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A historian explains why the Republican Party is dead

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The Republican Party was founded in 1854 to oppose the expansion of slavery. It has survived in philosophy and leadership over the past 165 years but now it has reached its demise under Donald Trump. While the Republican Party might still exist in name, it has lost all principle, all purpose, and all reason to exist under its present name.

The new revelations about Trump pressuring the Ukraine President to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son for corruption now have put the Republican Party on  warning.  With the movement in the House of Representatives toward impeachment, will any Republicans speak up and condemn what Trump has most recently done, or will they, effectively, go down in disgrace with a President who has never really shown respect for the party and its history?

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Today’s Republicans have totally repudiated its great Presidential leaders, including Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan. All four of these outstanding Republican Presidents would certainly be shocked and dismayed by the Presidency of Donald Trump.  But it has also repudiated Congressional giants, including William Seward, Charles Sumner, Robert La Follette, Sr, George Norris, Robert Taft, Arthur Vandenberg, Everett Dirksen, Jacob Javits, Barry Goldwater, Clifford Case, Mark Hatfield, Charles Mathias, Charles Percy, and a multitude of other luminaries.  It has also ignored the principles and convictions of gubernatorial giants, including Thomas Dewey, Earl Warren, Nelson Rockefeller, George Romney, William Scranton, and many others.

Under Abraham Lincoln and during Reconstruction, the Republican Party was the party of ending slavery and promoting racial equality. It was the party of responsible government regulation of capitalism in the public interest under the administration of Theodore Roosevelt.  Under Theodore Roosevelt and even Richard Nixon, the Republican party encouraged responsible environmental and consumer legislation to protect the American people.  It was the party of a strong military and promoted national security during the Cold War under Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard Nixon.  It was the party of responsible international alliances and treaties in the years since the Second World War under all Republican Presidents from Eisenhower to George W. Bush.

The Republican Party was far from perfect and at times it contradicted these principle. It encouraged monopoly capitalism in the Gilded Age, the 1920s, and has once again since Ronald Reagan. It has ignored and sometimes encouraged racism and nativism. Richard Nixon employed the “Southern Strategy” and the Watergate tapes recordings demonstrated his anti Semitism and racism. Ronald Reagan allowed the “Religious Right’ to have an undue influence in the 1980s. The Republican Party today pushes to end the enforcement of the Voting Rights Act, promotes mass incarceration and tough mandatory minimums, and continues the injustice it has done to racial minorities and the poor.  Massive evidence of government corruption under Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan previously undermined Republican credibility with the Watergate and Iran-Contra scandals, respectively.  Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush engineered massive tax cuts, harming the middle class and the poor, and created a new Gilded Age similar to the late 19th century.

But the party always had healthy internal debates: progressive and conservative Republicans clashed in the early 20th century Progressive Era and the New Deal era; liberal and conservative Republicans in the post World War II period from 1945-1980; and moderate and conservative Republicans in the age of Ronald Reagan and the Bushes.  If Republican Presidents did not always offer great leadership, members of Congress and state governors often weighed in on policy.  Whenever the Republican Party seemed to have lost its way, challenges came from Republican members of Congress and governors that kept the party viable and respectable. Few felt that the party leaders in Congress and in the states were willing to give up their independence to any President and the party leadership.

But now, that has all changed.  All of the principles of the Republican Party have been destroyed in the age of Donald Trump. The Republican leadership in Congress and the states has simply given up any concept of disagreement or resistance, and have accepted Donald Trump as an authoritarian leader with no limits on his executive power.  This is true of racial and ethnic discrimination; of overlooking massive violations of civil liberties; of abuse of immigrant children and their families escaping from poverty, violence, and bloodshed in Central America; and of giving over total control of the economy to major corporations without any government regulation.  There is no resistance to policies that totally abandon  environmental and consumer regulation and fail to protect national security from the threats of foreign nations with authoritarian leaders who flatter our President like Russia, China, North Korea, and Saudi Arabia. The Republican party now supports undermining international alliances and treaties, alienating such close friends as the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and India.  Additionally, the total abuse of any standard of ethics and morality, including the President’s own scandalous private life is ignored and often denied as reality by the leaders and office holders of his own party.

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Months ago Special Counsel Robert Mueller testified before the House Judiciary Committee and House Intelligence Committee and emphasized that Russia interfered in the Presidential Election of 2016; that Donald Trump and his campaign welcomed Russian intervention; and that Donald Trump obstructed justice in the investigation of the campaign.  Still the GOP leadership has no issue publicly with Donald Trump. No matter how outrageous his statements, the extent of his lies, or the harm he brings domestically or internationally, almost no Republican defies Trump. Even Trump’s move to oppose free trade, a long held view of the party, moves ahead without much protest. In fact, it seems as if the Republican leadership and office holders are terrified of our President. Even after the El Paso, Dayton, and Odessa-Midland Massacres, there is mostly silence from Republicans.

Donald Trump has promoted so many policies of abuse and corruption, including undermining the contributions of past Republican Presidents, and yet House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, and nearly all Republican office holders defend him, or stay silent.  Only a few Republicans not in office anymore have spoken up and challenged Trump.

The Republican Party is dead as we knew it, and the question is this: will anyone in that party finally lead a decisive challenge to the abuse of power going on, which threatens the nation and the world at large, or will a new political party emerge, as the Republicans did in the crisis of the 1850s, when they replaced the Whig Party?

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American democracy and constitutional government is at stake right now every day!

Ronald L. Feinman is the author of “Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama” (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.

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This article was originally published at History News Network


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