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The Repubs. and the Rightward Imperative: Gets Them to Trump --- And Then?

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The last national elections produced what passes for a "landslide" (winning by about 8 points overall) in the United States. In terms of seats, the Democratic Party came roaring back in the House. It would have done even better if it had not been for Repub. gerrymandering in certain states. And of course, it was only able to limit the Repubs. to a "modest gain" in the Senate because of the well-known "bequeathed to us by slavery" nature of that body. But, as for the Republicans, if anything the party as a whole, in the Age of Trump, moved further to the Right. This is the result of what I have been calling the "Rightward Imperative" of the Republican Party for some time now.

March for Choice in Dublin On Saturday 29th. September 2012.  Just imagine. This is now Catholic Ireland.  In the U.S. the Christian Dominionists are on the march, right back to the 16th century.
March for Choice in Dublin On Saturday 29th. September 2012. Just imagine. This is now Catholic Ireland. In the U.S. the Christian Dominionists are on the march, right back to the 16th century.
(Image by infomatique)
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Presently, this imperative has led the nation to A) in Ohio the passage of a law that would criminalize any abortion (no rape/incest exclusion) undertaken after six weeks of pregnancy (at which point many women don't even realize that they are pregnant). And B) the occupation of two of the highest appointive posts in the Federal government, White House Chief of Staff and Secretary of State, by men whose chief qualification for the job(s) seems to be that they are Tea Party Republicans (which is Far Rightist by definition). They would of course be first, Mike Pompeo at State (like his predecessor Rex Tillerson he has no diplomatic experience, and his intelligence/espionage experience was limited to oversight duties in the House). And then there is Mick Mulvaney, first at Budget and now White House Chief of Staff. His chief qualification for his former and present-co job seems to be his Far Right approach to Federal spending.

So how did the Repubs. get here? I thought it once again useful to review that history.

From Hayes to Eisenhower

For most of its existence since the end of Reconstruction following the election of 1876, the Republican Party has been the party of reaction in the United States. In fact, the only reason that Rutherford B. Hayes, the GOP candidate in that disputed election, won, was that he agreed to end Reconstruction, essentially turning over the Southern states to the former slaveholders and the Ku Klux Klan. There was one bright exception to this rule, Theodore Roosevelt. There were two other exceptions, although not on the scale of the great reformer (and imperialist too). One was Dwight D. Eisenhower, who, at the end of World War II did not know to which party he belonged. In fact, Harry S. Truman tried to recruit him to be the Democratic nominee in 1952. "Ike" chose the Republicans and defeated the traditional Republican right-winger, protectionist, anti-labor (see the Taft-Hartley Act [1947]), anti-New Deal Robert Taft for the nomination.

Ike with the troops, just like Trump.  Oh I forgot.  It's just too dangerous for him to go there.
Ike with the troops, just like Trump. Oh I forgot. It's just too dangerous for him to go there.
(Image by San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives)
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Eisenhower of course won, and made no efforts to go after the central elements of the New Deal. In fact, he supported high marginal tax rates on the wealthy which partly fueled the greatest growth that the US economy has ever had. He also created one of the largest public works programs the US has had, the Interstate Highway System. Eisenhower also famously warned of the military-industrial complex, and not-so-famously warned of a "small group of Texas oilmen" who, if they took over would do great harm to the country, and also said in no uncertain terms that the atomic bomb should never have been dropped on Japan.

From Goldwater to Reagan

But then, first in the 1960 Presidential election, came that bundle of contradictions, Richard Nixon. He was an avatar of Joseph McCarthy, a virulent anti-communist abroad (who nevertheless opened the door to China) as well as an expander of the war on Viet Nam. And he was the inventor of the Republican "Southern Strategy" openly moving into the Southern racist politics that the Democratic Party had left behind when it got behind the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. But he was also the promoter of massive environmental protection legislation and, if it hadn't been for Watergate, would have ushered in a true National Health Insurance program in his second term.

But the Taftites never gave up. They did manage to nominate Barry Goldwater in 1964 (Goldwater had famously voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964) and in the 1970's began the "clean-out" of the (relatively) liberal wing of their party, beginning with the last major "big-government" voice in it, that of Nelson Rockefeller. And they did this, back then, and all the way down to the present, through the Primary System. And that's where the Rightward Imperative in the Republican Party was born.

Although comprising an overall minority in the country, far right-wing voters are concentrated in the Republican Party. And they came to dominate the Republican primaries, meaning, of course, that Republican reactionaries always had a better chance of winning their party's nomination at any level than did liberals. And so, within the Republican Party the "Rightwing Imperative," to win the nomination, was born. And so too, did the party eventually end up with the Louis Gohmerts, Steve Kings, and Jim Jordans of this world.

In 1976, Ronald Reagan lost the nomination to Gerald Ford, who, believe it or not, was a "moderate" Republican like in many ways (noted briefly above) Nixon was. But Reagan, running against another "traditional Republican," GHW Bush, in 1980, drove to the Right and won the nomination. Drove to the Right, you might ask. Well, for one thing it was Reagan who began the open alliance between the Christian Right and the Republican Party (although to be sure Nixon had flirted with it). For another he came down even harder in using the Southern Strategy (with code words --- "dog whistles") than Nixon had.

And so, Ronald Reagan truly initiated the historical stream of GOP-led right-wing reaction which we now see in front of us, every day. For example, on racism. The first campaign stop that Ronald Reagan made following his nomination for President by the Republican Party in 1980 was to the tiny hamlet of Philadelphia, MS. The village is significant historically only because it is the place that three northern civil rights workers were murdered by a white gang, including members of law enforcement, in the "Freedom Summer" of 1964. Nothing outright, but very symbolic to those Southerners who took note of such things. That was followed by his usage of racist terms, during his Presidency, like "welfare queen" and "young bucks." Such epithets and actions came to be known as "dog-whistles," because they were not openly racist. It came to Trump to take the hood off.

But why did this happen and why has the Party been moving inexorably rightward since the Reaganite takeover? Why are they now a party that runs on racism, homophobia, religious bigotry (on the matter, for example of religious belief in when life begins), creationism, sexual repression (abstinence only), and etc.? Don't they have real policies concerning the economy (other than cut taxes, cut taxes, cut taxes, and deregulate), the health care system, and education?

Yes, of course they do have real policies on the latter subjects. The problem for them is that they can hardly run on them. The GOP represents major sectors of the US economy: the extractive industries, the military industrial complex, the prison-industrial complex, corporate agriculture, the "health" insurance and pharmaceutical industries, and so on. But they could and can hardly run on a platform of "let the oil and coal companies do whatever they want to," "we want the rich to get richer, donchaknow," "we want to export as much American capital overseas where it can make larger profits than it can here, so we really want to de-industrialize our country," "we don't care about the health of the American people but we do care about the profits of the health care industry," "we would like to have permanent war if we can get it," "we want to convert the US economy from industrial capitalism to finance capitalism," and so forth.

From Reagan to Trump

And so, the Rightward Imperative. If you cannot run on what you are really about and win, you've got to run on something else. They have to attract voters and they have become past masters of mastering the use of the "gut" issues that their potential voters, first in their own party, will respond to. And with Primary System, with the ever-rightward nature of the registered Republican voters, in order to win the nomination, at whatever level of government, candidates have to go ever further to the Right, until one gets to a Dave Brat who in Virginia defeats an echt conservative member of the House leadership, Eric Cantor, in a primary election. Why? Because Cantor supported John Boehner, also an echt conservative but not far right enough, as Speaker.

And so here came Donald Trump. He may be poorly educated, poorly informed, and possessed of little knowledge about how the extremely complicated U.S. government actually works, but he is a great huckster, the ultimate Con Man. He also understood well the Rightward Imperative. Whether or not he consciously set out to employ it, he has proved himself (by lucky instinct) a master of the craft, beginning of course with the "Birtherism Hoax" of which he was the leading perpetrator in the run-up to the 2012 election.

I'm GLAD no one else showed up at my party.  There will be soooo much more for me to eat!
I'm GLAD no one else showed up at my party. There will be soooo much more for me to eat!
(Image by IoSonoUnaFotoCamera)
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To be sure, he is not himself personally much with the underlying dogmas of the Religious Right, but he surely has known how important it is to get there in appearance if you want to get the Repub. nomination. And so he did, starting with his Liberty University speech. He did it so well, that he swamped the collection of true Religious Rightist Dominionists who had entered the primaries, which included Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, and Marco Rubio.

And then, once clinching the nomination, through the Primary System, Trump took the Rightward Imperative to the next step: running openly, without the usual "dog whistles," on racism, xenophobia, religious determinism, religious prejudice, Islamophobia, and authoritarianism ("I am the only one who can solve the nation's problems"). In his quest for the Republican nomination, as a totally unqualified person with no experience in government, a very shaky history in business (for example, despite his apparent wealth, he has been unable to obtain US bank loans since 1996 or so), and a notoriously small knowledge-base, he almost singlehandedly took the Rightward Imperative from a tactic and strategy that almost always had "deniability," to one that he put forth openly, beginning, of course in 2011 with "birtherism."

Trump is now however presenting a problem for the Republicans. His themes go back 50+ years, but their clothes have been taken off, if, that is, they stick with Trump. And then there are the (at present 17) investigations, the "trying the cases in public with strategies that don't make any sense to anyone except members of 'his base' '' as carried out by "Rudy," Hannity/Fox and Kellyanne (Huckabee Sanders having just about disappeared), the governmental policies that he institutes just because he can on his own, like tariffs, the tolerance for official murder (the Khashoggi case), and the downplaying of the Kerch Strait incident and then the sudden withdrawal from Syria (both probably done because Putin has something on him, and given certain anti-Russia U.S. policies, Putin wants to get something back). However, "being primaried" by someone further to the Right, which is at the essence of the Rightward Imperative, is still very much a possibility for any Repub. who leaves Trump behind.

Oh my. I am SO happy that an increasing number of Repubs. are facing that problem. Since, in fact, so many are, there may be a growing wish among them, that between Mueller, the Southern District of New York, and the new New York State Attorney General, Trump, in the end, will be "gotten." As I said some time ago, "resignation, anyone?"

(Article changed on December 21, 2018 at 02:33)

(Article changed on December 21, 2018 at 02:42)

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Steven Jonas, MD, MPH, MS is a Professor Emeritus of Preventive Medicine at StonyBrookMedicine (NY) and author/co-author/editor/co-editor of over 35 books. In addition to his position on OpEdNews as a ├ éČ┼"Trusted Author,├ éČ Ł he is a Senior (more...)
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