It has been case after case of disingenuous high drama watching Paul Ryan and other members of the so-called Republican Party establishment whining and pontificating about Donald Trump not being a "real conservative" or follower of "Reaganism." The truth is that since the rise of the Christofascists and white supremacists within the GOP, the Republican Party as now personified by Trump has been the true reality, not the blather represented by bleatings about "limited government," "family values," and vigilant foreign policy. But beyond that, it is important to understand that the Republican Party of the 1970's and 1980's was actually an exception to most of the history of the GOP. A piece in Salon looks at the truth versus the fictional reality that Paul Ryan and others like to cling to. Here are article highlights:
Amid the chaos, sadness and jubilation of Donald Trump as the Republican nominee, one should remember that Trump isn’t that far from the ideology the party promoted well into the 20 century. While the much maligned Republican “establishment” and their allies in the fourth estate are to deal with the reality of Trump as nominee, the conservative insurgents of the fifth estate for a November showdown. Far , Trump is restoring it to its old precepts: nationalism, economic protectionism, and nativism.One of the most popular myths about American political history is that the Democrats and Republicans used to be opposites of one another, and sometime around 1964 they flipped. At face value, this myth makes a lot of sense. . . . But that narrative gets history badly wrong, and even romanticizes the old cosmopolitan Republican civic conservatism and elitism as a form of progressivism.
Republicans and Democrats in the past, had big tent coalitions, which have slowly been dwindling over the last few decades—but at a much faster and alarming rate among Republicans while Democrats have largely retained a strong centrist faction that retains many leadership positions inside the party. The much romanticized “liberal” Rockefeller Republicans would likely be loathed by today’s progressives due to their close connections to Wall Street, commitment to deficit reduction, and generally hawkish foreign policy even if they held progressive views on civil rights, immigration reform, and environmentalism.
Just because the Republican Party was partially founded by anti-slavery and abolitionist activists, doesn’t mean the Republicans were “liberal” in their past. The GOP’s economic program was strongly nationalistic, much like Trump’s economic nationalism he peddles today. It aimed at preserving domestic industry against foreign competition, which may have preserved working-class jobs but made the prices of goods artificially high and maintained de-facto monopolies that held complete control of American markets without the inclusion of foreign goods. According to Trump, that’s the economic policy he plans to recreate.
On trade policy, Trump would fit right in with the old Republican Party’s anti-trade protectionism which was popular well into the mid-1950s with men like Senator Robert Taft, “Mr. Republican,” from Ohio. And of course, Herbert Hoover was one of the most protectionist presidents in history—and after the Great Depression hit, his signing into law a Republican-backed protectionist bill, the Smoot-Hawley Tariff, only exacerbated the Depression. Throughout their history, Republicans have been the party of protectionism and high tariffs—and it was only after the New Deal consensus of trade liberalization that Republicans embraced the benefits of international trade.
On immigration, the Republicans of yesteryear were strongly nativist, tended to be anti-immigrant (and often anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic), and were the overseers of anti-immigrant legislation like Emergency Quota Act of 1921 (signed by President Warren G. Harding) and the Immigration Act of 1924 (signed by President Calvin Coolidge). These laws numerically limited the number of immigrants allowed in the United States and biasedly favored immigrants from Western and Northern Europe and discriminated against immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe, Latin America, and Asia. Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and prospective policies are nothing new; they have historical precedence within the history of the Republican Party. Indeed, this is the immigration policy many conservatives want: open borders for White Europeans, walls and deportation for everyone else.
However, the New Deal and the outbreaks of hostilities in Europe in 1939 also gave rise to a new breed of Republicans who can trace their lineage back to Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and the Federalist Founding Fathers. These Republicans, largely from the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, were deficit hawks, internationalists, accepting of the New Deal (some even enthusiastically supportive like La Guardia), and had largely moved away from anti-immigrant attitudes. This group of Republicans, the “eastern establishment” derided by Flyover Country conservatives like Robert Taft and later Barry Goldwater, orchestrated a modernizing and rebranding effort for the Republican Party that remained true to the tenants of fiscal conservatism and free-markets, but embraced new ideas in foreign policy, trade relations, and immigration.
These Republicans, led by figures like Henry Stimson (Roosevelt’s Secretary of War), Fiorella La Guardia, Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., Thomas Dewey, Leverett Saltonstall and later by Samuel Prescott Bush and Nelson Rockefeller, moved the Republican Party toward a direction of acceptance of the New Deal, a re-invigorated Hamiltonian internationalist foreign policy of maintaining global stability and advancing American business interests, and an openness to immigration.
From the 1940s to the 1970s, the “Me Too” Republicans helped steer the GOP away from its nativist, isolationist, and anti-immigrant attitudes that had long shaped and dominated the party. But the nomination of Barry Goldwater and the election of Ronald Reagan marked an important tipping point for the Republican modernizers.
Although media entrepreneurs like William F. Buckley Jr. and his army at National Review also helped the Republican image makeover by purging anti-Semites (like those found writing for the American Mercury) and isolationists (like the members of the John Birch Society) from the acceptable ranks of the new “movement conservatism” emerging in the 1950s . . . .
Reagan remains the ever illusive hero of Republicans. Goldwater was unable to maintain the fragile alliance between Republican modernizers and reactionaries, between the arch-conservative base and the preppy, connected, Wall Street oriented educated elite typified by men like Rockefeller whom Goldwater vilified. Reagan, it is said, struck the balance.
In Trump’s nomination, we are seeing a return of the Grand Old Party, not a demise of it. He is no Ronald Reagan, but the ghost of Republicans past. His supporters, and his rhetoric, feed into the self-victimized belief that the Republican Party was hijacked by the eastern establishment. His nomination is the culmination of an 80 year conspiracy imagined by the conservative-nationalist working class.
The modernizers who shed the shackles of nativism, insular nationalism, isolationism, and economic protectionism while retaining the creedal Republican commitment to deficit reduction, balanced budgets, and free markets mixed with a new conservative internationalism which sough global stability, were the real enemies all along. Of course, these Republicans, now a decrepit and dying species, have a certain claim to a conservative-federalist lineage too that goes even beyond the Republican Party to America’s very founding with Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and John Adams.
The venom aimed at Donald Trump by the Republican establishment and their media allies is not necessarily one of antagonism to his policies, but a venom pitted against Trump for visibly destroying what they had been working so tirelessly to build since the days of the New Deal—a remodeled, civil, and polite conservatism that hid its more crass and insular elements while promoting a policy-oriented politics. Far from being out of place, or even “destroying” the conservative movement, Donald Trump has channeled the suspicions of conservatives who had been ostracized by Republican modernizers for the last 80 years. Trump has exposed the Republican establishment as nothing more than a new makeover in an old face—and that is why they hate him.