Trump Isn’t An Aberration — It All Began In 1994
With the exception of Goldwater’s nomination in 1964, the moderate wing controlled the Republican party between 1940 and 1992. During this period of moderation, the vast majority of elected Republicans accepted the New Deal reforms that saved capitalism from itself during the 1930s. There were always reactionaries in the GOP during this period but they usually had adult supervision.
People would correctly point out that Ronald Reagan was the most conservative president since Hoover. However, Reagan couldn’t win a GOP primary in 2020. As president, he signed into law several tax increases, a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and negotiated arms controls agreements with the USSR. During the 1980s, the likes of Newt Gingrich and Bill Kristol compared Reagan’s diplomacy with the USSR to Neville Chamberlain’s policies of appeasement during the 1930s.
A major turning point in the history of the GOP and the country was the 1994 election cycle which was dominated by the likes of Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh. Gingrich encouraged Republican candidates to go full scorched earth in their rhetoric and to describe Democrats in the following terms: sick, pathetic, lie, anti-flag, traitors, radical and corrupt. Rush Limbaugh used this toxic rhetoric on his show on a daily basis to fire up the GOP base.
After the Republicans gained control of Congress in 1995, they governed as extremists and began to break down long held norms. Gingrich engineered two failed government shutdowns aimed at cutting Medicare to fund a tax cut for the rich. The disgraced former House Speaker knew that the GOP could only enact this extreme agenda by resorting to procedural radicalism.
The Gingrich era GOP extremism reached its apogee when they tried to impeach Bill Clinton over his perjury in a civil lawsuit that had been dismissed. Gingrich pursued impeachment even though Clinton had a 65% approval rating and Gingrich was having an affair with a junior staffer who was 23 years his junior. (Calista is now Newt’s third wife and the U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican.)
The attempted impeachment of Clinton was a drag for Al Gore in 2000 but Bush’s controversial “victory” was the direct result of yet more broken norms and the emergence of Fox News. On election night 2000, George W. Bush’s first cousin — in his capacity as a Fox News employee — declared that Bush had carried Florida and won the election. The other networks mistakenly followed suit in a matter of minutes. That false declaration of “victory” was a P.R. coup for Bush and gave him the aura as the winner during the disputed recount.
Bush and his team prevailed in the 2000 recount due to a combination of ruthlessness and the trampling of more norms. A group of Republican operatives stormed a meeting of election canvassers and shutdown the recount in Miami. The U.S. Supreme Court on a straight 5 to 4 party line vote overturned decades of settled law and ultimately handed the presidency to Bush.
The Bush presidency was both extreme and an abject failure. The Bush Administration’s strategy to market the Iraq war to the American people in 2002–03 was deeply dishonest. Bush’s apologists have contended that the U.S. intelligence agencies simply made a series of honest mistakes. The reality is that according to a Senate Intelligence Committee report in 2008: “The Administration repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when in reality it was unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even non-existent.”
The contest to succeed Bush in 2008 marked a further descent into radicalism and nastiness by the GOP. The selection of the unqualified Alaska Governor Sarah Palin by John McCain as his running mate marked a new low for the GOP. Palin ran a vicious campaign in which she bragged about being a “pit bull” and falsely charged Obama with “palling around with terrorists.” At the same time, Palin’s media interviews revealed that she knew almost nothing about critical issues like the TARP bill and the Bush doctrine.
Once Obama was sworn in as president, he faced unprecedented obstruction from the Republicans in Congress. Vice President Joe Biden reported that during the transition, several GOP Senators privately told him that GOP Senate Leader Mitch McConnell had given them orders that there was to be no cooperation with the incoming administration — because McConnell had decided that “we can’t let you succeed.” Moreover, a group of House GOP leaders met at an upscale D.C. restaurant on the night of the inauguration and determined there was to be no Republican support for any legislation introduced by President Obama.
The D.C. Republicans’ obstruction was accompanied by eight years of racist and vitriolic attacks on President Obama and his family. Then TV reality star Donald Trump led the way with his racist and fraudulent allegation that Obama wasn’t born in the U.S. Polling indicates that 51% of Republicans still believe that Obama was born in Kenya and 2/3 of Trump’s supporters believe that Obama is a Muslim.
The modern history of the Republican party indicates that Trump is no aberration — he is the quintessential D.C. Republican. Trump’s radicalism, nastiness and ignorance reflects the evolution of the GOP since 1994. In my opinion, Trump and the modern GOP were created by the right wing media. That’s where this toxic combination came from — it was no accident. As former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum said: “Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us, and now we are discovering we work for Fox.”
I’m convinced that Trump will be a one term president. According to a recent NBC/WSJ poll, 48% of registered voters say they are certain to vote against Trump in the 2020 election. In contrast, only 34% say they’ll definitely vote for him. However, we can take nothing for granted. Trump and the D.C. Republicans must be defeated in 2020. I would urge everybody to knock on doors, make phone calls and contribute to Democratic candidates. The stakes couldn’t be higher. We can do it! Let’s get it done!