When is it time to pull the plug? When is it time to give up? When is it time to realize that someone or something has done something so beyond the pale that you have to walk away?
I think I’ve reached that point with the Republican Party. It has been my philosophical home for 15 years and I am still more conservative/libertarian than a Democrat. But I have come to a point that the party is reaching a point of no return, a point when it stops being a conservative party and it becomes something else: a nationalist party based on the grievances of the white working class.
As I watched the Republican convention in Cleveland two weeks ago, hearing how brown people were a threat, I realized that there will be no “retooling” of the GOP after this election. I realized that after the 2016 election season, there will not be a party left to save. The Republican Party, as we have known it, will be dead. A new one is arising within the old and that will be the GOP of the future, one that is very different from anything we have seen before.
I said in an earlier post that California Governor Pete Wilson’s backing of an anti-immigrant measure in the 1994 election marked the beginning of the end of Republican power in the Golden State. Latinos were never going to vote for the party after that and, over time, neither were other demographics. California today is virtually a one-party state and that can be traced to Pete Wilson’s tragic gamble.
Donald Trump’s campaign against Mexicans, Muslims, African Americans, women, and others will turn off a good chunk of the rapidly changing American electorate. He has made the party so toxic to nonwhites that there is a good chance nonwhites who were attracted to the GOP (like myself) will not come back after November.
GOP Health strategist Avik Roy, himself a nonwhite Republican, believes that the party has given itself over to white nationalism. In his view, this has been part of the party since 1964, when Barry Goldwater’s opposition to the Civil Rights Act made it possible for white nationalists to come over to the GOP. That was also the year that the GOP would lose the African-American vote for good. Before ’64, the party was garnering 30-40% of the black vote. Afterwards, it was somewhere between the single digits to the teens.
None of this means conservatism is inherently racist. It does mean that one of the guiding forces of the Republicans since the mid-60s has been white nationalism, something that conservatives, especially conservative intellectuals, have denied. Roy notes,
It’s a common observation on the left, but it’s an observation that a lot of us on the right genuinely believed wasn’t true — which is that conservatism has become, and has been for some time, much more about white identity politics than it has been about conservative political philosophy. I think today, even now, a lot of conservatives have not come to terms with that problem.
Because conservative intellectuals and others were in denial of this fact, they weren’t able to stop Trump when he pulled back the curtain:
This, Roy believes, is where the conservative intellectual class went astray. By refusing to admit the truth about their own party, they were powerless to stop the forces that led to Donald Trump’s rise. They told themselves, over and over again, that Goldwater’s victory was a triumph.
But in reality, it created the conditions under which Trump could thrive. Trump’s politics of aggrieved white nationalism — labeling black people criminals, Latinos rapists, and Muslims terrorists — succeeded because the party’s voting base was made up of the people who once opposed civil rights.
Some conservative writers, like Ross Douthat, point out that many of the people who moved to the GOP after ’64 are no longer alive. That’s true, but ideas have a way of outliving the people who gave birth to them. Add to that, that the message resonates with the white working class that has been dealing with social and economic disruption, and you can see how these ideas still have life.
Trump uncovered something that had been latent in the GOP. It cropped up now and then, like Pat Buchanan’s campaign for President in 1992 and 1996, but then it would be swept back under the rug. But now that this has been uncovered, it is becoming mainstreamed into the party. You can’t go back.
There are some who believe all we need to do is retool and get the GOP ready for 2020. But the problem is, you can’t now try to reach out to minorities when many in the GOP leadership were willing to support Trump even though they knew who he was. Reince Priebus can’t put out another autopsy after he so blatantly ignored his own report this year. What’s to say he wouldn’t ignore that one too?
The party has lost credibility among young adults and various nonwhite groups such as Latinos, Muslims and African Americans. When push came to shove, the party leaders backed a known racist.
Which means that there needs to be a serious attempt to define a conservatism that is inclusive. There needs to be a new party that is right of center and works for all Americans, not just those of European origin.
Will that happen? Only when more conservative intellectuals are willing to see that the GOP can’t be saved. It has become like rotten milk, curdled by racial and ethnic animosity.
This is a hard acknowledgement for me to come to. I have been a Republican for nearly 20 years, because I believe in limited government. I moved away from the Democrats because they seemed to think the government always had to solve all problems. I realized that there were way to encourage the free market and also work for free persons as well. I don’t think persons of color in America should have only one party to choose from. We need more than one party that can offer different ideas to help communities of color.
As a Republican who is gay along with being African American, I had hoped that this year would be the one where there was more of an emphasis on becoming a more inclusive party, an inclusive conservatism.
But that dream is dead forever. An inclusive center right party will only come about when conservatives are willing to face reality and start to work to create a new future, one where other groups are viewed as fellow Americans and not threats to our way of life.