Flatiron Hot! Pundit: 5 Reasons GOP is to Blame for Donald Trump
- Eric Shapiro
- On November 23, 2016
In the final days of the presidential campaign, pundits and politicians alike went out of their way to distinguish Trump from the Republican presidential nominees of elections past. Trump, the reasoning went, was an overt bigot who shattered age-old political norms in his narcissistic quest to attain an office he was not remotely qualified to hold. Republicans of yesteryear, on the other hand, were dignified statesman operating in a noble realm of ideas. President Obama himself made a version of this argument, crediting John McCain and Mitt Romney for, well, not being as unqualified as Donald Trump. If this sounds like faint praise, that’s because it is.
Historians examining the early 21st century probably won’t let pre-Trump Republican presidential and vice presidential hopefuls off the hook. The truth is, while George W. Bush, John McCain, Mitt Romney and their running mates might not have been as dangerous as our current president-elect, they set precedents and started trends, in terms of both policy and rhetoric, that Donald Trump simply took a little bit (okay, sometimes a lot) farther. While past top-of-ticket Republicans largely paid deference to democratic and Constitutional norms, they helped bring about a political moment in which someone not dedicated to said norms could find a plausible path to power. And now, Trump is in a position to expand on all the worst instincts of his predecessors. Think I’m not being fair to Bush, McCain, Romney and company? Here are some key examples of policies and rhetoric on the part of top Republicans foreshadowing Donald Trump (I’ll save the even worse transgressions of congressional Republicans for another post).
George W. Bush Defends Waterboarding
For all his holier-than-thou rhetoric and lecturing of other countries, George W. Bush singularly diminished America’s moral stature by presiding over the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. Bush personally defended water boarding, an “enhanced interrogation method” in which detainees are made to feel like they are drowning, among a number of similarly repugnant techniques of demonstrably dubious intelligence value. The Bush Justice Department devised thin legal pretexts for “enhanced interrogation” that the Senate intelligence committee and countless legal experts would later reject. Trump, on the other hand, feels that water boarding doesn’t go far enough: [quote]. Thanks to George W. Bush, President Trump, a man even less constrained by basic morality than the last Republican president, will have a precedent to torture detainees beyond his wildest dreams.
John McCain: “Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran”
Despite having a reputation for bipartisanship and reasonableness on some issues, Senator John McCain has always been a steadfast hawk. He has consistently called for military action against Iran, even going so far as to joke about bombing the Islamic Republic during his 2008 presidential run. That such an action would likely result in a huge war with high costs in blood and treasure did not seem to deter McCain, nor does it deter Trump from threatening to “rip up” the deal that has prevented Iran from building nuclear weapons since President Obama was able to shepherd it through Congress in 2015. Thanks to McCain and other GOP hawks like his erstwhile companion Lindsay Graham (R-SC), Trump has ample pretext to take positions on Iran that could, deliberately or otherwise, lead to another prolonged military conflict in the Middle East.
Sarah Palin’s Right-Wing Populism
In many ways, Sarah Palin was a political blueprint for Donald Trump. Despite hailing from a much different background (Palin had lived in and served as governor of Alaska, quite different from Trump’s New York City), the elements of Palin’s right-wing populist appeal foreshadowed Trump’s. Both were skilled demagogues, drawing on anti-intellectual, anti-elite and anti-establishment sentiment and making use of folksy rhetoric. Both “outsiders” directed their appeal to “real (read: white) Americans,” making use of thinly-veiled racist code to play on the resentments and bigotry of their supporters. And, perhaps most importantly, Trump’s and Palin’s aversion to expertise and intellectual pursuits as basic as reading the news rendered them utterly unqualified to serve as Vice President or President. Alas, rather than striving to mitigate their lack of experience with diligent research and conferring with experts, Palin and Trump held in their ignorance about government/public policy as a point of pride. It is no wonder that Sarah Palin provided a crucial endorsement for Trump early on in the 2016 Republican Presidential primary campaign.
Mitt Romney’s Call for Self-Deportation
In the 2012 Republican Presidential primary, facing persistent challenges from the right, Mitt Romney famously called on millions of undocumented to self-deport (despite employing several himself). While his rhetoric is relatively mild compared to that of Trump, cloaked in a sickening sheen of false compassion and legalism, the implications of his words were quite clear. Mitt Romney escalated the war on undocumented immigrants, providing political cover for racist, xenophobic Republicans who would not be so polite about calling for the mass deportation of millions of undocumented Americans from the country regardless of the circumstances of their arrival or the conditions they would be forced to endure if they returned to their native countries.
Paul Ryan’s Budget
Because Paul Ryan’s budget is quite complicated and the Speaker persistently refuses to acknowledge or address its most controversial elements in interviews, I’ll post a written explanation instead of a video clip. Suffice to say, Ryan’s budget, which Trump is eager to pass, is a reactionary nightmare, a supply sider’s dream (tax cuts for the rich) and a Randian vision (spending cuts that would eviscerate the social safety net.) Because Trump shows so little interest in policy, much of “his” legislative agenda will actually derive from Paul Ryan, to the detriment of all Americans, particularly the poor and disabled.
In light of all these awful precedents set by influential Republicans, is it really so shocking that a figure like Donald Trump could emerge to lead the GOP?
Reprinted by Special Arrangement and with the permission of Just Off Kilter Blog.
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