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GOP’s Populist Bloc Leading Party To Edge Of Cliff

December 8, 2015

There is no shortage of great reads tonight about the racism and bigotry that confronts the Republican Party due to the absurd words and actions of Donald Trump–a man the GOP helped create.

One of the better articles about the anti-Muslim remarks of Trump come from The Atlantic.

Prior to Monday’s announcement, it was already abundantly clear what Trump was getting at with his explicitly anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant rhetoric. At the rally I attended in Myrtle Beach, which drew more than 10,000 people—and which occurred prior to last week’s shooting in San Bernardino—I met plenty of people like Parker, who had driven eight hours, with several family members, to attend the event. In his speech that night, Trump said, “Radical Islamic terrorists. Obama refuses to use the word. He refuses to say it, he can’t say it. There’s something going on, I don’t know what it is.” Several attendees could be heard to shout, “He’s a Muslim!” or “He’s one of them!”

So Trump was already openly preaching paranoid nativism. But by putting it in writing, as a formal policy proposal, he has upped the ante. This isn’t an implication, a tossed-off musing, or a dog whistle anymore; this is what he is running on.

The fact is the GOP over the past seven years has not stood up and repudiated the racism that clearly exists from within elements of their party.  They have not spoken loud and clear.  They have tolerated and even encouraged the dog whistles of racism. 

Back in August, the conservative writer Ben Domenech asked, in a prescient essay, “Are Republicans for freedom or white identity politics?” Trump, he said, threatened to reorient the GOP away from ideological conservatism, along the lines of right-wing European political movements. The divide within the GOP has long been described as the “establishment”—power brokers, donors, elected officials, consultants—versus the “conservative base.” But it’s increasingly clear there are two separate conservative bases within the GOP.

There’s the intellectual conservative movement, a decades-long project of institutional actors like the Heritage Foundation and the American Conservative Union, which seeks to push the party toward strict adherence with a set of ideas about limited government, strong national defense, and the traditional family. And then there is the populist, nativist strain, which isn’t really about ideas so much as a raw appeal to emotion. Trump’s dominance of the primary field is forcing the party to confront a frightening prospect: that the populist bloc may be the bigger of the two.

And the GOP establishment knows that is not a winning formula for national elections.

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