What Happened To Republican Party? How Conservative Movement, White Resentments Impacted United States, Rick Perlstein Books Must-Reads

In 2008 I tried to understand, as best as I could, what drove the intense hatred during the presidential election from conservative Republicans toward Barack Obama.  For a very large segment of the nation, the nomination and then election of the first Black American to the Oval Office was uplifting, reminding all about the national ideals as our better angels secured another victory.

But as I read and heard the voices from the far-right it became apparent to me that a sizable segment of the conservative movement could not at all compute how the nation had elevated a Black person to the highest office in the land. The intensity of the conservative reaction to President Obama taking over the levers of power in the White House was the result of decades of social advancements and policy moves in the United States that had the right-wing feeling—in their minds—somehow marginalized.

Fast forward to 2015 and the words from Donald Trump during an ABC News phone interview stating he did not owe Senator John McCain an apology for saying on-stage in Iowa the previous day that the former Vietnam War POW “is not a war hero … I like people that weren’t captured, OK?”

Coming from the home of a WWII veteran, having worked for many years in various political activities, and having watched decades of elections come and go made me most certain, due to those words, that Trump’s campaign for the White House was over.  I wrote on this blog that “there is one thing that I feel most confident about and that is the fallout will take Donald Trump and flush him out of the presidential race”.

I could not imagine that all the sensibilities that had been wedded to the American mindset when it came to our politics would no longer apply.  I could not imagine that the conservative values about our military members would just evaporate when it came to POWs.  Boy, was I wrong!  (I do not believe I have been so wrong about anything so fundamental in our nation before or since.) 

So how does one explain what happened to the Republican Party and how did the conservative movement secure itself so strongly and willingly to racism, Trump’s Islamophobia, along with recent political attacks on transgender people, while embracing all-out conspiracy theories? 

Since Inauguration Day 2017 I have been on a quest to better understand what happened to the Republican Party and how it morphed into what we witness today. The need to know is important as what is happening directly impacts our democracy.

I expressed my purpose online and was steered by a Facebook friend to read the works of Rick Perlstein.  To know where we landed politically requires knowing how the conservative movement started. Before we can discuss the current claims that the 2020 presidential election was not ‘legitimate’, we need to traverse through the world of Nixon who unabashedly played on the resentments of white middle-class Americans.  We need to step back from the travel bans during Trump’s administration and examine the racial chords being struck in 1968 during a heated presidential season. And again in 1980.

To see forward, we must know from whence we came. As a lover of history and well-researched and powerfully written narratives, I believe these books are nothing short of masterful.  I have read two of the four, and today the first volume, Before the Storm landed on my front stoop.  I await the journey into the pages.

With awards aplenty and critical acclaim from all points of the political spectrum, Perlstein writes dense and vivid accounts of the decades in American politics that have greatly impacted our nation. I can attest that one only needs a love of history to turn the pages. 

Ronald Reagan’s Republican Party Is Dead, Florida’s Ron DeSantis Proves it

Republicans in Florida have demonstrated how adrift they are from prudent policies and how overly sensitive they are to the public disagreement of their wayward march to the farther reaches of the right-wing. In a blow to the legitimate rights of a business to conduct itself in a fashion deemed reasonable and wise, the GOP tossed aside their talking points about nurturing free enterprise and opted for the heavy of government.

Playing all-out to the culture warriors the Republican Party forgets it is the economic policies that most attract middle-line voters. For instance, President Reagan mouthed words about abortion, knowing he could use that segment of the party to support his real mission dealing with tax cuts and a dense build-up. Reagan would never have tossed all his chips into the loony bin of the party.

By neglecting the fact our calendars clearly state we live in the 21st century the Florida House voted to revoke Disney World’s designation as a special tax district. (The Senate took similar action the day prior.) A taxing structure–mind you–that has existed for 55 years. The business-friendly move a half-century ago gave license to the company to self-govern its 25,000-acre theme park complex. The reason for the current public tantrum from Republicans was the audacity of Disney to speak its mind as a business against the “Don’t Say Gay” bill/law.

Flordia Governor Ron DeSantis will sign the now-passed measure without any sense of shame. After all, since the national party abandoned free trade, and international alliances, and invited Donald Trump into their ranks what remains of their principle and character? This absurd comedy from DeSantis and his crowd is clearly retaliatory against Disney, the state’s largest private employer, with nearly 80,000 jobs.

I readily admit there is a large swath of the base of the Republican Party that cheers on such nonsense and the demographics prove why that is not a shock. But the rest of us look with genuine bafflement at the continual slide of the GOP with their ever-growing eagerness to mount culture wars, riding them backwards in time, as the nation moves forward.

It would be of interest to hear the inside chatter among Republican big-money donors. Since the principle of the GOP is not aimed to raise taxes on large corporations, and since, Disney ranks as one of the world’s biggest, how does the removal of this preferential tax status equate? For rational minds in the GOP, it does not.

As such, it now can be said that the Republican Party of Ronald Reagan is dead.

While the GOP loves to cozy up with the Second Amendment they usually flail about when dealing with the First Amendment. As with Disney having a right to say whatever they wish.

And able to do so without retaliation from the government.

Another matter which Reagan would agree with, as he would abhor this power play from the government.

But today’s Republican Party is more wedded to beating their drums against gay people and stirring the pot needlessly about critical race theory than contemplating actual policy ideas for a new generation of voters. Young voters are obviously living in a diverse environment and are not interested in the culture wars the GOP uses for the diminishing segment of white male voters.

And so it goes.

Donald Trump Refused To Condemn Putin In Fox News Interview–Ronald Reagan Would Not Recognize Today’s GOP

During a call-in interview on Fox News Wednesday night, Donald Trump would not condemn Vladimir Putin’s actions in Ukraine. Simply disgusting and morally vacuous. This is just the latest example of the fusion between Putin’s backside and Trump’s face.

Sean Hannity simply asked Trump “If the Russian attacks on Ukraine amount to evil in our time?”. What followed was a most tortured, absurd, illogical, and bone-headed response. Take a look at this transcript of the interview if you can bear to do it. It is seriously painful.

“Morning in America,” was the theme of the Republican Party under the leadership of Ronald Reagan. Today conservatives wallow with Trump in their muddy twilight while too many of them have no sense of history, facts, or sadly, even common sense. Proof of that is the lack of Trump’s fellow Republicans who will not respond today because they don’t want to antagonize his angry white male constituency.

But, then, this is also the same party where more sitting GOP congressmen voted not to certify the 2020 election than those who voted for a resolution to support NATO.

On Morning Joe, the panel weighed into Trump’s “grotesque” behavior last night. It is worthy of a listen.

And so it goes.

Ronald Reagan’s Patriotism No Longer Part Of Republican Party

As we approach the first anniversary of the insurrection and rioting at the United States Capitol, which was fomented by Donald Trump and his strategists and carried out by his thuggish supporters, I thought about another political event from the Republican Party.

Though it occurred in 1980 and was vastly different from the January 6, 2021 events of death, bloodshed, and attacks on law enforcement shown on national television, it does lend itself to better understanding the gravity of the situation today. Our democracy is under attack.

I recall the excitement from July 1980 when CBS’ Walter Cronkite interviewed former President Gerald Ford. There was an electrifying buzz that reached from the convention hall to the home in Hancock where I was thrilled by the unfolding political drama. It was broadly speculated that Ronald Reagan had selected Ford as his vice-presidential running mate. The constitutional questions were talked about among correspondents and guests concerning Ford reportedly wanting more authority than any other vice president had ever been given.

That episode remains the most exciting convention moment of my life, which also underscores the diminishing role such gatherings play in the presidential nomination process.

That memory, however, also serves as a reminder of what the Republican Party once was, the timber of the people center stage who wished to serve and be elected. No one doubted the patriotic mindset of Reagan, the moderate and process-minded character of Ford. So much since then has changed in the Republican Party that it now can be reported with a vivid image of what that party now represents.

This is how The Economist framed the issue.

The Republican Party has been consumed by grievance politics–recall how conservatives once used that term on liberals and swore to be above such behavior? The modern GOP also has proven to have a stunning degree of swallowing capacity for conspiracy theories.

True to form they have continued to attack Jews, be it George Soros or an outlandish notion of space lasers used by Jews to start forest fires. In the process, the party has catered to a base of voters not concerned with institutional norms, and let’s be frank, not the ones completing the reading assignments in civics or history classes.

The issue at hand, the survival of our democracy, should not be a partisan contest. Tax policy, education funding, and transportation infrastructure can and should create partisan coalitions. But the procedure for counting Electoral College votes, the availability of places to cast a ballot without undue burdens, the need for an end to gerrymandered political districts, and not placing in statutes undemocratic restrictions to fundamental rights should all be broadly accepted.

But, as we sadly are all too aware, they are not.

The Big Lie about a ‘stolen election’ that Trump spawned and continues to repeat has found a wide range of converts within the GOP. The threat of more violence in the years ahead from those who might lose an election is a very plausible possibility. Especially, if the laws and penalties for taking such actions, like that occurring almost a year ago, are not put into effect.

There was plenty of room to argue with Reagan in the 1980s over policy moves regarding unions, tax cuts, and massive defense spending. But no one doubted for a nanosecond that Reagan was not immersed in the love of country and abiding faith in democracy. When was the first time anyone accused Trump of being like-minded?

Today, the Republican Party has reversed course on many philosophical underpinnings that were at their core (free trade and international alliances), and instead openly and deeply embraces an autocrat who shuns morals and openly cheats and lies. How far removed the Republican Party is from the days of Ronald Reagan.

Let us be honest, Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford would find it hard to even be elected delegates to a national Republican convention today. Much less be national nominees.

And so it goes.

Death Of George Schultz Underscores What GOP Has Lost

With the death of George Schultz this week we all think back to the days when James Baker and Jean Kirkpatrick formulated policy and wise political minds such as Ed Meese, Mike Deaver, and other notables made the gears of a Republican White House turn (at most times) like a well-oiled machine. Watching the Republicans operate in the past five years, as opposed to what watchers of politics know to be possible, makes current events even stranger. And very sad.

I looked back on the photos of the former long-serving secretary of state, but as I flipped among the many offerings on Google it became more and more clear that the death of Schultz was not the main story. Instead for me, the fall of a once-proud party was what stood out, as there is no way to compare only recent decades with current events and not feel and see the truth.

Schultz was an intelligent man. One did not need to agree with each policy move or pronouncement to know this guy had what I like to term gravitas. It has become a far rarer commodity among the recent top names who have captured the GOP. That caliber of leadership and effort to aim for the greater outcomes made him stand out from the mere partisan rabble.

He was, in many ways, a thinker about policy and the future needs of the nation. Not for the next mid-terms but the long term. The reason President Reagan had a chance to move the dime with Russian relations was due to Schultz’s adroit handling of issues–and people. He played a cerebral game.

So as I spent some time on a mighty cold Sunday looking at old pictures it just seemed hard to not also linger over the recent splits, cliques, and nearing implosion of what once was rightly termed the Grand Ole Party.  What I am most interested in following over the recent years—-even though the raging lunatics are hard to take my eyes away from—is that Republicans are seeming not to care at all, or elevate their thinking, so to register what the party needs to be focused on ‘after tomorrow’.

The think tanks of the past which generated ideas or the lofty minds such as Jack Kemp, for example, who pondered housing for inner-city low-income earners are just not working for the party. There is nothing akin to that in today’s GOP. There is no calibrating the party to consider anything other than the partisan red-meat moments in which they willingly wallow.

So as I looked at the photographs of Schultz, Reagan, Baker, and the many others who once dominated the GOP the headlines in the newspapers are of Greene, Trump, Graham, and McCarthy.

How far adrift the Republican Party is from its storied history. That is what just confounds me when thinking about this moment and that party.

Endorsement: Joe Biden, As Character Matters

Every four years Caffeinated Politics has made an endorsement for president. Each of the past four elections my sentiments were sincere, and the policy highlighted met with the needs of the time. This year I again make my call for president, but the issue driving my reasoning is by far the most important of my lifetime. That is because presidential character is on the ballot. This is the one election in our lifetime we absolutely must get correct.

The continuous bombast, crudeness, and reckless behavior from Donald Trump over the past four years were far more than this nation should have had to endure. It was due to his rants and childish ways that I retreated during a portion of each day to read history. I simply sought refuge from his self-generated chaos. But the reading always underscored the stark differences about leadership, decency, and virtue from the past as opposed to the sad reality of Trump.

Earlier this year I read the 1912 nomination speech from Warren G, Harding, then an Ohio newspaper editor, for President William Taft at the Republican Convention. The following portion showcases one of those moments of the stark contrast between then and now.

The nomination speech declared that Taft was “as wise and patient as Abraham Lincoln, as modest and dauntless as Ulysses S. Grant, as temperate and peace-loving as Rutherford B. Hayes, as patriotic and intellectual as James A. Garfield, as courtly and generous as Chester A. Arthur, as learned in the law as Benjamin Harrison, as sympathetic and brave as William McKinley……”

No honest person in the Republican Party today could pen a similar type of statement about Trump. No one in the future will wish to have their political career attached to Trump. Character, after all, is not a word that anyone can employ in a favorable way towards Trump.

We have always had a president in our nation who was able to show empathy and use words from the office to bring a nation together during times of crisis.  That quality of a president has never, perhaps, been understood more clearly than now when we view its glaring absence.

I was on-air at WDOR the night President Reagan spoke to the nation following the horrific explosion of Space Shuttle Challenger. In my lifetime there is perhaps no other speech that so clearly demonstrates the role of a president at times of national crisis, or the heights of rhetorical balm that can come with the office.  I sat in the broadcast studio and was moved to tears.  Contrast national moments such as that one to the current occupant in the White House who continually stokes words to further the anger and resentments of people for partisan advantage.

Two episodes ring out that clearly demonstrate Trump’s lack of a sound character being most obvious, and troubling.  During the 2016 campaign, he made fun of a disabled journalist.  It was a truly pathetic display. During his term in office, he made one of the most gut-wrenching displays when he showed poor behavior toward the widow of Army Sgt. La David Johnson, who was killed in Niger.  Trump failed to offer comforting words and then petulantly defended himself on Twitter.  It was almost unbearable to watch play out on the national stage.  The lack of his empathy allowed for some of his lowbrow followers to bring down a withering barrage of abuse on the grieving widow during what we all know was the worst moment of her life.

Those two examples demonstrate that Trump is not able to either resist being mean or fails to grasp the requirement of the office to lift others up when they need the nation’s support.

The episodes where a lack of character was evident are all too numerous and well-known.   Veterans will never forget when Trump showed smallness when at first he refused to keep the White House flag at half-mast to honor the late Senator John McCain. 

Character matters.  We say those words often but also take the concept for granted.  When the lack of character is so obvious and smacks at us daily, it becomes a reminder of how much this nation lost when Trump secured the votes of the Electoral College last election.

This year we must do what is right for the nation when we cast a ballot for president. We must do so for our collective national soul.

I can state upfront and with pride of being a Joe Biden guy! I have long known Biden to be a smart and capable man.   In 1987 I supported him financially when he sought the Democratic Party nomination for the White House.  One can never forget his earnestness in fighting the atrocities that were taking place in the Balkans, or his great work on the Judiciary Committee in stopping Robert Bork from getting to the Supreme Court.  His background and breadth of knowledge on international issues make him a seasoned and remarkable public servant.

I can rattle off issues that Biden supports concerning climate change or tax policy which lands at my philosophical foundation. But all that is secondary to the core need of the nation. That is to again have a leader in the White House who understands why decency and virtue are vital for the strength of our nation. That is far and above thy most important reason voters must cast a ballot for Biden.

Voters can talk about their values or religious faith, but this is the time to prove all that is more than just mere words. After all, the idea of virtue is one that requires our diligence.

The idea of virtuous people in government was not lost on the Founders. They wrote and spoke of its worthiness repeatedly. Good character matters, and as individuals, we have a role to make sure the person sitting in the Oval Office is as solid and good as the people. In our republic, we have a responsibility to promote honest leaders in office who will make wise, fact-based decisions. When they fail at that most fundamental requirement of the office the voters must hold them accountable.

There is no way to pretend there are shades of a difference this year in choice for president. And there is no way not to fully grasp the call of our civics lessons from those many years ago. There is only one choice for the nation.

Joe Biden.

Wanting “Decency To Prevail”

DecencyButton

We got one of those special cards in the mail this week from a couple of sisters who live in Minnesota.  They have resided together for years and while not having a computer did have faith that a Yo Yo Ma site they had heard about might be to our liking.  How could any site with his music be bad?

But it was the ending to the note that made me stop and read it again.  The weight of the words–that they are even needed to be written—made me stop and think.

“We continue to pray for decency to prevail in November.”

Above the fold in this morning’s Wisconsin State Journal was the top banner headline “Trump Holds To Drug Argument”.  The story reported that Trump is still promoting a malaria drug that has been proven not to be effective for those infected with COVID-19.  As the nation’s death count stands at 150,000 Americans Trump continues to press forward with outlandish statements while not putting forth any credible plan to fight the raging pandemic.

For a very wide swath of the nation, there is no other issue that is more urgent and demanding than to have a mature and reasoned person leading the nation during this medical crisis.  To see that Trump saddles up to a witchdoctor who believes that demons have sex with sleeping people, which then causes illnesses, while also claiming masks are not important for the containment of COVID is more than maddening,

It is just another sign of the lack of decency exhibited by Trump.  His lack of respectable behavior is now so common that we are searching for that very trait when it comes to our upcoming elections.

When there was a major political fight in 1980 between President Carter and Ronald Reagan the issues being debated were about economics and foreign policy.  No one doubted that Carter was a decent man, with his religious background and his solid family.  Likewise with Reagan who often seemed more of a national grandfatherly type of candidate.

So when I read the lines from the sisters praying for “decency to prevail” it really hit a note as I have long sensed that is what the nation most yearns for as we head to the election.

Our nation used to place presidents as the leading example of being a good role model.  No one can claim that about Trump.  Three wives and being a habitual liar makes him more a poster example of what we wish our nation’s children to run from.  What dad wishes his son to cheat at every aspect of life, including with multiple marriage vows?

Perhaps the never-ending series of blows from Trump feels so harsh due to our nation having, in the preceding eight years, a brilliant and empathetic president.  Or perhaps because the bulk of this nation knows from experience that old-fashioned sensibility which might be summed up with a man’s word is his bond and that a handshake means something.  And how that is all so lacking now from the leader of our nation.

No one who has any knowledge of Trump can honestly claim he has any of the decency we learned since childhood and then live out each day.   Should not the basic decency that the citizenry possesses be at least a foundation for the person who sits in the Oval Office?

“We continue to pray for decency to prevail in November.”

And so it goes.

Capitulating Conservatives

I have been pondering one of those questions that appears not to have an answer.

If we think back on the Reagan conservatives—and they were numerous– it is not hard to recall what they claimed to have stood for politically.  They were anti-red ink, for free trade, and understood the need for international alliances like NATO.  And if asked would have decried the use of troops sent into Southern states to protect civil rights marchers in the 1960s.

Speed through time to 2020 and there are scenes of federal law enforcement agents who look like soldiers in Portland, Oregon, with Donald Trump threatening to unleash thousands more in locations nationwide.   Meanwhile, too many conservatives are giddy and gleeful to watch this take place in our nation.

I can rationalize how it is nice to be among the ‘popular crowd’ in high school but does that same mentality explain the current status of conservatives in the nation who seemingly will bow to anything Trump bloviates into a microphone?  Am I to believe that small-government Reagan conservatives have now signed onto this use of force by the federal government?  Has political tribalism become so intense that long-held beliefs are shucked off like the husk from an ear of corn?

I am not making an argument about the efficacy (or not) of the use of these federal forces, but rather the acceptance by many conservatives of this expanded role. What changed to now allow for applause for this use of federal troops from a political base of the GOP long opposed to a larger foot-step from the federal government?

This weekend I read a perfectly-toned newspaper column by Dave Zweifel.  His backstory to the dangerous autocratic moves being undertaken by Trump, and endorsed by conservatives is a must-read.

It wasn’t all that long ago when the right-wing conspiracy theorists were insisting that Barack Obama was plotting to enact martial law, commandeer farm land and food supplies and lock up his political enemies in concentration camps run by the Federal Emergency Management Administration.

Fox News’ Glenn Beck and the martial arts actor Chuck Norris were all over it and thousands of their followers came to believe it was absolutely true.

Then there were the stories in 2015 that a military training exercise being planned in remote areas in Texas that included special forces like the Green Berets and Navy Seals was an elaborate plot by Obama to take over the Lone Star state.

The right-wing internet sites were filled daily with details on how Obama was going to pull off this elaborate and audacious scheme, detaining law abiding Texans in Walmart stores that had recently been closed — all part of the plot, of course. Who knew that the ultra-conservative Walton family would be in on this dirty deed?

It wasn’t just the nut cakes on the fringe who were sure this was going to happen. Polls found that a full 32% of Republicans in Texas believed the conspiracy and, just to be sure, Texas’ governor, Greg Abbot, sent his National Guard troops to keep an eye on the exercise.

We all are aware that Trump has an autocratic nature, and has continually demonstrated a lack of regard for constitutional norms.  We have also witnessed his willingness to do anything that will help him personally even when it runs counter to the needs of our nation and citizens.

What I then find so dismaying and concerning is the ‘nothing to see here’ attitude from many conservatives who are otherwise rational and seemingly patriotic.  Why are they so easily bent and misshaped into being Trump’s pawns?

It is a question that we may have to wait for historians to flesh out for us, along with so many other deviations from norms that have settled over our nation since the election of 2016.