Republicans —​ They Don't Make Them Like They Used To
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Republicans —​ They Don't Make Them Like They Used To

The evolution of Republicanism.

Republicans —​ They Don't Make Them Like They Used To
Michael Evans

As the dust settled on the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (you may remember this from 10-grade history), America was left with the choice of how to govern the expanse of land it had just acquired from Mexico. As it had before in the history of westward expansion, slavery became a primary issue. The North pushed for labor rights while the South pushed for slavery, and the South won. Those men of certain import whose ideals had just been denied, men like Abraham Lincoln, began the Republican Party. It would only be a matter of time (very short time) before Lincoln would lead this new party to the White House.

Shortly thereafter, the South seceded from the Union and the Civil War began, leaving in its wake death and destruction throughout the southern states. Following the northern victory, Lincoln’s assassination created a martyr for freedom and emancipation that has stood the test of time.

It was with Lincoln’s death that the evolution began. The vice president, Andrew Johnson, was a southern Democrat who hated both blacks and Republicans and sought to turn the United States into a nation that once again guaranteed the success of white men over black men. He argued that the Republican efforts put forth by Lincoln to assist in transitioning the South to a freer place amounted to little more than social programs and that Republican economics weren't viable because they supported a redistribution of wealth to help the disadvantaged.

African American political support was disproportionately Republican even into the next century. Republicans managed to remain at the forefront of civil rights in the beginning of the twentieth century whilst Democrats remained strong segregationists throughout the South.

Then came the Great Migration and the draining of African Americans from the South, and Democrats in the North realized that in order to strengthen numbers and grow victories within the party, it had to garner the black vote at levels local, state, and federal. This support was gained at the smallest of levels but wasn't seen in large scale elections even in 1932, when Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt assumed the White House and issued the New Deal. The comprehensive support for those greatly hurt by the depression did little to gain black support with his candidacy. This changed after his first term.

Between the federal programs of FDR and the Civil Rights activism of his wife, the tide was turned in favor of the Democrats. African Americans benefited from the programs and safety nets of the New Deal, as they still do, and come 1936 the overwhelming majority of African Americans cast their ballot for the incumbent.

While Roosevelt managed to gain the support of large swaths of black Americans, he failed to gain the support of Republicans. Many Republicans did, in fact, support his New Deal programs but more conservative members disliked his ideas as much as they did him and swore against supporting him.

The push and pull between the old and the new lasted for decades, but the conservative Republicans, who wanted nothing if not to return to an era of governmental oversight (or lack thereof) when government was small and concerned only with the safekeeping of big businesses, won the battle. But they hadn't yet won the war. In many ways, the division within the Republican Party today is between those who accept New Deal policies and those who don't.

Then came 1964, a year of both progression and regression. President Lyndon Johnson passed the landmark Civil Rights Act with support from the majority of both parties. Yet even as Republicans supported this reform, the door was also opened for Barry Goldwater.

Senator Goldwater, the Republican presidential nominee that year, voted against the bill itself but had a relatively progressive voting record within his home state of Arizona. This made no difference to the racist segregationists and white supremacists whose support he gained for his nay vote on Johnson’s bill. This opened the door for southerners, traditionally Democrats, to vote Republican in large numbers in an effort to block the progression of civil rights but began the destruction of the relationship once had between African Americans and the Republican Party.

Lyndon Johnson defeated Barry Goldwater that year but Goldwater was successful enough to change the political landscape of several states from inherently Democrat to inherently Republican. In the following years, racially tense riots would ignite across the country and often would fail to be properly addressed by conservative lions like Nixon (who founded the Environmental Protection Agency) in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

With the resignation of Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford (a moderate Republican) had become president. Conservative Ronald Reagan made significant advances in getting the American public to believe a conservative leader was what the nation needed but not enough. The conservative branch of the Republican Party was still in the minority of the Party itself. That is, until the 1980s when everything changed.

Reagan’s first White House bid failed in part because conservatism was still a political fringe, far from the norm. But he worked hard in framing the conservative message in way that removed the air of extremity that surrounded it and made it available to the public in a tasteful, seemingly compassionate way. Race wasn’t mentioned but it's very clear what the intentions were during this time; catering to the white votes that of white, Christian, blue-collar males specifically whose voting power was large enough to bring Reagan landslides in 1980 and 1984.

His definitive stances on communism and the Soviet Union were the strength America sought, and the carefulness with which he handled the Soviet Union brought the downfall of communism and an end to Soviet aggression. Reagan was no businessman; though Reaganomics didn't really work, there was certainly merit to its ideas, and he did the best any man could and tried to establish a better working economy.

But Reagan wasn't pure. His bark was worse than his bite and played well with the other kids. He was as much the Great Compromiser as he was the Great Communicator. The way in which he cooperated with even the most liberal of Democrats left those Republicans of more hardline conservative sensibilities unsatisfied and they've been searching for a messiah since.

When George W. Bush came along, the division reached such a point within the Party that factions like the Taliban-esque Tea Party gathered enough presence to actually mean something. Their discontent with even the most conservative values and lack of acceptance of moderate or liberal members of the Party is responsible for the widening of the rift between Republicans. George W. Bush, famously stupid and potentially horrible (history will tell), was thoughtful of others and had some level of morality in his corner.

These Republican figureheads have share similarities: They've been kind, family-oriented men whose devotion to God has been second only to their devotion to the public, far from perfect but not inhuman in their errors.

Then came Donald Trump, whose success is consequential to this evolution. His ideals are unclear because he's so fickle, changing stances within days, tweets, or even within a singular sentence. Even Reagan-type conservatives led with conviction and the belief that what they were doing was best for the nation.

Donald Trump is anything but kind. Donald Trump is anything but family-oriented. Donald Trump has no devotion to anything except Donald Trump. His errs are monstrously inhuman, big-league. But he is the current result of questing for politics that does few things other than defend corporate interests, prioritize Christianity, and place brawn over brain. His presidency is marred by his campaign’s shady meetings with Russia in what is expected to be highly controversial and illegal activity that may have changed the course of American democracy and indeed human history. Reagan is rolling in his grave, but it makes little difference to large numbers of Trump’s supporters; Reagan was the God of then and Trump is the God of now. Trump is a failed businessman, a propagandist, a liar, a cheat, a racist, a sexist, crass and unrefined and somehow appealing to significant enough numbers of Americans to make a difference.

Nevertheless, Donald Trump is not the final Republican. He isn't the be-all end-all of right-wing politics. The evolution is ongoing, and we all stand at a tremendously active crossroads where decisions made today will impact the evolution the Party in the decades to come. Republicans can opt for the moderation of yesterday and sell themselves to an incoming generation whose mood about the current state of politics, let alone those of the Republican breed, are often cynical or they can continue don't the path they now walk.

With enough soul searching, the GOP might just be able to go from “the Party of Lincoln” to “the Principles of Lincoln” before any irreparable harm is done.
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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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