In 160 years, the Republican Party has spiraled down into what "might fairly be called the revenge of 'the kooks,'" according to New Yorker writer Jelani Cobb.
In a column published Monday, Cobb walks through the 1963 campaign between Nelson Rockefeller and Barry Goldwater in which the former alleged the GOP would pursue a "program based on racism and sectionalism."
"Until the mid-twentieth century, it was the Republican Party, founded a century earlier by Northerners enraged by the expansion of slavery—the 'party of Lincoln'—that looked more favorably upon the rights of Black Americans. In 1957, it was a Republican President, Eisenhower, who deployed troops to intervene on behalf of Black students in the school-integration crisis in Little Rock," Cobb explained. "Goldwater's rise proved the catalyst for change."
At the time, Cobb explained that the GOP was concerned that Goldwater would lead the GOP to a new era. They'd barely survived McCarthyism when right-wing groups like the John Birch Society grew in power. Even Richard Nixon called them "kooks."
Lifelong Republican and civil-rights activist George W. Lee explained that without intervention, "the Republican Party will be taken over lock, stock, and barrel by the Ku Kluxers, the John Birchers and other extreme rightwing reactionaries."
Now the GOP is the Trump Party. When asked what could be happening to the GOP, Cobb explained the Republican Party's problems "might fairly be called the revenge of 'the kooks.'" In just four years, the party turned to a cult of personality with little policy agenda and heavy on the opposition.
"He began his 2016 campaign by issuing racist and misogynistic salvos, and during his Presidency he gave cover to white supremacists, reactionary militia groups, and QAnon followers," Cobb characterized.
It isn't difficult to see how Trump was able to do it. The conservative base is easily ignited through networks of right-wing media. So, what started as the party of equality turned to the 1994 Gingrich Revolution, then the Tea Party and eventually to Donald Trump.
Cobb noted that the most telling thing about the GOP was the Republican Party Platform that was unveiled in the 2020 convention. "The Convention was centered almost solely on Trump; the events, all of which took place at the White House, validated an increasing suspicion that Trump himself was the Republican platform. Practically speaking, the refusal to articulate concrete positions spared the Party the embarrassment of watching the President contradict them," Cobb explained.
During the 2016 campaign, Christian evangelicals were able to add anti-pornography pieces to their party platform only to have the party's nominee be outed for having an affair with an adult film star. Without a platform, however, the GOP can't be caught in hypocrisy.
The problem now, is that there are no ideas, only the "Party of no," wrote Washington Post columnist Megan McArdle over the weekend. They oppose the COVID-19 stimulus bill, the increase in the minimum wage and shoring up voting rights so all American citizens are able to participate in the election without barriers.
"A once-proud movement risks turning into one perpetual, primal scream: 'I'm not gonna, and you can't make me,'" McArdle wrote. "That is not a movement; it is a second adolescence. And whatever the merits of masks or reopening, that reflexively oppositional impulse is unhealthy — for conservatives, and for America."
Cobb made a similar assessment, noting that the moderate wing of the GOP has become marginalized. "In addition, the G.O.P.'s steady drift toward the right, from conservative to reactionary politics; its dependence on older, white voters; its reliance on right-wing media; its support for tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans; and its increasing disdain for democratic institutions and norms all portend increasing division and a diminishing pool of voters."
Moderates realized in 2010 that if they maintained centrist positions they'd be primaried out of their seats. Whatever opposition was left for 2016 faced a choice between Trumpism and the Democratic Party. The GOP lost the House in 2018 and the Senate and presidency in 2020. Still, they're doubling down on the cause as the solution.
As Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) explained to Axios on Sunday, "Mitt Romney didn't do it. John McCain didn't do it. There's something about Trump. There's a dark side and there's some magic there. What I'm trying to do is harness the magic."