How the GOP Sold Its Soul to Trumpism

An essay about the history of the GOP over the last 3 decades and its arrival & acceptance of Trump

During the last week’s Republican National Convention, much was to be said about the conveyance of what the GOP has become in the previous two decades. The 4-day spread featured speakers who were both politically aligned with the party and dogmatic spokespeople to the current nominee and incumbent President, Donald Trump. Some of it was political jargon; half-truths meant to rally support around their candidate. Much of it was refutations of objective truths, such as claiming victory from the president’s handling of the ongoing pandemic, which was even referred to in the past tense by guest speaker Larry Kudlow, the White House National Economic Council Director.

However, along with conservative media and political allies was Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the viral couple who stood in front of their home armed with a rifle and a pistol as Black Lives Matter protests marched down their street. Much of their speech was dog-whistle racist appeals, claiming Democrats want to “abolish the suburbs” and warning of the other party’s willingness to protest “criminals from honest citizens.”

Near the end of the convention, President Trump took the stage and provided a 6,000-word speech for well over an hour. He referred to America’s past triumphs, and it’s near-apocalyptic demise if Democratic nominee Joe Biden is elected. As someone who’s actively engaged in the political process, it’s worth asking how the Republican party arrived at this moment?

Surely, the party of Lincoln wasn’t always this reckless with its messaging, this welcoming of outsiders to speak at its party’s convention. The same party that once stood for patriotism, for protest, for the freedom to disagree. The same party that once featured fresh-faced moderates like that of South Carolina Senator, Lindsey Graham. A former member of the Judge Advocate General Corps in the U.S. Air Force, who labeled himself a centrist in his 2014 reelection campaign as a spokesmen for a strong military and fiscal responsibility. A party that introduced a former prisoner of war from Arizona, John McCain, to the American public as a tough, devoted, and competent man of conviction and faith who worked with Democratic Senator Russ Feingold to craft a bipartisan piece of legislation to regulate campaign financing in 2002. The party that met with then-President Richard Nixon to inform him of the lack of Republican support he would receive in Congress, effectively forewarning him of becoming only the second president to confront the charge of impeachment.

A glance through this biographical history of the Republican party would not have led many to predict the party to welcome a big-business outsider who revolted against American political norms and constitutional truths. But it was this party — the party that once claimed to stand for the common man — who embraced its fringed ideologues and reached for the lever of emotional demagoguery instead of logical electioneering. Now, this Republican party, stumbling its way to what will be one of the most significant elections in United States history, is being attacked by a PAC (political action committee) formed and operated by Republicans, The Lincoln Project. A PAC that features Republican voters, former campaign staffers to President George W. Bush, and former GOP chairmen like Michael Steele; all of whom identify as “Never Trumpers.”

You can stretch your analysis of the party back to the late ’60s and early ’70s with the rise of progressive politics in the United States being met with harsher conservatism. Looking at the ’90s, when the Republican Revolution of ’94 led to the minority party gaining fifty-four seats in the House of Representative and eight seats in the Senate, you could argue the gears of irrationality began to turn then.

However, few of those eras of Republican ideology match that of the sheer alien ideology that has hijacked the GOP, root-and-stem, during the last decade of American politics. You could explain it as ideological revolutions, perhaps. Much like liberalism, conservatism features many interpretations and subtextual identities ranging from fiscal conservatism (concerned with unregulated markets and small government) to “traditional” social conservatives (concerned with abortion and LGBTQ rights). It’s just now; the bible-thumping radicals have driven out the fiscal conservatives and enslaved the moderate middle. The conservative wing of politics now embraces fascist tendencies and far-right ideologies that ignore objective truths and constitutional principles that allow historians to compare the late 2010s of American politics to Vichy France in the 1930s, or to 1940s Germany.

The point here is not to compare President Trump to Hitler or Stalin; rather, it is to compare the history of high-ranking members of the Frenchmen in the 1940s, or of the East Germans in the same era, to that of the current American Republican Party.

In 2010, Utah’s Republican Senator, Bob Bennet, was known as one of his party’s more conservative members. He earned high ratings from conservative activist groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Rifle Association, and the American Conservative Union. He fought against marriage licenses for same-sex couples and supported a ban that would disallow minors to cross state lines to obtain a legal abortion. He was an opponent of public health care and blamed government policies for the high cost of insurance. Somehow, this beloved Conservative would lose his party’s nomination during the second round of voting at the GOP’s state convention to the Tea Party-backed attorney Mike Lee who found room to Bennett’s right.

Lee, a former member of the Utah Governor’s general counsel and former clerk of Justice Alito, defined his position as thus: “We ought to have more people who believe in constitutionally limited government. We have to have more people come to Congress with that mind-set. I think we can make this a better place, if, when elections happen, we support candidates who share that philosophy.”

In his tenure, Lee has been a staunch opponent of Climate Change reform. He was one of the twenty-two senators to sign a letter pleading with the president to pull America out of the Paris climate accord. A foreign policy action baked in lies and geopolitical nonsense. Like most Republicans, his intentions for protesting Climate Change initiatives become more transparent when examining his campaign financing as Lee had received contributions from oil and gas interests amounting to $366,570 and $21,895, for a grand total of $388,465.

The three-term Senator would be the first of many long-reigning incumbents of the GOP establishment to fall in the volatile midterm elections of 2010 to a rising middle-class movement which sparked from government spending amidst a devastating recession known as the Tea Party movement — referencing the Boston Sons of Liberty who threw British Tea into the harbor in protest of harsh taxation in 1773. It was somewhat similar to the Occupy Wall Street movement on the left, but instead of a leaderless unelected group of citizens, the radical right co-opted the movement and began to challenge the GOP establishment for the reigns of the Republican Party.

In 1968, Anti-war activist Rennard Cordon “Rennie” Davis amongst and Tom Hayden organized protests before and during the ’68 Democratic National Convention. Before that, they were apart of the SDS — Students for a Democratic Society. Their chief goal was to end the Vietnam war. However, their movement would later be absorbed by the Youth International Party — often referred to as the Yippies — founded by Abby Hoffman and Jerry Rubin. The YIP employed theatrical gestures to mock the social status quo, such as electing a pig for the presidency, and were described as an anti-authoritarian, anarchist youth movement of “symbolic politics.” Much like the Occupy Wall Street movement, YIP was a leaderless party and protested multiple issues, often unrelated to one another.

However, as seen at the ’68 Democratic National Convention where a riot commenced in Grant Park, the Democratic party would never have sought to elect, fund, or endorse the movement.

However, the Tea Party movement won dozens of Republican nominations for their respective U.S. Senate, House, and gubernatorial races. No longer was the party dominated by free-market capitalists, common-sense regulation, and a strong military. Now, the party would be home to Tea Party members like Rep. Allen West from Florida, who stated, “I must confess when I see anyone with an Obama bumper sticker I recognize them as a threat to the gene pool.” Or Senator Mitch McConnell, who, in a speech at the Heritage Foundation, rebuked the potential of bipartisan governance when stating, “our top political priority over the next two years should be to deny President Obama a second term in office.” They refuted the notion of working with Democrats, perpetuated the fear that Democratic leadership was sinister and anti-American, and hyperbolized personal responsibility in regards to poverty, Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer of South Carolina stated, My grandmother was not a highly educated woman, but she told me as a small child to quit feeding stray animals. You know why? Because they breed.”

This political animosity wasn’t always there, nor was it necessarily deafened before 2010. But both major parties had worked judiciously and selfishly to keep their respective parties from being overtaken by outsider interest groups or radical agendas. They would seek to benefit from these clots of American politics, of course. Still, they refuted them out of obligation to satisfy constituents or, optimistically, to preserve the union’s sanctity — though I’m sure that was a rare ordeal.

Nearing the end of Obama’s Presidency, however, a new faction of the Tea-Party would rise with a new leader, Donald J. Trump. A president born out of the muck of conspiratorial conservatism, claiming Obama wasn’t a U.S. Citizen, despite the release of a short-form birth certificate in 2008 and a long-form certificate from 2011. On the campaign trail, both Tea-Party Republicans and the nearly extinct GOP establishment railed against the former reality TV show host. But after his poll numbers continued to climb, they surrendered to power and awarded him the nomination for president. It wouldn’t take long into his presidency for the Republicans to, behind-closed-doors, realize the foolishness in electing a non-political, salesman “populist” — populist: meaning his yearning for popularity not widespread consensus.

The new, built-in vision of a Republican Party that believed themselves as American patriots, as competent administrators, and especially as devout party members, created a cognitive distortion that blinded many of them from the Trump administration’s wrongdoings.

They overlooked the trivial lies and flagrant warning signs from the campaign trail as electioneering, nothing more than smoke from a fire that only they could control. They neglected Trump’s appointment of the wealthiest Cabinet in history, his decisions to stuff his administration with former lobbyists, made excuses for Ivanka Trump’s use of a private email account and for Jared Kushner’s conflicts of interest, and continue to portray themselves as the moral center of American politics.

In practice, Trump has governed according to a different set of principles than those he articulated amidst his 2016 campaign. His narrow economic boom was made possible by a vast budget deficit on a scale Republicans once claimed to despise, an enormous burden for future generations. His tax cuts disproportionately benefited the wealthiest Americans, not the working class. He worked to dismantle the existing health-care system without offering anything to replace it, despite promising to do so. He attacked America’s military, calling his generals “a bunch of dopes and babies.” He denigrated America’s intelligence services and law enforcement officers as the “deep state,” while ignoring their advisement on issues he has no prior knowledge on. All the while, he fanned and encouraged xenophobia and racism, both because he found them politically useful and because they are part of his worldview.

More notably, in January, Trump took Xi Jinping’s word when he said that COVID‑19 was “under control.” When the virus arrived on American shores, Trump claimed it was a hoax manifested by the liberals, only to later admit in July — after polling data revealed his democratic opponent Joe Biden had a sizable lead — that the virus was real as he wore a face mask in public for the very first time. With the recent protests and refueled conversations about race in America, President Trump threatened to “shoot” protesters, sent federal agents into Portland to make random arrests, throw people into unmarked vans, and continues to accommodate both dog-whistle and blatant racism with the Presidential seal.

Stuart Stevens, the former political operative for the Republican party describes him in similar terms in his latest book, It Was All a Lie. In it, he compares his lifelong devotion to the party akin to the Mafia, to Bernie Madoff’s fraud scheme, to the segregationist movement, even to the Nazis. In a recent interview with Politico, he discusses the embarrassment of being blind to his parties hijacking from radical fringe groups, Trumpisms’ endorsement of hatred and conspiracy, and even goes as far as to say,

The worst part of Trumpism, I fear, is yet to come.

Weeks ago, my father, 48 years of age, sat me down and asked if I was aware of the unreported and perplexing lawsuit occurring in the Southern District Court of California. A case in which Cyprus A. Parsa — a man absent from a Wikipedia profile search or any personal records on the internet — was suing an assortment of companies and individuals. In December of 2019, Parsa filed a complaint against Alpahebt, Elon Musk, the Bidens, the Clintons, the Obamas, Facebook, Tesla, MSNBC, Rachel Maddow, and others. The complaint? “Rape, Torture, Concentration Camps, Sex, Human, and Organ Trafficking and Organ Harvesting in China.”

Despite the obvious glitch of everyone involved by a left-leaning member of the “elite,” the lawsuit served no rational basis or evidential basis as discovered by Judge Cathy Ann Bencivengo on May 5, 2020, when she asked the plaintiff to show cause for the suit. In other words, to present evidence for his damming claims of the four most profitable tech companies being involved with crimes against humanity. Unsurprisingly, Parsa was unable to present proof of Elon Musk “attempting to make humans into Cyborgs to tap into eight areas in the brain that usually cannot be accessed by the public.” The case was dismissed in June.

This, however, is a notable and frightening development in Trump’s GOP. Not only have the majority of Republicans now embraced the far-right ideology of their party, excusing swathes of corruption, bigotry, and outright immorality. But now, they’ve begun to embrace those who’ve religiously spread lies for both the president and their own malicious worldview.

Earlier this month, in Florida, Laura Loomer won the Republican Primary for the 21st U.S. House District. Born in 1992, Loomer is a former far-right political commentator and conspiracy theorist who self-identifies as a “Proud Islamophobe,” even going as far as to state, “Muslims should not even be allowed to seek positions of political office in this country.” In 2017, she called for a complete and permanent ban on Muslims entering the United States, something Trump promoted and even attempted to implement through an executive order. Loomer would later be banned from Twitter in 2019, for attacking Minnesota Democratic Representative Ilhan Omar, who she called “anti-Jewish” and a member of a religion in which “homosexuals are oppressed,” women are “abused,” and “forced to wear the hijab.” A week after the ban, she handcuffed herself to a door at Twitter’s New York City headquarters in protest while wearing a yellow “Jude” patch.

Even more harrowing is her promotion of various conspiracy theories related to mass shootings. She falsely claimed that the Parkland and Santa Fe shootings were staged and insisted the 2017 Las Vegas shooter was affiliated with ISIS. In July of 2018, Loomer promoted the false narrative that a man arrested with bomb-making equipment and illegal weapons had been a “leftist Antifa terrorist.” The man in question, Cesar Sayoc, was instead a conservative whose Facebook profile was filled with pro-Second Amendment memes. In October of 2018, Loomer tried to spread the conspiracy theory that the United States mail bombing attempts were an operation orchestrated by Democrats.

A week before her win, Majorie Taylor Greene won her respective Republican primary by double-digits in Georgia. Greene is a construction executive, a far-right Conservative who expressed similar beliefs about Muslims in America, and has argued for the baseless conspiracy theory called QAnon. A far-fetched conspiracy that centers on a mysterious and anonymous online figure — “Q” — claiming to possess a top-level security clearance and evidence of a worldwide criminal conspiracy. “Q” claims Special Counsel Robert Mueller was not appointed to investigate Trump, but to investigate Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and other top Democrats for being in cahoots with Russian President Vladimir Putin with Hollywood figures and other world leaders in a global pedophile ring.

Many high-ranking Republicans — the same Republicans that have stood by Trump’s Presidency without complaint — distanced themselves from Greene earlier this summer after Politico highlighted videos in which Greene expressed her anti-muslim rhetoric. One of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s spokespersons called her views “appalling,” and Facebook, a tech conglomerate lagging behind its colleagues in battling misinformation, took down a campaign ad from Greene where she brandished a rifle and threatened Antifa protesters, claiming it violated its policies against inciting violence.

This is the Republican Party now, a party that once stood for conservatism convictions that you may disagree with, but none were irrevocably damaging to our democracy’s fabric. Some will argue the looming fear of “the left” justifies this. They will argue the Democratic party has committed the same crime, embracing its far-left outliers and providing them office. However, the church of Bernie Sanders is not calling for the removal of cultures from our society. They are not claiming to know all the answers to all our problems. They are not refuting science or objective truths, and they do not pretend as if the constitution is a doctrine of recommendations.

Flawed policy initiatives are not equitable to a party that has chosen to embrace mistruths, violence, racism, xenophobia, transphobia, and homophobia. There is a fringe left in America, but none of them go by the name Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashid Talib, Ayanna Presley, Elisabeth Warren, or Bernie Sanders.

Yet, I am confident that historians will one day write about the paths that led the U.S. into a historic loss of international influence, into economic disaster, into political anarchy we haven’t experienced since the tumultuous years climaxing with the Civil War. Maybe then, when Make America Great Again is the last, echoing hurrah of a country lost to ultra-nationalism and isolationism, when Pence, Pompeo, McConnell finally admit their treachery publicly or privately. Then, the swathe of Trump supporters will finally realize the alarms were rung for a reason.

Writer, Aspiring Author, & Coffee Enthusiast

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