As Trump’s ghastly performance as president continues and his fortunes slide, more and more Republicans are willing to openly discuss the phenomenon of how Trumpism took over the Republican party.
Stuart Stevens, a veteran political consultant for the Republican party who worked on the campaigns of Bob Dole, George W. Bush and Mitt Romney, is the latest in that long line. In his case, at least he did not support Trump in 2016 and did criticize him then, for which he was attacked by Republicans in turn. He has published a new book It Was All a Lie: How the Republican Party Became Donald Trump where he argues that Trump is the end result of a long process in which the party abandoned its policies of fiscal restraint, personal responsibility and family values. He argues that he now thinks that the party never really believed in those values, and he acknowledges that he too was partly responsible for taking part in that charade
In an interview he describes how the party became the White Grievance Party.
Dwight Eisenhower won almost 40% of the black vote in 1956 and even Richard Nixon in 1960 got a sizable chunk but support fell off a cliff with Barry Goldwater, who got just 7% in the Johnson landslide of 1964, possibly because of his opposition to the Civil Rights Act and his vote in the senate against it. Outside of the deep southern states of Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina, Goldwater won only his home state of Arizona. Following the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, Nixon in 1968 and the Republican party after that decided to go all in with the Southern strategy to exploit the white sense of grievance, and the slide has steadily continued since then, with Trump positively wallowing in the muck.
He says that what happened after Mitt Romney’s loss to Barack Obama in 2012 captured how far the Republican party had gone down the low road.
I think Reince Priebus, who was the chairman of the party then, and there’s a lot of credit for initiating that so-called autopsy. It’s always difficult to be self-critical. And what’s fascinating about that is the conclusions were fairly obvious. You had to appeal more to nonwhite, yet appeal more to younger voters who had to appeal more to women. But it was presented not only as a political necessity to win elections — because we’d only won the popular vote once since [the] 1988 presidential votes — it was presented as a moral mandate, that if you are going to deserve the right to be the governing party of this big, confusing, loud, changing country, you needed to reflect that. So then Donald Trump comes along, and you can almost hear this audible sigh of relief and all that got thrown out and go, “Well, thank God we don’t have to pretend we care about this stuff. We can just win with white folks and we can just be comfortable with that.” And I mean, it just showed how phony it was.
He looks at what the future might hold for the party.
I really am extraordinarily negative on the prospects of the party, and it’s an unusual position for me because I’ve always been sort of the eternal optimist and always thought that we could come back from any deficit.
There is a market for a center-right party and a need for it in America. I think something else will evolve. But to get a sense of how deep Trumpism is instilled, there’s another Republican Party out there and that’s these governors. So if you look at these very popular governors in blue states like [Larry] Hogan in Maryland, Charlie Baker, Massachusetts, Phil Scott here in Vermont, I work for all these guys. And if the Republican Party had any sense, I’d say, look, these guys are wildly popular in the hardest market. What can we learn from them? Instead, the party kind of treats them with benign neglect. But each of these governors, wildly popular as they are, they can’t pick their own party chairman. They’re Trump people, and the idea that a governor couldn’t pick a party chairman is so mind-boggling, it just shows how deep Trumpism has become in the party.
I think the Trump phenomenon will be the subject of analysis by political scientists for decades to come as they try to understand how a major political party could become so devoid of any principle, so hollowed out, that a person such as he could take it over and make even party leaders who have been in politics for decades and presumably had their own political base end up pathetically groveling before him. I think that one answer that has to be part of the mix of theories is that if a party stops standing for anything at all, even for simple decency, and just seeks power at any costs, it leaves itself wide open for a takeover by a sociopath.
Last Sunday’s Doonesbury cartoon captured how the party’s values changed.
“There is a market for a center-right party and a need for it in America.”
Um, we already have one. It’s called the Democratic Party.
@ Mikey, No. 1
That’s true, your absolutely correct, or, as Mano has said, we have one party—The Pro-War Pro-Business Party—with the Republicans on the right and the Democrats on the right-center.
But there’s nothing new here. Peter Cook nailed this in the early ’60s.
Matt G says
The year 1980 marked the fusion of the Republican Party and the Religious Right in earnest. Apparently they were not interested in giving unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, obeying earthly laws, praying in their closets, etc.
OK, I’ll give you that there were principles for the first 40 years or so, but I would be hard put to make the case that any such principles ever existed in the 20th and 21st centuries.
Marcus Ranum says
@#4: given how easily and quickly their principles were discarded, for all intents and purposes they never really held them, it was just tactical convenience.
@ Marcus, No. 4…
I think “tactical” is giving them too much credit.
For my money, Teddy Roosevelt was the last of the Lincoln Republicans.
I first became aware of Stuart Stevens as the author of an extremely funny book about traveling through central Africa, called Malaria Dreams.
I was shocked to later discover that he was a well known Republican strategist.
@cweigold no. 7 -- If the GOP is malaria, Stuart Stevens was one of the mosquitoes.
I’d say that’s no longer true. If it were, the degree of bitterness between the parties -- both at leadership and grassroots levels -- would be inexplicable. The Democrats are still a centre-right party, much like the CDU in Germany*, but the Republicans are now a far-right, proto-fascist party. Sure, they retain lip-service to political pluralism, but it’s quite clear it’s no more than that: they have no commitment to respecting the result of an election if they lose, as Trump has made clear; and their ideology is so close to fascism as to be effectively indistinguishable. Fascism was always a cultural rather than an economic ideology (Trump has simply abandoned supposed Republican economic principles such as free trade and fiscal conservatism), and “Make America Great Again” sums fascist cultural ideology up nicely: “We” were once Great but “They”, who are demonically evil and conspire in secret (see: Qanon), have undermined and betrayed our Greatness; if you follow The Great Leader, he will bring back the Greatness, make it Greater still, and punish Them! Trump is spoken of by his followers and sycophants in quasi-religious terms that have no parallel in American history as far as I am aware, but close parallels in how Hitler and Mussolini were spoken of. Notice also the moves toward merging the leader’s personal following, the party, and the state as shown in Trump’s shameless use of state forces and venues for personal political ends, and the behaviour of his appointed cronies such as Barr and Pompeo.
I’ve seen various objections to characterising the modern far right as fascist, but they become less and less convincing.
1) It’s claimed that fascism necessarily involves the use of paramilitary forces or adjuncts of the fascist party aiming at control of the streets. To some extent, control of social media has substituted for this, but in the USA we see the militias, the “Proud Boys” and so forth intimidating and attacking political opponents, as well as Trump’s use of state forces to intimidate and brutalise opponents.
2) It’s claimed that fascism necessarily involves an expansionist foreign policy -- but this was not important in Spanish, Argentinian, Austrian, Romanian or Polish fascism of the 1930s. It was central to Italian and German fascism for specific historical reasons, related to their belated rise 9or in the case of Italy, attempted rise) to “great power” status, and the outcome of WW1, when Germany lost territory and colonies, and Italy did not gain what its leaders expected.
3) It’s claimed that fascism arises when the capitalist ruling class is under immediate threat, as a last desperate strategy to forestall the coming of socialism, and since socialism is clearly nowhere in sight, the modern far right can’t be fascist. But I think this is simply wrong: fascism can arise in the defense of any sort of privilege.
*I choose the CDU as a comparator because many of the European centre-right parties have moved significantly in the same direction as the Republicans; the CDU has not (yet) done so.