The End of the Donald and the Republican Party as We Know It
The final days of the 2016 presidential election feel like the denouement of a dark moment in American politics. There’s always been a give and take battle between the left and right, between progressives struggling for equality and justice and conservatives protecting the interests of the wealthy power brokers. And there have certainly been many times when the balance of power shifts slightly one way or another. Somehow there was always an underlying confidence that the backbone of our democracy was strong and that despite deep schisms, a sense of civility surrounded the process.
The historic election of President Obama eight years ago changed all that – it was the straw that broke the Eagle’s right wing. The nation’s passenger side front tire came off, setting the wheels of political chaos in motion. It started with the racist denial of the legitimate leader of the free world in the form of the birther movement, led by none other than the Donald… which soon begat the Tea Party. Lies compounded so routinely through Fox News and elsewhere that even eight years later more that 60% of Trump supporters believe the President is a Muslim and can’t be trusted.
The Tea Party did not represent the majority of Republicans but used threats, innuendo, and bullying to coerce the leadership to gain power (many of the same tactics the Donald has used in his business and political career). The gloves of civility were shed…at his first state of the Union address, South Carolina Congressman Joe Wilson called Obama a liar. The Republicans managed to take over Congress in 2010 and soon Republican Congressional leaders declared their main goal was not governing, but ensuring Obama’s defeat. By 2015, Speaker John Boehner realized he’d lost control of the party and resigned.
And then came the penultimate Tea Party victory. After a brutal conservative slug fest, aka Republican primary fight, Birther in Chief Donald J. Trump clawed his way to the top of the heap. Almost no Republicans felt empowered to rebuff his increasingly over-the-top racist, xenophobic, march toward power. They rationalized his accusations that Mexicans were murders and rapists (that one seems particularly ironic today) and did not rebuff his proposal to ban all Muslims from entering the country. They gave him a pass when he disparaged the parents of a gold star war hero. They looked the other way when time after time, Trump despicably demeaned and disparaged women. They ignored his deplorable mocking of a disabled journalist. And even McCain, Romney, Cruz, Christie, Bush, Rubio, etc. somehow managed to overlook his personal insults and (albeit awkwardly and tentatively) endorsed his candidacy. With all of his blatant indiscretions and hate mongering many have wondered what it would take to reveal the Donald with no clothes.
Hillary easily handled him during Debate #1 and began to put some distance between them in the polls. Everyone was looking to see whether the Donald might actually spend some time preparing for the second round and perhaps recover some ground.
But just two days before the rematch, the now infamous three-minute hot mic video in which Trump reveals his true, disgustingly crude, misogynist self for all the world to see went viral. A performance so vile that even Houdini couldn’t pull off the sleight of hand needed to hide the true nature of his personality. So “unpresidential”, the most powerful accelerator in the world couldn’t spin the story to distract from the consequences.
Trump offered a lame, half-assed “apology” claiming it was nothing more than locker room talk (as American as apple pie), denied he did the things he bragged about on the video, and tried to deflect by saying Bill Clinton was guilty of worse sins.
Once again the party of “family values” embarrassed itself with the hypocritical revelation of who they really are. It’s ok to be a racist and even a sexist who demeans women. But this time the latest exposure was too vulgar even for the Tea Party. So, like a suicide bomber the Donald blew himself up and may very well have caused significant collateral damage to the down ballot races. Facing a tidal wave as ferocious as any Hurricane Mathew could muster, GOP leaders (and especially those hoping to be re-elected) are jumping overboard, right and farther right, hoping that they can grab a piece of driftwood and make it on their own. Here is just a small sample:
“As a husband and father, I was offended by the words and actions described by Donald Trump in the 11-year-old video. I do not condone his remarks and cannot defend them.” Mike Pence, Republican nominee for Vice President
“[Trump’s] behavior this week, concluding with the disclosure of his demeaning comments about women and his boasts about sexual assaults, make it impossible to continue to offer even conditional support for his candidacy.” John McCain, Republican Senator of Arizona, seeking re-election.
“I cannot and will not support a candidate who brags about degrading and assaulting women,” Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, facing a close re-election bid.
“I can no longer look past the pattern of behavior and comments that have been made by Donald Trump. Therefore, I cannot in good conscience continue to support Donald Trump.” Republican Rep. Joe Heck of Nevada, who also is in the middle of a closely contested race,
“The Republican Party is caught in a theater fire; people are just running to different exits as fast as they can,” Steven Law, a longtime lieutenant of the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, and head of the GOP “Super PAC” American Crossroads
But they waited too long to abandon ship and many won’t be able to avoid the gravitational pull of the Donald’s shit storm as it goes down. Let’s remember that this is the same party that following Romney’s devastating defeat declared it can no longer ignore minorities and women. Clearly, they learned that lesson well.
So the landscape is changing before our eyes but what comes next is hard to know. Trump is history (as are his surrogates Chris Christie and Rudolf Giuliani) but his loyalists will probably continue to look at the world through conspiratorial glasses and claim the whole thing was rigged. The conservative Christians will likely double down on their “family values” platform and remain faithful to the likes of their latest hero Mike Pence. The remnants of the rest of the GOP led by Paul Ryan is adrift somewhere in between. It’s difficult to imagine these diverse factions getting on board together in the near future but as we saw in Obama’s first term, ignorance and hatred are powerful motivators.