GOP in civil war with itself as Donald Trump makes strides in ‘hostile takeover’ of Lincoln’s party, writes Francis A Kornegay Jr
THIS party does not prey on people’s prejudices. We appeal to their highest ideals. This is the party of Lincoln." So spoke House majority leader Paul Ryan after Republican frontrunner Donald Trump failed to disavow former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke on his way to his coronation as the party’s standard bearer against Hillary Clinton and the Democrats in November.
Now the Grand Old Party (GOP) is in civil war with itself after former nominee Mitt Romney recently threw down the establishment’s gauntlet against Trump’s "hostile takeover" of Lincoln’s party.
Ryan’s frantic declaration came as news to many who have tracked the Republican party’s unending racist journey to the ultra-reactionary right since being taken over by Barry Goldwater in 1964 before heading to the presidential election victory of Richard Nixon in 1968. Victory was based on "Tricky Dick’s" cynical discovery of the so-called Southern Strategy; named for exploiting the southern white backlash against President Lyndon Johnson’s championing of the civil rights movement with passage of the civil rights and voting rights bill of 1964-1965.
Presciently, Johnson predicted Democrats were committing political suicide in Dixie. Now, after decades of riding white backlashes, driving working-class "divide-and-rule" wedges in the electorate, Republicans, alarmed over The Donald’s victory momentum, have suddenly rediscovered how the party was founded on the "highest ideals" of the martyred Great Emancipator, who drove southern racial slavery to military defeat in 1865.
One wonders if "appealing to their highest ideals" means Ryan is ready to do a Johnson and champion passage of a new voting rights act restoring protections, eviscerated in decisions by a Republican-controlled Supreme Court, that have paved the way for minority voter suppression throughout GOP-controlled state legislatures.
Thanks to "take-no-prisoner" Trump in Republican primaries, the white backlash has finally turned on its manipulators in a class-based blowback against the very plutocracy benefiting from the cynical racial divisions stoked over the past 50 years.
The thing is, in denial they thought the election of Barack Obama as the US’s first black president was a fluke, even though it revealed a potentially revolutionary demographic majority-minority, gender and intergenerational shift in the electorate. In the process, they brought the demagogic rise of Trump on themselves: the plutocratic Tarzan of America’s white proletariat.
In contemplating defeat at the polls in November, various pundits predict the GOP could be shattered for years to come, perhaps even losing its majority in the Senate if not in the House of Representatives as well. Whether this would mean the GOP fracturing into two parties — an establishment conservative versus a populist reactionary one — or into pronounced factions, remains to be seen as the party will have to finally sort out its class contradictions while rethinking a "culture war" message combined with an ideological cocktail: antigovernment austerity, tax cuts for the rich, military-industrial budget-busting amid evisceration of the social safety net, belligerently unilateralist isolationism in foreign policy accompanied by antitrade protectionism, anti-immigrant nativist racism and God knows what else in an almost endless agenda of negativity, gloom and doom under the guise of "taking America back" and making it "great again".
The irony in wanting to "make America great again" is how the globally negative fallout in reaction to Trump may already be rolling back the respect for the US Obama has managed to restore by overcoming the anti-Americanism generated by former president George W Bush’s unilateralism.
The prospect of a President Trump is universally frightening. Yet Obama’s efforts, through his preference for diplomacy over military interventionism and coercion, to steer US grand strategy away from geopolitics and onto a geoeconomic course that reinforces "nation-building at home" instead of overseas adventures risking "imperial overstretch", are little understood.
Obama, much to his detriment, has done little or nothing to generate an informed conversation within the Democratic Party and the nation at large regarding his Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partner initiatives.
In global geostrategic economic terms, both initiatives would reorientate the global economy away from its current west-to-east gravitational pull towards a more Americo-centric configuration. Obama’s opening to Cuba, where he pays an historic visit this month, should also be seen in this light. An eventual ending of Washington’s embargo against Cuba will open the way towards revisiting Bill Clinton’s Free Trade Area of the Americas in as much as a Latin American "Pacific alliance" is already plugged into the Asia-Pacific TPP.
The rise of Trump on the right and Bernie Sanders’s challenge to former president Hillary Clinton on the left, are partly reflections of protectionist reactions against neoliberal globalisation’s negative effect on the fortunes of embattled working-and middle-class families in the absence of offsetting protections and employment-generating strategies. This is where class contradictions within the Republican party are coming to the fore via the Trump challenge; the tax cuts for the rich, antigovernment spending plutocracy that has orchestrated GOP opposition to post-2008 fiscal stimulus that would help less well-off members of the party’s constituency, are now up against a middle-working-class revolt. Trump is their main man.
But these same sentiments resonate within the Democratic party’s middle-working-class constituency and among younger voters confronting expensive higher education. Hence, the midwestern "Rust Belt" is now in play given Sanders’s upset of Clinton in Michigan. The same dynamics shattering the GOP push Democrats further left; they may pick up both Trump and Sanders’s voters in November, especially if Sanders is Clinton’s running mate.
Obama’s big mistake (maybe unavoidable) was his failure to prioritise a national infrastructure bank as the strategic centrepiece responding to the recession.
Perhaps political capital required and spent on the Affordable Care Act ruled out such a fiscal stimulus strategy, thus forcing reliance on Federal Reserve monetary stimulus, making for what has been a largely anaemic recovery.
Here it needs remembering that Obama had barely been inaugurated in 2009, when Republicans voiced their number one goal: making Obama a one-term president. Stagnating white middle-and working-class families have not felt the effect of this recovery sufficiently to assuage anger caused by the polarising dysfunction of a political establishment they little understand, but by which they feel betrayed and manipulated.
This explains the populist backlash now tearing apart a Republican party that long ago betrayed a Lincoln heritage it is now forced to rediscover while making Democrats the safe haven of blacks and other minorities, who are now coming into parity with a declining conservative white vote, to the GOP’s disadvantage.
Hence Ryan’s Trump-induced panic: "This party does not prey on people’s prejudices. We appeal to their highest ideals. This is the party of Lincoln."
Kornegay is a senior fellow analyst with the Institute for Global Dialogue