A couple months ago, Samantha Bee, comedian and host of “Full Frontal”, referred to Donald Trump as “the backfired wish Republicans made on a cursed monkey’s paw.” This perfectly sums up the way Trump has come to haunt the Republican establishment. Many are reeling from the fact that Trump is now the party’s presumptive nominee. Everybody has been caught off guard by his success. But it is important to understand and remember that his rise is no freak accident.
Donald Trump is the inevitable result of the Republican establishment’s exploitation of racism and bigotry. They created him. Trump’s rise is just the culmination of a series of events that go back many decades.
It can be traced all the way back to the Nixon era: back to Nixon’s southern strategy. Nixon invited racist whites, angry with the Democrats’ support for desegregation and civil rights, into the Republican party. They delivered the South to the Republicans and became the party’s voting base. This created a right-wing coalition between two groups with conflicting interests: the business establishment on one side, and conservative, working class white voters on the other.
Now, almost fifty years later, the Republicans are paying the price. Those same angry, racist voters have now taken control of the party and have made Donald Trump their candidate. That’s what happens when you invite racists and bigots into your party and exploit them for political gain.
Republicans often look nostalgically back to the days of Ronald Reagan. This is highly ironic, since Reagan made even more significant contributions to the rise of Donald Trump than Nixon did. Reagan started the tactic of pandering to social issues: God, guns, gays, immigration, and abortion. The same pandering Trump has now used to win the nomination. You can thank Reagan for that.
America has become a laughing joke in other countries for making such social issues top political topics. But the Republicans did this on purpose, because it was the only way they could appeal to their voting base. Their economic policies: tax breaks for corporations and the rich, cuts to social services, arguing it would all trickle down, don’t resonate very well with poor, white voters. They never have.
This is something the Republican establishment has long known. So to make up for it they have had to focus on other, less important issues. Republicans have copied Reagan’s pandering strategy ever since. They have done so with increasing intensity.
Things have gone off the charts since Obama’s election. The election of America’s first black president inevitably triggered a racist backlash amongst the Republican base. The establishment has been sure to take advantage of this.
The GOP cultivated the Tea Party. They did not see the movement as something that would eventually engulf their party and make Trump their nominee. They saw it as just another source of anger and racism to exploit, just like they’d been doing for decades.
Such blatant racism is not a hallmark of the Obama era. Remember when the Bush campaign spread a rumor that McCain’s adopted son was a child he fathered through an interracial, extramarital affair? What about when Republican Senator Bob Corker attacked his African-American opponent, Harold Ford Jr., for attending a large Super Bowl party hosted at a playboy mansion during the 2006 Tennessee senate race? The attack culminated in an ad featuring a blond playboy model flirting with the Democratic candidate, asking him to “call me.”
The establishment has long hoped and assumed that as long as they could adequately pander to their voters’ hatred and fear, their base would overlook the fact that they are voting against their economic interests by supporting the GOP. But they were wrong. Their base has almost as much hatred for the bankers and corporations the Republican party serves as it does for Mexican and Muslim immigrants. This strange, illogical coalition could never last.
The establishment has said repeatedly that Trump is not a true conservative and does not embody the principles of the party. They are right. Trump’s ideas: big government, affordable college and healthcare, run counter to the traditional economic message of the GOP. But they are ideas that appeal to the GOP’s voting base. Trump has won over white, working class Republicans not just by pandering to their racism and xenophobia (although this has certainly been key) but also by appealing to their economic interests.
Trump is a rogue opportunist exploiting the GOP’s internal divide for his own gain. He is exactly what the Republican establishment deserves. They did this to themselves. But unfortunately, now all of us have to suffer along with them.
Feature Image via Flickr available under a creative commons license