Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Understanding Donald Trump and The GOP

We originally published this article in December 2015. It seems the right time to again move this article front and center.

The GOP finds itself trapped in its southern strategy that has not only gone bad, but has left it exposed naked as Trumpism.

Starting in the 1960s, the Republican Party made a conscious effort to win votes in the South by appealing to racists. As Kevin Phillips, a political strategist for Nixon, explained in 1970: "The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That's where the votes are. Without that prodding from the blacks, the whites will backslide into their old comfortable arrangement with the local Democrats."

The cynical strategy has, sadly, often paid off. However, by appealing to the lowest common denominator, Republicans have become the party of white identity politics. Donald Trump has taken that to the next level.

Donald Trump's racial rhetoric openly aknowledges the Party coalition Richard Nixon began to put together in 1968 - welcoming the segregationist white Southern Democrats into the former Party of Lincoln - and expanded by Ronald Reagan in 1980 - welcoming socially conservative white evangelicals into the Neo-Republican Party.

From post civil war reconstruction to the 1960's the south was solid Jim Crow Dixicrat Democrat. And then the Civil Rights Movement happened. President Johnson, a Democrat, pushed through the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Because of that, Dixicrats began to flee the Democratic Party across the Southern confederate states to the Republican Party. This was the point in time when the Democratic and Republican parties began to assume their current identities as "liberal" and "conservative," respectively — and as we understand those terms today. Today, neither party stands for what it did from the mid-1800's through the mid-1900's, especially but not exclusively on racial issues.

The Democratic coalition included white supremacists (Dixicrats) through the mid-1960’s. By 1968, Republicans, led by Richard Nixon, saw the chance to take that segment of voters away from Democrats through a "Southern Strategy" of appealing to white racism against African Americans. And that, in fact, has been the Republican strategy consistently from the 1960s to Pres. Reagan's, Pres. G.H.W. Bush's, Pres. G.W. Bush's campaigns, and ultimately onto Donald Trump's 2016 campaign.

In the 1970s, white evangelical Christians were alarmed by rapid social changes, including legal abortion, LGBT rights, the legal availability of contraceptives for women, and equal employment rights for women. But above all, they were most alarmed by court ordered school desegregation busing, bringing black students into white schools. To the New Christian Right these changes constituted a crisis that threatened the white Christian American social order. In 1980, presidential candidate Ronald Reagan forged a partnership with the Christian Right to help him win election. Messaging to the Christian Right has held an equal place hand in hand with southern strategy messaging every since.

The southern strategy of coded bigoted messaging and religious right social issue messaging has worked to give Republicans solid control of local and state governments across the old southern confederate states. It has also worked to give Republicans control of most congressional districts across the old south, and therefore control of the U.S. House.

Republicans have gotten away with codified bigoted messaging because, as a practical matter, there was no political price to pay. Democrats have been reluctant to call out Republicans on their southern strategy, fearful that it might encourage even greater racial backlash. Indeed, the Democratic Party establishment developed their own Southern strategy, of sorts, electing centrists like Bill Clinton of Arkansas to the White House and a cadre of blue dog Democrats to Congress in the 1990's and early 2000's.

But the hope Democrats could woo back the old southern Dixicrats by moderating their liberalism was a fantasy. Conservatives upped the ante by moving the centrist middle further and further to the right with social causes and by ever more loudly encouraging Americans to hate their democratically elected government for catering to people of color, social deviants, immigrants, and everyone not part of the conservative religious right.

A Bloomberg Politics/Purple Strategies poll published December 9, 2015, finds nearly two-thirds of likely GOP primary voters said they agree with Donald Trump's proposal to block all Muslims from entering the U.S. — a proposal that many legal scholars call unconstitutional, and many others call "un-American." Trump has also said he’d bring back waterboarding, and track Muslims in U.S., forcing them to register with the government and carry identity cards.

Trump’s anti-Muslim plan makes 18 percent of all general election voters more likely to vote for him, according to the Bloomberg poll, while 33 percent of voters said they are less likely to support Trump. A new national CBS News/New York Times poll conducted before and after Trump's call to ban Muslims finds his support among GOP primary voters has grown to 35 percent.

As for other groups, Trump has called Latino immigrants "criminals," "rapists," and "killers." He has blamed blacks and Hispanics for violent crime across the country. And, he advocates deporting 11 million undocumented Hispanic immigrants out of the country. Trump is telling Republicans what they want to here. A poll released by the Pew Research Center in May found that 63 percent of Republican voters view immigrants as a “burden” who compete for jobs, housing, and health care

The New York Times reported this week "irritation" among Republican insiders, over the prospect of Donald Trump’s nomination, “is giving way to panic” as his nomination increasingly appears “plausible.” It's interesting watching Republicans fuss and flail and try to figure out what to do about their Donald Trump problem—the candidate who is the ultimate fulfillment of the party's long-term "southern strategy" for wooing white voters, of a certain mindset.

The southern strategy comes from a playbook as old our country’s founding. White paranoia of the next generation of immigrants, people of color, and non-Protestants has fueled the ugly forces of inequality in this country for over two centuries. The southern strategy capitalizes on real grievances held by working-class white Americans who feel the weight of a grossly unfair economic system. Dr. Martin Luther King said in his speech concluding the Selma to Montgomery freedom march in the spring of 1965:
It is very important to see the roots of racism…through their control of mass media, they revised the doctrine of white supremacy. They saturated the thinking of the poor white masses with it…It may be said of the Reconstruction era that the southern aristocracy took the world and gave the poor white man Jim Crow. And when his wrinkled stomach cried out for the food that his empty pockets could not provide, he ate Jim Crow, a psychological bird that told him that no matter how bad off he was, at least he was a white man, better than the black man.
Updated to today, as Max Berger writes in his piece on the growth of white nationalism in the United States:
The concentrating white-supremacist fascist sentiment in the Republican Party preys upon non-rich white people who are literally dying of poverty turned to despair, and then turned to drugs and suicide to deal with a reality they can’t bear - a society that doesn’t care about them… White people are right that they are under attack — they’re just pointing to the wrong culprits.
Further, Republicans who have voted Republican because they heard the southern strategy messaging that Republicans would return the nation to the old ways of white privilege and reverse the social changes of legal abortion, LGBT rights, legal availability of contraceptives for women, equal rights for women, Obamacare, and ban on public school prayer now FEEL CHEATED, and they're angry. A black man and his family occupy the White House, same sex couples can legally obtain a marriage license, and women can still access contraceptives and abortion. They are mad as Hell, and they're not going to take it anymore, so they turn to Trump.

Trump shrewdly exploits those feels of despair and anger, seeking to activate millions of white Americans who desperately feel betrayed by systemic inequality and betrayed by the empty promises of their political party. Trump fills their empty feeling that the political system, including neither party, does not care about their grievances.

Trump's high poll numbers among white voters in the Midwestern rustbelt show his appeal to people in this region where an economic collapse of manufacturing has completely changed how millions of people live their lives.

The New York Times has analyzed Donald Trump’s speeches and – no surprise – finds them full of demagogic and inflammatory language. But the real story isn’t just Trump’s choice of words. It’s his choice of style. He parades himself as a strongman capable of “making America great again” through the force of his personality. He doesn’t offer policies; he offers himself.

Surveys show that most of Trump's followers are non-college-educated whites whose incomes have plummeted and whose jobs are less secure than ever. They're mad as hell, and see Trump as heroic because he is acting as if he has their interests at heart. As those who came before them, these white voters blame their despair and anger on immigrants and people of color who want to rob, rape, and kill them. When Trump declares he will “Make America Great Again,” he appeals directly to the heart of this demographic. It’s the formula demagogues have used through history.

One of the reasons Donald Trump has been so successful in Republican Primary polls is that he’s explicitly saying what Fox News has been using coded messages to say for the last decade. Fox has convinced their viewership that brown people are inherently criminal, and black people are inherently lazy, and gay people are in opposition to God, and women don’t deserve the same rights as men or control over their own bodies. It’s not surprising that when Trump bluntly gives voice to these opinions, many Republicans — the majority of whom consume Fox News at least weekly — support him. He is doing nothing more than parroting the message of Fox News with more directness.

While Trump is solidifying support among GOP base voters, many believe he is alienating large parts of the electorate, including more moderate Republicans. Trump’s candidacy lays bare the ugly underbelly of the Republican Party's southern strategy.

Donald Trump, in uncoded language, openly courts votes of white voters who believe he can do what Republicans they have been electing to government office have not done.

Trump is going after the modern core of Republican primary voters who believe every person of color or a different religion or even a different political party are nothing more than a violent baby killing rapist terrorist criminal element. Donald Trump's racist and xenophobic rhetoric is pushing him up in Republican primary polls, but it could potentially destroy the Republican Party by bringing it's 50 year long use of the southern strategy into sharp relief before the entire nation.

A Monmouth University poll,released Monday, December 14th, found Trump polling at 41 percent of likely Republican primary voters, opening a 27-point lead over the next closest GOP oppenent. “It has become abundantly clear that Trump is giving his supporters exactly what they want, even if what he says causes the GOP leadership and many Republican voters to cringe,” said Monmouth pollster Patrick Murray.

America today has evolved from a multicultural mix of descendants of mostly white European immigrants and descendants of African slaves, when Nixon ran for office, to a multicultural mix of immigrants from around the globe. America is a great melting pot of many cultures, races, and many religions as never before. Our story is no longer just the black and white story of the era when Goldwater, Nixon, and Reagan ran for office. But the Republican Party is stuck advocating outdated social taboos and hard-edged prejudices about race, gender, sexual freedom, immigration, and religion.

Republican Party leaders would have preferred to keep their white European immigrant descendant voters, of a certain viewpoint, happy with coded dog whistle messages delivered in local gathering of voters, rather than Donald Trump using a national megaphone to openly and clearly articulate that messaging.
“As a presidential candidate, he’s taking a problem we already have as a party and making it worse,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, another White House aspirant, said of Trump. “If we continue this we’re going to accelerate the demographic death spiral we’re in.”

Graham's comment reflects the growing concern of establishment Republican insiders. The Republican Party is overwhelmingly a party of white people, which isn't sustainable as the U.S. population shifts. But since the white voters Republicans rely on to win elections no long accept messages or policy positions that do anything but alienate people of color and people who aren't part of the religious right, Republicans must walk a delicate line between giving up votes in the near-term primaries or giving up votes later in the general election. And Donald Trump is not about being delicate.
Republicans now can't afford to disavow Trump openly touting southern strategy talking points, thereby alienating the base GOP voters who identify with Trump's xenophobic and racist policy statements. The Republican Party needs those very voters to keep control of local and state government across southern states, as well as the U.S. House. Without them, the Republican Party is no long viable as a party. Polling shows the mathematical delicacy of a Republican victory in 2016 — and its dependence on aging, anxious white voters — making it exceedingly perilous for the Republican Party to treat Mr. Trump as the pariah many of its leaders now wish he would become.

More than 20 Republican Party officials and leading figures in the party’s establishment convened Monday for dinner with Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus to discuss the possibility of a brokered GOP convention. A brokered convention would triggered if no candidate won enough committed primary delegates to win the nomination on a first-ballot vote. Rounds of ballot votes could extend for hours until a candidate has secured sufficient support. The Republican establishment is facing a revolt of its base by its support of Trump and the only solution seems to be a top-down coup against the beast it created. In the words of The Young Turks, the Republican establishment is planning a “coup”, if their primary voters pick Trump. But if convention balloting is seen to be rigged against Trump, denying him the nomination, it would likely cause his supporters to sit out the November election.

And then there is the specter of Trump running as a third party candidate, which would be an even worse fate for down ballot GOP candidates. Trump, though he has already pledged that he would not run as a third-party candidate in 2016." GOP candidate Ben Carson said of Priebus' dinner meeting: "If the powerful try to manipulate it, the Republican National Convention in Cleveland next summer may be the last convention." Carson further said, "If this was the beginning of a plan to subvert the will of the voters and replace it with the will of the political elite, I assure you Donald Trump will not be the only one leaving the party."
That, then, is the question for 2016: will the supporters of Trump and Carson leave the party - stay home and not vote next November - if a more moderate candidate, like JEB Bush, is chosen by the convention to be the GOP nominee for president?

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