Fables of the Reconstruction
The Post-Trump GOP will have to deal with the results of Trump’s Racism.
Writing in the Bulwark, Andy Smarick writes that while Donald Trump is making American conservatism unbearable right now, once he leaves the scene, things will go back to normal. Smarick writes:
After this president departs, the GOP and conservatism will soon return to their previous forms — as beneficial and successful as they were before, though perhaps reformed in modest ways. And in the long term, Trump’s effects on the party and conservatism will be minimal because Trumpism has failed in terms of principles, people, and popularity.
In Smarick’s view, Donald Trump will be like that season on Dallas where Bobby died and then turns up alive- it was all a dream. But Donald Trump isn’t a dream. Elections really do have consequences and when it comes to Trump and American conservatism, his shadow will be long for years and decades to come, especially when it comes to race and ethnicity.
As an African American/Puerto Rican who is on the center-right, it is hard for me to see people of color sharing Smarick’s sunny assessment of the GOP post-Trump. Through his actions, again and again, Donald Trump has said that I and other people of color don’t have a place in his GOP. One of the things that bothers me is how my fellow Never Trumpers don’t understand how damaging Trump’s racial rhetoric has been to the Republican and conservative brands and how that will echo for decades.
Even before he came down the golden escalator in 2015, Donald Trump used race and ethnicity to fire up conservatives. During the first term of Barack Obama, Trump was a major force behind the birther movement, spreading the unfounded rumor that the first African American president wasn’t an American citizen.
As a candidate, he then turned his ire towards Mexicans and then Muslims. When he entered the White House, he remarked why America has to accept people from “shithole counties.” After the horror of Charlottesville, he called the white supremacists marching as “very fine people.” He told four Democratic women of color to “go back” where they came from. He separated mostly Latino parents seeking asylum from their children. He painted the Somali community in Minnesota as disloyal.
I could go on. Throughout this first term, he didn’t miss an opportunity to attack non-white populations. With each outburst, he never lost support. Senator Trent Lott lost his role as majority leader because of his seeming praise for former Senator Strom Thurmond. But Trump is praised by his base.
All of this has an effect on the Republican party and it is a stain that will not rinse off when Trump is gone. African Americans, Latinos, Muslims and other nonwhite groups will remember what Trump said and they will look at whatever candidate is running as a Republican assume that they are hostile towards persons of color. Too many people who look like me will take a look at any Republican and they will see Donald Trump. They will believe that this Republican is out to get them and will vote accordingly.
There is something hopeful with Smarick’s post-Trump GOP, but it isn’t real. It doesn’t deal with how this president has treated real people and how his actions and the approval of his base has made the GOP toxic to people of color. It will not matter one whit if Republicans start caring about markets or liberty or federalism. What will matter is what this president has said and done with nonwhite Americans.
If you want to see what the GOP will look like post-Trump, you need to look at the California GOP. We look at the Golden State as a leftist land now, but well into the early 1990s, California was swing state that sent Republicans and Democrats to Sacramento and Washington. Then relative moderate GOP Governor Pete Wilson introduced Proposition 187, a law aimed at immigrants that changed everything. Matt Yglesias wrote back in 2016:
Both Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan were statewide elected officials before ascending to the presidency. From 1968 to 1988, the GOP carried California in every presidential election. It swung to the Democrats in 1992 as part of Bill Clinton’s larger revival of the Democratic Party’s national fortunes.
But in the 1990s California had a Republican governor, Wilson, who had served as the state’s US senator for most of the 1980s. In the 1994 midterm elections, the GOP even swept into a majority in the state assembly.
Wilson and his Republican colleagues were closely associated with a law enacted via ballot initiative known as Proposition 187 that sought to create a state-run citizenship verification system and bar undocumented immigrants from accessing state services. It was, at the time, the very first effort to create a state-level immigration control policy, and it’s no coincidence that the trend came first to California — the state had a lot of immigrants, residing there both legally and illegally. So many that the state was close to tipping over into “majority-minority” status, which surely heightened the salience of immigration-related concerns to the state’s white conservatives…
…what makes Wilson remarkable is that he was also the last Republican to win a statewide election in California under anything resembling normal circumstances. Sure, Arnold Schwarzenegger sneaked into office in 2003 as part of an unusually structured recall election, and governed completely independently from the conservative movement.
Beyond that — nothing.
Not because Prop 187 became hideously unpopular per se, but because it became emblematic of the California Republican Party’s transformation into a vehicle for white identity politics, a transformation that rendered the GOP unacceptable to a majority of the state’s voters.
What happened to the GOP in California back in 1994, is happening now nationally. Trump has turned the GOP into a vehicle for white identity politics. There isn’t room for people like me.
Can things change? Of course, they can. But the California GOP didn’t change and now it is basically a rump of a party while the Democrats have supermajorities.
If we want the kind of sunny future that Smarick dreams of, then there will need to be a concerted effort now to speak up and out for a more inclusive conservatism. There need to be conservatives that are willing to embrace the “browning” of America and seek to welcome them instead of shunning them.
It looked like that the GOP was going to become more responsive to those demographic changes after the “GOP Autopsy,” the now-famous report done in the aftermath of the 2012 presidential election. But then Trump came and the GOP voters decided race-baiting seemed far cooler than trying to connect with nonwhite Americans.
If Donald Trump leaves in 2021 or 2025, people will look around in the destruction of what was once the GOP. He will have taken a party with an already shaky record on diversity and given it a literal whitewash. There might be another autopsy, but no one will believe this report since the first one was ignored.
The Party of Lincoln, the one that freed my ancestors, will have to deal with what it has done to itself. It will take a long time to regain the trust of nonwhite Americans if ever. This is what Trump has done. There will not be a normal. That is the future of the post-Trump GOP.