“To ward off criticisms of Trump’s bursts of racist rhetoric, Republican leaders reflexively play the Lincoln card,” wrote Blumenthal. “But the party of Trump is the antithesis of the party of Lincoln, the culmination of a long realignment. Beginning in the 1960s, the party embraced a Southern strategy, forsaking the remnants of its Lincolnesque heritage in exchange for the principles of states’ rights and resistance to civil rights for African Americans previously associated with the neo-Confederate Dixiecrat wing of the Democratic Party. As a result, the Republican Party changed its identity and abandoned its original principles, becoming strikingly similar to the very opponents that roused Lincoln to resist in the beginning.”
Lincoln, it should be noted, was far from the patron saint of racial equality we tend to remember him as. But as Blumenthal noted, he faced a uniquely fractured and venomous political landscape — anti-immigrant populism from the Know Nothing Party, an extreme right-wing Supreme Court that ruled slaves were not people, racist ideologues like Stephen Douglas, and major parties collapsing and fragmenting over the slavery issue. He set out to reunify a nation at war — and his doing so laid the groundwork for emancipation and a stronger union.
From his beginnings in politics, Blumenthal noted, Lincoln disdained anti-immigrant populism. “How can anyone who abhors the oppression of Negroes, be in favor of degrading classes of white people?” he wrote. “Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that ‘all men are created equal.’ We now practically read it ‘all men are created equal, except Negroes.’ When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read ‘all men are created equal, except Negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics.'”
“Under Lincoln, the Republican Party stood for equal rights and opportunity, political democracy and using the force of the federal government to constrict and ultimately destroy the threat posed by the greatest concentrated wealth and power in the country — the Slave Power,” wrote Blumenthal. “And while the Republican Party’s origin story is one of change and compromise over time, Lincoln might be astonished to see the extent of its transformation today.”
“Trump’s party has embraced the ideas Lincoln opposed and fought itself into the coats of the Know Nothings and the Dixiecrats,” concluded Blumenthal. “Lincoln might also rub his eyes in disbelief to discover that sitting in his chair is the likes of Trump, the head of this redefined Republican Party, truly the rival to his principles.”