The Republican Party seems to be caught in a perfect storm that is threatening to drown it in a sea of tawdriness and negativism unlike anything in its 160-year history. The burning question of the new century is whether it will survive the outrageous battering of the current campaign for its presidential nomination or breakup into irrelevant factions.
Will it, as a lifelong GOP loyalist wondered aloud recently, ultimately overcome the disgusting decline into juvenile allusions about the “size of a candidate’s penis” and smarmy attacks on the moral character of wives, or slowly descend into irrelevance, bringing about a shift in the entire American political structure? “As for me,” he said, “I’m betting on the latter.”
The party’s traditional “establishment” has only itself to blame as it frantically searches for the solution to the dilemma it now faces. The current party leaders in Congress couldn’t have produced a better scenario for self-destruction if they had rented a room in one of Donald Trump’s hotels and spent the last eight years behind closed doors designing it.
They set the tone at the beginning by putting fealty to the so-called “Southern strategy” and ultra conservative intransigence in helping to solve the nation’s top priorities above cooperation with the nation’s first black president. Not so? Well, how else would one explain GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell’s declaration only a relatively few moments after Barack Obama took his hand off the Bible that his party would have only one goal — to stymie the newly inaugurated president and prevent his re-election.
That of course was brilliant policy that ultimately brought the party to its position of trying to build a firewall of money and influence to save its congressional majority from the ravages that might ensue from the nomination of either of the two candidates, who are singularly undesirable. What can be said about Donald Trump that already hasn’t been repeated from his historically hateful approach to immigration and Muslims to the violence at his rallies. But somehow the national press seems to find something new every day. The shrillness is deafening matched only by Trump’s own vitriolic rhetoric.
Then there is Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who has been adopted by that same majority that has given us the tea party, that stalwart band of back benchers and frustrated insignificants who would turn back the clock at least 100 years and make certain future Americans fit their prescription. Cruz has the distinction of being almost universally despised by his own party’s leaders and the rest of the gang, too. But what choice do they have but to endorse him considering the prospect of nominating Trump? Talk about strange bedfellows.
They had a choice. But that was before “compromise and statesmanship” became dirty words — when the party took pride in its contribution to the passage of the most important civil rights bill since slavery all brought about by their willingness to help.
It was a time when its candidates took pride in the nation’s progress, when it could legitimately point to Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan and even nominees who lost like war hero Bob Dole and Wendell Willkie, who in 1940 sacrificed his campaign for trumpeting the need for U.S. aid to Great Britain when Franklin Roosevelt, who favored it, wouldn’t in appeasement to the isolationists.
The level of the discourse has become so distasteful and contentious among the two leading candidates that Ohio Gov. John Kasich has begun to look like Gentle Ben rather than the hardnosed, tough bear of a politician he truly is. Had the “establishment” gotten behind him early on, he might have done much better than a distant third. There is a possibility of a brokered convention in Cleveland this summer when he would be a logical choice, but it is a slim one.
“Lyin Ted” Trump tweets thunderously almost day and night while Cruz demands in no uncertain language that the billionaire reality star lay off Mrs. Cruz with allegations that something unsavory lurks in the background, and the National Enquirer, a Trump supporter, publishes unverified reports of Cruz infidelity.
One has begun to wonder where all this might lead. Someone suggested that it might be Weehawken, N.J., the site of Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton’s famous (or infamous) exchange. Perhaps both would lose, one wag said.
Dan Thomasson is a former vice president of Scripps Howard Newspapers. Readers may send him email at firstname.lastname@example.org.