Fareed Zakaria is rewriting history to give conservatism a pass. Rather than Trump being the natural evolution of Republicanism, he’s now the “end” of Reagan’s revolution, destroying the “libertarian” GOP and turning it into something ugly and crass:
The Reagan redefinition of the party, as a quasi-libertarian organization, persisted through the Clinton years, though the GOP continued to bring along its socially conservative base. The party leaders and its official ideology were Reaganite.
Then came Donald Trump. Early on, Trump seemed to recognize that the Republican Party had changed and that the core ideological appeal was no longer about economics but nationalism, race and religion. His first major political cause was birtherism, the noxious and false claim that President Barack Obama was secretly a Muslim born in Kenya.
Nice story. Total bullshit.
Reagan ran on dog whistle racism. He allowed AIDS to turn into an epidemic because, at first, it only impacted homosexuals and they “deserved” it. The religious right came into its own during Reagan and wielded enormous power over conservative politics. Abortion became a key wedge issue and Republicans sold their economic agenda to whites by telling them it would be bad for blacks. There was nothing libertarian about Reagan’s Republicans other than their love of unfettered capitalism and Zakaria knows it.
If you look again at the two paragraphs I quoted above, please note that I did not skip anything when pulling it from Zakaria’s column. He jumps from Clinton to Trump, literally eliding 16 years of Republican history.
Gone is the 16 years of Fox News’ intellectual violence against American values. Gone is the burning bigotry against Muslims, I’m sorry, “terrorism”, that motivated conservative politics through the 2004 election and beyond. Gone is the rancid anti-LGBT bigotry Karl Rove engineered to boost the GOP’s flagging numbers as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan turned into unending nightmares.
When the Republican Party exploded the deficit and the debt, conservative voters were too busy rabidly screaming for more dead brown people to care. As long as that’s what Republicans promised and they promised to do it in the name of Jesus, that’s who white Republican voters sided with. Where’s the libertarianism?
Zakaria also somehow manages to skip over the 8 years of the Obama presidency during which the Republican Party went all in on Reagan’s racism and bigotry to get white Republican voters engaged. Sure, they babbled about cutting taxes but everyone understood that what white Republican voters were really angry about was the possibility that their tax dollars might go to Those People. The “Tea Party” was a vicious, racist backlash to a black man being elected president and the GOP rode that wave for years, goading it on with less and less subtle racism as time went by until all that remained was a movement based purely on hate, rage, and paranoia.
Clearly, Republicans understood “the core ideological appeal was no longer about economics but nationalism, race and religion” decades before Trump came around. The only difference between Trump and the GOP is that he was instinctively better at harnessing the mindless rage Fox News, AM Hate Radio and right wing hate sites had reduced conservatism to. Probably because he actually believes the same lies white Republican voters have been trained to believe while Republicans just pretend they do.
Like so many others in the “liberal” press, Zakaria is struggling to find a way to blame the impending collapse of the Republican Party on Trump and only Trump. If the press, eternally dedicated to remaining neutral, were to admit that Trump is not an aberration but simply the natural end result of 50 years of Republican extremism, they would have to also admit their role in enabling that extremism. Very few are ready for that kind of self-reflection so we’re going to keep getting the myth of “Trumpism destroyed Reagan’s Republican Party” as if everything were just fine and dandy until Trump came down that escalator in 2015.
We let the press erase history after the Bush administration set the country on fire and that allowed the GOP to escape the consequences of what they’d done. That, in turn, is how we ended up with Donald Trump squatting in the White House.
That’s not going to happen again.