Yesterday, conservative pundit Matt K. Lewis asked in an article, “When did the GOP become the party of jerks?” Conservatives on Twitter almost universally replied that the behavior started because Democrats were so mean to Mitt Romney in 2012. Their response is laughable because it ignores the behavior of their party for the past 50 years. It’s also a delusional attempt to blame Democrats for the rise of Trump.
What Republicans are saying is, “Look, we nominated a decent guy for president in 2012 and he got trashed by Democrats, so we learned to take the gloves off.” They forget to mention that Republicans spent the four years before they nominated Mitt Romney questioning Barack Obama’s residency, religion, and legitimacy to be president. Most Republican elected officials wouldn’t condemn the birthers any more than they will condemn Trump today.
But Republicans embraced crude tactics long before that. They questioned the patriotism of Senator Max Cleland, a Vietnam vet who lost both legs and an arm in the Vietnam War. They also attacked the valor of John Kerry, implying that he lied to win his medals in that same war. They let all kinds of crazy conspiracy theories fester throughout the 1990s, calling federal agents “jack-booted thugs.” George H. W. Bush used Willie Horton to fire up the wing of the party animated by fear of Black people. Jesse Helms accused African Americans of stealing jobs that should have been for White people. GOP operatives like Roger Stone and Paul Manafort have been using smear tactics against Democrats since at least the 1970s. Few Republicans repudiated that behavior. So, they’ve been jerks for a lot longer than Romney’s campaign.
Lewis is really writing about the anti-anti-Trumpers’ unwillingness to take responsibility for Trump. In their telling of the rise of the reactionary authoritarianism (semi-fascism) that has taken over the GOP, it’s really the Democrats’ fault. They might not like Trump, but how can you blame people for getting so angry after the way Democrats treated Republicans like Mitt Romney? The angry electorate that cheered Trump, his racism, and xenophobia sprung up out of nothing as a reaction against Democrats trashing Romney for working for an investment firm that benefitted from creative destruction and because he derided 47% of Americans as “takers.”
The former party of personal responsibility is now the party of victimhood and blame. Their motto should be the “Devil made me do it” because they certainly didn’t start acting so nasty on their own. The anti-anti-Trumpers use their delusional tale to justify their continued support for a GOP that now openly welcomes racists, violent militias, and neo-Nazis into their fold. Of course, they are denying those groups are part of their base, even as Trump and other elected Republicans court them and refuse to condemn them.
The anti-anti-Trumpers like Lewis and Bethany Mandel, who seem to be decent people, are in denial about their roles in the creation of Trump. The forces that led to his takeover of the GOP have been in the party for decades and they were as mean then as they are now. Ron DeSantis and Mehmet Oz are just saying out loud what Republicans have been saying privately to a certain part of their base for decades. Trump just brought them out of the closet. Lewis and company pretend that the free-marketeers and country club Republicans were the only wings of the GOP when a substantial part of the base has always been animated by attacks on “others.” Just ask Richard Nixon.