On Thursday, the chairman of the Republican Party — a man who presented a report that called on the GOP to take a new, less-Republican tone toward immigrants — stood on stage with Donald Trump and got him to pledge to support the Republican nominee in 2016. Meanwhile the other Republican candidates did the same thing, knowing that Trump is leading his nearest competitor by a factor of two.
Recognizing that they cannot win the most important election of our lifetime without the block of nativist voters now enthralled with the billionaire, Republican donors demanded a suicide pact in hopes of circumventing a third-party run.
So, on Thursday, the party of Reagan became the party of Trump.
It’s popular to point out that the Republicans wouldn’t have much tolerance for many of Reagan’s policies today.
Reagan’s foreign policy, especially in his second term, was much less hawkish than conservatives then or today desired. But with the Cold War in full frost, he didn’t need to start active wars to justify the kind of militarism that the modern GOP demands.
And I have no doubt, the GOP of today would be glad to have a president who cut the top tax rate from 70 percent to 28, who accelerated the assault on labor, who undid countless regulations — which helped lead to financialization of our economy, extraordinary gains for the richest and an never-ending financial crisis for most everyone else, especially the working-class white men who made up the bulk of the so-called “Reagan Democrats.”
That’s the Reagan Republicans will always love.
But there’s a legacy of Reagan that the party has never had to fully contend with that was at the core of his political success. He launched a states rights’ campaign filled with dog whistled attacks on “welfare queens.” And he was artful and successful enough to make those slurs, along with an anti-civil rights civil rights policy, acceptable, which led to the end of New Deal coalition that built the middle class and kept Democrats in control of Congress for half a century.
In Dog Whistle Politics, Ian Haney Lopez explains:
Racial demagoguery convinces many whites to think about government help in terms of race, and then to reject liberalism and the lessons of the New Deal in favor of nostrums promoted by corporate titans and loaded insiders.
The strategy of purposely alienating minorities to trick the white masses into voting against their own interests was perfected by Reagan but pioneered by Richard Nixon, with his 1968 appeal to the “Silent Majority.” Once in office he hired a young wunderkind who’d written a book arguing that the Democrat’s “negro problem” would keep them from winning the White House for decades, which would likely have been true if not for Watergate.
White voters got the subtext and so did black voters, who have gone on to support Democrats by a 9-to-1 margin.
Donald Trump first rejected any connection to Nixon’s use “Silent Majority,” but has now has taken to saying the “Silent Majority is back” as he peppers his rantings against immigrants with language that conflates them with blacks and all sorts of street crime, ignoring that immigrants commit crimes at a lower rate than citizens and crime in general is at a 20-year low, despite glaring aberrations that can be used to mislead people otherwise.
And Latinos have noticed. Fewer than 2 of 10 view the GOP frontrunner favorably.
In The New York Times, Thomas B. Edsall explains how well Trump understands the modern GOP:
Trump is going directly after those Republican voters who seek to protect what some scholars call “compositional amenities” – the comfort of a common religion and language, mutually shared traditions, and the minimization of cultural conflict.
The territory Trump has ventured onto is fertile ground for his brand of demagoguery.
The Pew Research Center found in a 2012 survey that while all respondents were split, 46-48, on the question of whether “the growing number of newcomers threaten traditional American values,” Republicans viewed immigrants as a direct threat to American values, 60-32, and conservative Republicans even more so, 64-30.
Trump’s appeal to these voters is a permission to free all the emotional shrapnel that comes from being part of a shrinking majority. And it’s so unsubtle that White Nationalists hear a kinship in his words, as The New Yorker‘s Evan Osnos found out:
On June 28th, twelve days after Trump’s announcement, the Daily Stormer, America’s most popular neo-Nazi news site, endorsed him for President: “Trump is willing to say what most Americans think: it’s time to deport these people.” The Daily Stormer urged white men to “vote for the first time in our lives for the one man who actually represents our interests.”
It would be a beautiful poetry if Trump figured out that a WWE-style Southern Strategy is the perfect way to win the GOP nomination right at the moment when it would doom the GOP from winning the White House. (Of course, it would be an unqualified catastrophe if he actually pulls it off and wins.)
The National Journal‘s Ron Brownstein points out that when Nixon gave his first “Silent Majority” speech, about 80 percent of the electorate was made up of white people without college degrees. Today this group, which the GOP has turned into its base, make up about 36 to 45 percent of the voting population.
Now Republicans need to either do as well with white voters as Reagan did in his massive 1984 landslide or do better with minority voters than 2004, their recent peak.
In 2013, Republicans were looking at how to improve their performance with Latino voters. Today, they’re tied to Trump and should be thinking about how they can prevent Latinos from turning to the Democratic Party the way black voters have.
[Image via @realDonaldTrump and Microsoft Paint.]