By Peter Horn
The shock and horror gripping the GOP establishment at the rise of Donald Trump is at best disingenuous, for he is a monster of their own creation. It’s not the mere existence of Trump that should have party brass worried though, it’s the fragmentation of their voter base—a large portion of which aligns themselves with Trump’s cheap brand of nationalistic ethnocentrism—and, possibly more troubling still, that portion’s rejection of traditional conservative economic ideals. And they have only themselves to blame.
For years, the GOP nucleus has been steadily drifting right, driven by a confluence of factors: the rise of the Tea Party and the expanding influence of special interest-funded political infrastructure that punishes party-line dissent, a movement away from policy-based solutions and bipartisan compromise in favor of explicit anti-Obama obstructionism, increasingly harsh stances towards immigrants, increasingly hostile anti-Muslim rhetoric and a 24-hour news engine that promotes an “us versus them” extremist mentality using fear-mongering and hyperbole.
For the most part, Republicans bought into this movement. As Obama ascended into the nation’s highest office, they looked around and what they saw terrified them: demographic shifts molding the country into one that was less white, less religious, more socially progressive. A country that looked less and less like the face in the mirror. Obama to them personified this dangerous shift, so rather than adapt to a changing demographic, the party doubled down and veered right, as “us versus them” became “us versus him.”
Meanwhile, in the face of powerful macroeconomic forces such as globalization and the automation of lower skilled jobs, a portion of the party’s voter base began to diverge on economic issues as conservative economic theory came home to roost in the form of lost middle-class jobs and a widening income inequality gap. The GOP’s failure to acknowledge and adapt to this divergence has much to do with the rise of Donald Trump. What’s truly amazing though is not that this split occurred, it’s that it took this long.
The Great Blue Collar Misdirection went something like this: convince low-income, under-educated voters to support GOP candidates promoting economic policy that runs counter to these voters’ best interests using a smokescreen of social conservatism, the “protection” of their Judeo-Christian beliefs and the myth of trickle-down economics.
And the ploy worked. For decades, the portion of the Republican voter base who would directly benefit from increased funding to social assistance programs and a progressive tax structure voted for candidates who advocated cutting these social programs, whose tax plans catered to big business and the ultra-wealthy and whose free market trade policies further endangered their low-skilled jobs. This degree of blind voter deference caused Republican leadership to grow complacent. Surely they observed this disconnect, but what were these blue collar conservatives going to do? Vote Democrat?
In steps Trump. Weaving together the effective elements from the modern GOP blueprint—anti-immigration, anti-Muslim, anti-climate change… anti-Obama—with a heavy dose of trade protectionism (a longtime Republican anathema), Trump was able to connect with the GOP’s disaffected blue collar base in a way no candidate has in recent history.
In an ironic twist of fate, it was the fraudster himself that revealed the grander fraud. And this revelation, that traditional party doctrines don’t necessarily reflect the interests of the party’s base, has turned the GOP on its head, leaving establishment figures scrambling for an explanation, or better yet, a scapegoat.
As party leaders stood next to a mound of smoldering ashes holding an empty gasoline can, wondering why the fireworks show went so horribly wrong, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell proudly announced that the Senate Judiciary Committee would refuse to hold hearings on any Supreme Court nominees put forth by Obama. Rewind three months and Jeb Bush, the one-time establishment golden boy and relative moderate of the GOP primary candidates, sought to temper Trump’s anti-Muslim statements, ceding that those Syrian war refugees fleeing the horrors of ISIS “who could prove they’re Christians” should be allowed to enter the United States. Jump over to Fox News in the wake of one of our nation’s countless mass shootings and efforts related to common sense gun control legislation are painted as a terrorist-sympathizing Emperor in Chief’s attempt to eradicate the second amendment.
The Republican establishment has every right to be worried. The vitriol-spewing, protectionism-promoting, violence-inducing opportunist currently tightening his stranglehold on the Republican Presidential nomination is truly a monster. But they should not act surprised, for he is a monster of their very own creation.