Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Donald Trump, the Republican Party and ‘screw you’ politics

If the national Republican Party isn’t feeling the heat now, it should be.

With tycoon Donald Trump far and away the leader for the party’s nomination for president but seen as a drag on the party overall, more than a few GOP “establishment” figures have expressed horror that he might actually win. They believe that Trump’s bellicose rhetoric, most notoriously suggesting that Muslims not be allowed to emigrate here thanks to fears of terrorism, possibly has the potential to scare voters off the GOP, even in Congress. They may be right about that.

Here’s the problem, however: If that happens, the party — or perhaps more accurately, the conservatism that dominates it — has only itself to blame.

How so? Well, consider what I refer as the “screw you” — more accurately, a more vulgar term I as a Christian no longer use — mentality in politics where an opponent is considered not only wrong but fundamentally evil and not worth even having a discussion with.

It’s probably not new in American history, but I first noticed it coming into being with the “religious right” in the 1980s, with its talk of defeating “liberals.” Later came the advent of right-wing talk radio, which has cowed more than a few politicians because of the vehemence its hosts display on the air — and translating that to its extremely loyal audiences. In such situations folks try to dictate rather than negotiate, almost as if defeating a perceived enemy is the highest good, when we “get rid of ‘them.’” GOP candidates for the past few decades have used that attitude to rise to power because it’s what their constituency wants.

Or at least they think it does.

See, if you’re perceived as part of an “establishment” you’re already considered part of the problem even though you may believe and say the “right” things. But the GOP base really isn’t interested in either politics or governance; it simply wants its way and considers compromise, without which you can’t run a country properly, surrender.

And that’s where Trump comes in, making those outrageous statements that nevertheless connect with voters. I won’t say that he truly believes what he’s saying, but he’s saying publicly what they believe privately, which is the secret to his appeal regardless of the facts on the ground. In other words, he doesn’t have to get it correct or even take principled positions because he understands that audience. Remember that he, not even a candidate at the time, was one of the first to question President Obama’s eligibility for the presidency in the first place.

Evangelical leaders are especially feeling threatened, with a number of them intending to meet to determine a candidate to endorse or rally around. The trouble is that they haven’t had much voice in the past decade with many of their empires crumbling due to scandal or irrelevance, and Trump has shown little if any interest in addressing cultural issues such as abortion or gay marriage as it is.

Liberals and Democrats are salivating at the idea of the possible — at this point, even likely — immolation of the GOP because might not have to do anything. “We’re not them,” they may be thinking — which is ironic, because their opponents have always thought the same way.

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