Republicans' Feckless Policies and Reckless Politics

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a rally, Friday, May 6, 2016, in Omaha, Neb. (AP Photo/Charlie N
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a rally, Friday, May 6, 2016, in Omaha, Neb. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Despite several flirtations over the years, Donald Trump did not burst onto the political scene until 2011, when he began viciously questioning the birthplace and academic record of our nation's first black president. He has blasted his way to presumptive nominee by leveling irresponsible attacks against his opponents, nativist attacks against immigrants, cowardly attacks against American prisoners of war, sexist attacks against women, bigoted attacks against Muslims, and chilling attacks against the free press. Republican voters seem to be responding to this ruinous recklessness.

Trump has defended his shameful rhetoric by decrying "political correctness," insisting ludicrously that the very offensiveness of his rants is proof of their validity. The so-called Republican establishment shouldn't be surprised. Trump's ascendance is a predictable consequence of the reckless course the Republican Party has been on for a long time.

The base of today's Republican Party was formed in large measure by voters who left the Democratic Party in droves in response to President Harry Truman's "Fair Deal" policies, and the national Democratic Party's embrace of civil rights. They aligned themselves with Barry Goldwater's candidacy and opposition to the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and Richard Nixon's "Southern Strategy" in 1968.

Many of these voters flocked to Ronald Reagan in 1980. They became known as Reagan Democrats, in part because of their Reagan's derision of "welfare queens" and "strapping young bucks." Reagan's first speech after his nomination in 1980 was delivered in Philadelphia, Mississippi, a place that became internationally known because of the brutal murders of three civil rights workers just 16 years earlier. There, the newly-minted nominee recklessly declared, "I believe in states' rights."

The right-wing Republican coalition that prevailed in seven of the 10 presidential elections between 1968 and 2004 was fragile. The party's policies did not benefit their working class voters. To keep these voters in the fold, they stoked their fears with reckless speeches insulting to Blacks, Hispanics and other minorities.

In 1988, Lee Atwater, on behalf of George H.W. Bush, recklessly exploited racial fears with the Willie Horton ad. Newt Gingrich and Frank Luntz recklessly exploited fears over gun safety in 1994, and Karl Rove, on behalf of George W. Bush, recklessly exploited fears of marriage equality in 2004.

From the Reagan Administration through the second Bush Administration, incomes and wealth increased dramatically for those at the top of the economic spectrum, but flattened for everyone else. And in September 2008, the economy crashed, jettisoning 800,000 jobs a month.

The night before President Obama's inauguration in January 2009, Republican officials and operatives met over dinner and doubled down on their feckless trickle-down fantasy, and recklessly plotted to block the new president at every turn, regardless of the merit of his proposals or the consequences to our nation's welfare.

Republican obstructionism reached the peak of its recklessness on the issue of the Affordable Care Act, an act modeled after the state of Massachusetts' health plan, a plan proposed by their 2012 nominee, Mitt Romney. It included an individual mandate, which originated with the conservative Heritage Foundation and was supported in the 1990s by Republicans, including Newt Gingrich. But if Barack Obama supported something, Republicans had to oppose it, and have done so in recklessly apocalyptic terms.

When Republicans took control of the House of Representatives in 2011, they failed to offer anything but more feckless trickle-down doggerel and reckless demonization of President Obama. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell frankly admitted that Republicans' main goal was to make President Obama a one-term president. And when that failed, they recklessly shut down the government.

Donald Trump's Republican primary campaign was successful for several reasons, most attributable to his feckless proposals and reckless rhetoric. First, Trump more effectively unleashed the rage that Republicans before him ignited and inflamed, although several of his 16 primary opponents tried. For example, Jeb Bush advocated religious discrimination against Syrian refugees, Ben Carson compared the Affordable Care Act to slavery, Marco Rubio accused President Obama of intentionally trying to weaken the United States, and Ted Cruz ostracized transgender Americans.

Trump's success also came in part because he aggressively acknowledged the failure of the Republican establishment to improve the lives of their lower-income voters. None of his opponents who were also elected officials could make this case because they bore responsibility for those failures. Although Trump was able to identify and benefit from the problem, he has not offered any substantive solutions. The proposals he has put forth are substantively feckless and dangerously reckless.

One would have thought that Congressional Republicans would reject Trump's recklessness, but unfortunately, they are embracing him. Hopefully voters at large will not allow Trump's divisive policies and hackneyed rhetoric to find solace in decries of political correctness.