias shared how California went from being a state with a very strong Republican party to one where the GOP is barely a blip in state politics:
Both Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan were statewide elected officials before ascending to the presidency. From 1968 to 1988, the GOP carried California in every presidential election. It swung to the Democrats in 1992 as part of Bill Clinton’s larger revival of the Democratic Party’s national fortunes.
But in the 1990s California had a Republican governor, Wilson, who had served as the state’s US senator for most of the 1980s. In the 1994 midterm elections, the GOP even swept into a majority in the state assembly.
Wilson and his Republican colleagues were closely associated with a law enacted via ballot initiative known as Proposition 187 that sought to create a state-run citizenship verification system and bar undocumented immigrants from accessing state services. It was, at the time, the very first effort to create a state-level immigration control policy, and it’s no coincidence that the trend came first to California — the state had a lot of immigrants, residing there both legally and illegally. So many that the state was close to tipping over into “majority-minority” status, which surely heightened the salience of immigration-related concerns to the state’s white conservatives…
…what makes Wilson remarkable is that he was also the last Republican to win a statewide election in California under anything resembling normal circumstances. Sure, Arnold Schwarzenegger sneaked into office in 2003 as part of an unusually structured recall election, and governed completely independently from the conservative movement.
Beyond that — nothing.
Not because Prop 187 became hideously unpopular per se, but because it became emblematic of the California Republican Party’s transformation into a vehicle for white identity politics, a transformation that rendered the GOP unacceptable to a majority of the state’s voters.
Trump’s actions in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, his ripping children from the parents of Central American migrants, his antagonism with the Mexican government, among other things has turned off Latinos to the GOP for probably a long time. Maybe Trump and those around him like Stephen Miller think they can get away with being a party of no real ideas, but based on white identity politics will be a long term winner. I don’t think it will be, but who knows.
But more importantly, does anyone who hasn’t drunk the Trump kool-aid want to try to defend being part of the GOP now?
A few weeks ago, David Brooks wrote a column stating in very stark terms, that the time has come where one can be a conservative or a Republican. Trump’s tribalism is now part of the GOP DNA.
The problem is he (Donald Trump) doesn’t base his belonging on the bonds of affection conservatives hold dear. He doesn’t respect and obey those institutions, traditions and values that form morally decent individuals.
His tribalism is the evil twin of community. It is based on hatred, us/them thinking, conspiracy-mongering and distrust. It creates belonging, but on vicious grounds.
In 2018, the primary threat to the sacred order is no longer the state. It is a radical individualism that leads to vicious tribalism. The threat comes from those two main currents of the national Republican Party. At his essence Trump is an assault on the sacred order that conservatives hold dear — the habits and institutions that cultivate sympathy, honesty, faithfulness and friendship.
Today you can be a conservative or a Republican, but you can’t be both.
It is time to leave the GOP. It can’t be saved. But the traditions and beliefs that were once part of the party, can be planted in a new body. In other democracies, politicians and party members would leave to start a new party that could challenge the old. It has happened here in the past. Whigs that were against slavery broke from the party to create the GOP. It might mean creating something new or going to parties that already exist like the Modern Whig Party and the American Solidarity Party.
The GOP is done. It is time for those on the center right who haven’t taken a knee to Trump to find a new home.