Wall Street Journal (Opinion)
By Jason Riley
March 8, 2016
The prospect of Republicans nominating Donald Trump for president has the party of Lincoln and Reagan teetering on the edge of the abyss. Democrats are enjoying the spectacle, but that doesn’t mean they should be allowed to revise history.
The conventional wisdom on the left is that the GOP brought the Trump phenomenon on itself. For years, insists the New York Times,Republican leaders have embraced and exploited “the darkest elements of the party’s base.” The Washington Post adds that the party “has subtly and not so subtly played on racial resentment.” Other liberal pundits have cited the tea party movement as evidence of supposedly ascendant GOP white nationalism. Republican leaders, in other words, have greased the skids for this New York vulgarian and now want to feign shock at his success.
The tea party charge might be the most absurd, and not just because the movement abetted the election of racial and ethnic minorities such as Tim Scott, Nikki Haley and Marco Rubio. Liberals who are eager to ascribe racial motivations to the tea party are ignoring activists’ pre-Obama anger at George W. Bush’s spending policies.
In truth, the GOP leadership has made concerted efforts in recent years to expand the party’s appeal to nonwhites. More can and should be tried, but the notion that the GOP has been waiting and hoping for a Trump figure to lead the way is an MSNBC fantasy. Mr. Trump’s commanding lead in the polls can be attributed primarily to his celebrity status and strong support among economically anxious working-class voters who don’t trust professional politicians.
In 2002, after Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi lauded Strom Thurmond’s 1948 Dixiecrat presidential bid, President Bush condemned the statements before a group of black ministers in downtown Philadelphia and then helped orchestrate Mr. Lott’s ouster from his leadership post. In 2006 Mr. Bush addressed the NAACP’s annual convention and spoke openly about his party’s racial history. As head of the Republican National Committee (RNC) from 2005 to 2007, Ken Mehlman spoke to more than 50 black audiences nationwide, including the major civil-rights organizations. He acknowledged that in the past the party had tried “to benefit politically from racial polarization” and that “we were wrong.” In 2009 Michael Steele became the first black chairman of the RNC.
This is rather odd behavior for a party playing to the darkest elements of its base. So is the fact that the Republican presidential nominee was John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012—hardly the first choices of immigration hard-liners. Mr. McCain denounced the birthers, and Mr. Romney refused to make an issue of Mr. Obama’s controversial pastor, Jeremiah Wright. Both men acted in the interest of racial comity, and if they hadn’t, charges of racism surely would have ensued. That those charges ensued anyway says something about the left’s heads-I-win-tails-you-lose racial politics.
After Mr. Romney’s defeat in 2012, the RNC released a 100-page assessment of its missteps and outlined a strategy for moving forward. “The Republican Party must focus its efforts to earn new supporters and voters in the following demographic communities: Hispanic, Asian and Pacific Islanders, African-Americans, Indian Americans, Native Americans, women, and youth,” the report said. “The pervasive mentality of writing off blocks of states or demographic votes for the Republican Party must be completely forgotten. The Republican Party must compete on every playing field.”
Donald Trump is not the answer to the GOP’s problems. He was not part of their future plans. He wasn’t really invited to this party. He crashed it. And judging from the primary election results so far—he’s winning pluralities, not majorities—most Republicans want him to leave. Democrats and their friends in the media are much more eager for Mr. Trump to be the face of the GOP than are Republicans, even if liberal pundits are pretending otherwise.
Today, it is the Democratic Party that stands to gain the most politically from racial and ethnic division. And no one knows this better than the Obama administration. The president counts Al Sharpton as an adviser; has dispatched Vice President Joe Biden to tell black audiences that conservatives want to put them “back in chains”; and used his attorney general to stir up the Democratic base by claiming that Republicans are trying to disenfranchise black voters.
A new ABC News/Washington Post polls finds that just 42% to 45% of voters who lean Republican “call Trump honest and trustworthy, say he understands their problems, think he has the right personality and temperament, or say he has the right experience to be president.” Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio score much higher on those attributes, from 50% to 64%. Mr. Trump’s lead is shrinking. The more voters learn about him, the less they seem to like.
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