If you have been paying attention to the reality television program that is the Donald Trump presidential campaign, the chattering class et al. have begun questioning his sanity. Even Republicans are turning on Trump.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, I suppose. But as members of the Republican Party beat back the rats in order to be first to jump off the seemingly sinking vessel, might they take one fleeting glance at the mirror? For there they will realize the genesis of Trump and the associated problems that plague their party.
The Trump phenomenon is not the manifestation of a single event or cause, but something that has been decades in the making. It takes time to go from the party of Lincoln to one that looks more like Andrew Jackson was its artisan. No single individual can pull that off in a single election cycle. There must be a foundation to build upon.
Few bemoaned Richard Nixon's "Southern Strategy," which allowed Republican candidates to build support in the South by appealing to racism against African Americans.
Here's how the political operative, the late Lee Atwater, explained the seductive nature of the Southern Strategy:
You start out in 1954 by saying, "Nigger, nigger, nigger." By 1968, you can't say "nigger" -- that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states' rights, and all that stuff, and you're getting so abstract. Now, you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.... "We want to cut this," is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than "Nigger, nigger."
Where was the internal outcry when Ronald Reagan, after securing the GOP nomination in 1980, went to Philadelphia Miss. (believe it or not, Mississippi was a swing state back then), the place three civil rights workers were murdered by the Ku Klux Klan in 1964, telling the all-white crowd, "I believe in states' rights"?
What about the 1988 "Willie Horton" commercial or Jesse Helms' infamous "hands" commercial in 1990?
I understand the political reasons for such tactics; they were successful, especially when the demographics are in one's favor. One could conflate illegal immigration with the fears of domestic terrorism without reprisal. Or offer that marriage equality was tantamount to a constitutional version of the Chicken Little story and that would be plausible for a requisite number of voters to secure victory.
If one is not self-reflective, success can bring about hubris. And hubris can quickly transform one's strengths into their greatest weakness.
On Jan. 20, 2009, Barack Obama took the oath of office as the nation's 44th president. His victory was in large measure a rebuke of the previous eight years of Republican leadership in the White House, along with emerging demographics that began flexing its political muscle.
This was a moment for the Republican Party to recalibrate. Instead, according to author Robert Draper, on Inauguration Day, selected Republican members of the House of Representatives and Senate, along with former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, met with the specific purpose of derailing the new president's agenda.
They found iron pyrite (fool's gold) in the tea party and won two consecutive midterm elections convincingly. For nearly eight years they have found solace in being the party of "Neyt!" They welcomed the anger of the tea party when it suited them.
But after the Republicans' 2012 defeat in the General Election, here's the assessment Republican National Committee Chair, Reince Priebus, provided the Washington Post:
"When Republicans lost in November it was a wake-up call. We know that we have problems. We've identified them and we're implementing the solutions to fix them."
Now, the chickens appear to have come home to roost.
Many Republicans find themselves dismayed at the prospects of a Trump presidency. But for decades, the Republican Party has played to the dark, divisive side of American politics. The country has changed, but the Republican Party has been marred by feet of clay.
Win or lose, the party will have to change. I know it's fashionable to blame Trump, but it's more complicated. The party of Lincoln looks more and more like the party of Millard Fillmore.
Rev. Byron Williams, a writer and the host of NPRs "The Public Morality"