Trump Brand Republicans

The Republican convention recently concluded with Donald J Trump accepting his party’s nomination for president. Featuring marginal politicians, unemployed athletes and a roster of forgotten celebrities, including 1980s Tiger Beat mainstays Scott Baio and Antonio Sabato Jr, the event truly had it all.  Lucifer himself made an appearance (Ted Cruz), although he was denounced for not endorsing Mr Trump and summarily booed off stage.  Truly exciting times for the party.

Many Republicans feel usurped, disillusioned and betrayed.  Introspection after 2012 losses, featuring words like inclusion, diversity and tolerance as a path forward, have been replaced by chants of building walls, deportations and divisiveness.  With renewed attention and focus on party positions, it is only fitting to evaluate the Trump brand of Republicanism juxtaposed against historical contexts.

In the presidential election of 1964, Lyndon B. Johnson routed Barry Goldwater.  Republican Barry Goldwater, then considered on the far right by his primary challenger Nelson Rockefeller, won six states.  Only his home state and five others in the Deep South, until then traditionally democratic, supported Goldwater in protest of LBJ and The Civil Rights Act.  Fast-forward to 1972, Richard Nixon, a Republican, won 49 of 50 sates.  How did Republicans manage to go from one of the largest loses in electoral history to a resounding victory in eight short years?  They began speaking in code.

Designated the pejorative “Dog whistle politics”, a code word or words are used to conjure desired imagery by the candidate among constituents.  Nixon strategist Lee Atwater explains, “You start out in 1954 by saying, Ni***r, Ni***r, Ni***r. By 1968 you can’t say Ni***r — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites.”

In 1994, Dan Baum interviewed John Ehrlichman, a Watergate co-conspirator during Nixon.  Ehrlichman revealed the following:

The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.

From the drug war to capital punishment, tax cuts to Supreme Court nominations, the platform took shape.  Reagan spoke of Welfare Queens and strapping young bucks, H. W. Bush favored harsh sentencing and the death penalty, W. Bush sought constructionist judges and Mitt Romney spoke of the taker class.  Along the way, opposing gun control, gay rights and abortion, favoring prayer in school or supporting the troops were added to the cipher.  Trump has merely decoded the language, favoring a megaphone over a whistle.

An outspoken birther long before declaring his candidacy, Trump questioned Obama’s birthplace and religious affiliation.  His voice grew louder, entering the campaign with a thunderous declaration of criminals breaching our boarders, foreign goods infiltrating our ports and a system supporting both, pillaging America.  Trump pushed traditional positions to an extreme, ending gun free zones, gay rights to be decided by states, abortion bans, even claiming religious persecution for his “Christian values”.  Once reserved to back rooms or focus groups, the message was on full display, for all to hear.

Outraged Republicans would be better served evaluating a legacy of racism, bigotry and xenophobia.  During the presidential primary of 2000, George W Bush ran a whisper campaign in South Carolina, asking voters, “Would you be more likely, or less likely to vote for John McCain if you knew that he fathered an illegitimate black child?”  The child in question was his legitimate daughter, adopted from Bangladesh.  McCain would lose the South Carolina primary and the nomination.

In Donald Trump, the base found a candidate willing to not only concur, but, trump such assertions.  Questioning Obama’s place of birth, his religion, even inferring our president is a terrorist sympathizer, all of this is learned behavior from failures or successes of recent candidates.  His language has also become somewhat refined, recently adopting the coded language approach.

He has dubbed himself the, “Law and order candidate” referring to the country as, “A divided crime scene”.  These statements minimize the serious issues of discrimination and brutality while positioning anyone opposing Trump as lawless or criminal.  Perhaps Trump is tempering his rhetoric to appear presidential.

Republicans must realize seeds planted decades ago are now fully formed trees.  Uprooting them will not be a simple process.  Should Republicans lose the general election, a prospect growing in likeliness, immediate reformation is mandatory.  Perhaps an epic loss, reminiscent of Goldwater, will give way to a rebound, sans the detestable, insidious, hate speech.  Then and only then will someone be taken seriously when referring to Republicans as the party of Lincoln.

Dr. Bashar Salame is an award winning author and healthcare provider in private practice for fifteen years. Read other articles by Bashar.