This week in Privileged Middle-Aged Conservative White Guys Talking About Race, we take a short dive into the tortured theories of anti-Trump Republicans about how their party went insane, their Object Permanence problem when it comes to understanding of their own party's base, and their seething resentment over Liberal's pointing out that their racist party was, in fact, a racist party back when they were still swearing that it wasn't.
But first, a Fun Fact. As I was taking a break from
screwing around with my blog format because now that Trump has a blog,
well... outlining this post, I chanced to listen to Wednesday's offering from
The Bulwark podcast and found that Charlie Sykes had dropped an even
more craven and venomous example of how deeply committed anti-Trump
Republicans are to contorting reality in order to weasel out of responsibility
for what their party has become than the original "Tom Nichols and Charlie
Sykes Bitching About Liberals" episode which had moved me to start writing
this thing. In this example, "Robert Tracinski and Charlie Sykes
Bitching About Liberals" Mr. Sykes and his guest go so far as to blame
Liberal both for the election of Donald Trump and for somehow
inducing his Republican party to become a racist shithole.
You have to hear it to believe it. Or read it, because I'll be quoting it later on.
But first and as originally planned, we need to understand a very specific and quietly tectonic shift in conventional political wisdom than has been going on over the past few years. Remember, as recently as 2014 -- mere months before Donald Trump oozed down the Escalator of Doom and into the loving arms of the GOP base -- Mr. David Brooks of The New York Times was blithely confident that his Republican party had shaken off its scary infatuation with Sarah Palin and was now in excellent health and looking forward to an unlimited future.
And according Beltway political professionals like Matthew Dowd, what was going on with the Republican party was definitely not a problem with Republican voters. From "This Week...", July 26, 2015:
Dowd: Well, I think that's a really important question, to distinguish between Trump and who the voters he's right now channeling into this.
And if you can bear it, rather than clicking through 1000 links to drive the point home, use your Liberal superpower of memory to recall the endless, round-robin of floggings that Hillary Clinton took for daring to point out that a number Trump supporters were and are deplorable.
During the entire campaign and well into Trump's term, the settled Beltway conventional wisdom as parroted by pundits like Dowd was that it would be terrible idea to blame Republican voters for the direction their party was headed. Again from July 26 2015:
Dowd: ...I would say that, if I were advising somebody, I would confront Donald Trump in a very thoughtful, critical way. Don't criticize his voters, don't go after his voters don't do what John McCain did, which is call them crazies. Don't do that. You need those voters.
But go after Donald Trump in a very critical, thoughtful way.
So where does Matthew Dowd stand today? Smack in the middle of the brand new Beltway conventional wisdom which holds that the problem with the Republican Party may be that...it's full of Republicans!
Here is Matthew Dowd now on the question of whether or not the GOP is a racist shithole:
Until senator Tim Scott stops pushing falsehoods and starts confronting the racism and white supremacy throughout his own party and hold those accountable who incited an insurrection I really don’t want to hear him lecture on anything.
Here is Matthew Dowd now on the question of whether or not Donald Trump owns the GOP base:
There had been discussion from anti-Trump Republicans that many GOP voters would not turnout for Trump or would lose support among GOP. Fact: more Repubs turned out in this election than any election in history, & Trump got highest level of support among Repubs in modern times.
Here is Matthew Dowd now on who is to blame for the Republican Party being fucked-in-the-head:
You know why politicians keep doing irresponsible things? because we as voters, and non-voters, don’t punish them for malfeasance and lack of integrity at election time. It is up to us to put people in power who have compassion and have integrity.
And here is Matthew Dowd now on the specific characteristics of Republican voters that led to the GOP being fucked-in-the-head.
The problem for the GOP going forward is not Trump. Keep this in mind, a large majority of GOP voters: don’t believe in evolution, don’t believe in climate change caused by human activity, support a ban on Muslims, and believe Christianity should be America’s national religion.
So once again we see how the irrefutable presence of systemic Republican malevolence can sometimes force stalwarts of the mainstream media -- very much against their will -- into grudgingly sorta-kinda admitting that the Left was right about the Right all along...without, of course, acknowledging that the Left exists at all, and without admitting that just a few years ago they very publicly were espousing expert insider opinions that were the exact opposite of the opinions they are espousing now.
Longtime Republican strategist and frequent cable news talking head Stuart Stevens wrote a whole book about how all that he believed his party stood for was a lie and that racism was, in fact, the "original sin" of the modern GOP.
And if you catch professional shit-talking huckster and former RNC chair Michael Steele at just the right time under just the right circumstances, even he will admit that appealing to racists has been a pillar of his Republican Party since the days of Barry Goldwater. And for Mr. Steele, the right time and circumstances to unspool the racist history of his political party was on the Lincoln Project podcast with Stuart Stevens entitled -- surprise! -- "The Republican Party's Original Sin" about which I wrote this:
After a long and accurate disquisition from Stevens about race being the GOP's original sin...Steele not only agrees, but goes into greater historical detail.
Suddenly, instead of the hero who drove the bigots out of the GOP and swept the party back to power in 2010, Steele reimagines himself as a noble, doomed Cassandra who warned party leaders that putting a black guy at the head of the party "wouldn't do jack". That without fundamental reform at the precinct level the party would never change, but the party has refused the advice and recommendations of noble, doomed Cassandras like Steele who have tried to point this out the them.
Then he launches into a long recitation of the history of the GOP which is just surreal.
We hear about "Barry Goldwater and his embrace of segregation".
And Richard Nixon and "his embrace of a Southern Strategy."
And "My political hero, even, Ronald Reagan, starting his presidential campaign in the worst, god-forsaken, racist hole in Mississippi." Did the GOP think that "black folks were gonna sit there and not pay any attention to that?"
I dunno, Mr. Steele. You sure as shit didn't pay any attention to it. In fact, you made such a successful cottage industry out of not paying attention to it that eventually that racist dung-heap of a party hired you to front for them.
Steele wonders aloud that maybe, just maybe, the racist GOP isn't really interested in not doing racism anymore. Maybe this is just who they are and they like it that way. Then he ticks off...
And now that the GOP has embraced saying the quiet part out loud? Now that no one is playing it off as an accident anymore or bother to speak wingnut codetalk and instead are being openly racist and passing racist enabling acts to keep themselves in power?
Steele: Our party gave birth to that... From Goldwater on. Understand the reason the reason why daddy King -- Martin Luther King, Sr. -- broke with the party.
Wanna hear more?
Steele: When Johnson made his break with the segregationist past of the Democratic Party and embraced Kennedy's civil right agenda, that freed up all these white southern men to take their votes someplace else...
Even inside The Bulwark's own perimeter you can find essays like this --
The GOP Delenda Est
The Republican party isn’t interested in governing. It scorns science and denies facts. It can’t be reformed. It can’t be worked with. It must be stopped.
-- which make it brutally and explicitly clear that the Republican Party has a voter problem.
A base problem.
In other words, as I have already said, the Republican Party is fucked-in-the-head because it's full of Republicans. Which is what we on the Left has been warning about since the earliest days of blogging allowed us to bypass the Beltway's smothering stranglehold on the media and speak the truth of things, plain and clear. Warnings which the mainstream press and the newly minted anti-Trump Republicans which now clog cable teevee panels adamantly refused to heed.
Which brings us to the title of this post: Critical Base Theory. Or, how exactly did the base of the Republican Party come to be the mob of irrational, rage-drunk, reprogammable meatbags that they are today?
Well, as both Stuart Stevens and Michael Steele more or less agree, any plain text reading of the history of the modern GOP shows a party that damn well knew that there has been a whole rat's nest of batshit factions marching under its banner for decades, and that without that confederacy of monsters and madmen -- the Fundies, the gun nuts, the homophobes, the misogynists, the Randite libertarians, the Birchers and those tens of millions of racists -- the Republican party would never win another election.
And so party leaders -- whose prime directives were killing the federal government through crippling tax cuts and deregulation, and packing the courts with enough radical Conservative judges that their damage could never be undone through the courts -- needed to simultaneously pander more and more directly to their increasingly demanding and deranged base... while at the same time vigorously denying in the mainstream press that such a base existed at all.
And unless you are a morally bankrupt Conservative hack who lives in a state of perpetual denial, understanding how the GOP managed this is pretty straightforward. As I explained years ago on my since-banned Twitter account, for the past 50 years of so, the Republican party has been keeping two sets of ideological books.
One set of books contains all the "Vince Foster"/Birtherism/Death Panels/Mena Airport conspiracies and racist slop they have been feeding the base via Fox News and Hate Radio to keep that base at a perpetual unhinged boil. The other set of books kept a more-or-less accurate account of how the world actually works and all the serious-sounding "More Freedom"/Smaller Government"/"Fiscal Conservative" talking points which an aging coterie of dozens of Beltway-friendly Conservatives like Peggy Noonan, David Brooks, Kathleen Parker and Bill Kristol have been trotting out on the Sunday Shows and at their think tanks and on the op-ed pages of The New Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post for decades. These were the faces and voices hired to give the party's increasingly toxic and delusional political base a respectable sheen.
And thanks to the cowardice and complicity of the mainstream media, this Republican strategy of lies and misdirection largely worked for much longer than it should have. It worked right up until Donald Trump ripped up the second set of books entirely and told the confederacy of monsters and madmen who now represented the overwhelming majority of Republican party voters that they shouldn't feel ashamed of all the crazy, racist, authoritarian shit they believed because he believed it too! They didn't need to go on settling for plutocrat robot losers like Romney, or wimps like Jeb! or animatronic husks like Marco who were so closeted and ashamed of who their party's base really was and what they really believed that they had to hide behind winks and dog whistles.
And it worked for one very simple and easy to understand reason which I wrote about on this disreputable Liberal blog of mine less than 48 hours after Trump declared his candidacy.
As I wrote a few years ago, the brain-caste of the GOP spent a 40 years and billions of dollars carefully breeding an army of reliably angry, paranoid, racists chumps. And they have been so successful at completely re-engineering the Right's ideological digestive system that they can no longer process any information which does not come to them in the form of Fox-approved Benghaaaazi goo.In other words, in order to win elections and rake in vast fortunes, the Conservative brain caste has painstakingly created the perfect feeding-ground for con men and demagogues like Trump, the louder and more bombastic the better. And from David Brooks and the Wall Street Journal and "Meet the Press", to Ann Coulter and the Washington Free Beacon and the Breitbart Collective, in one way or another, virtually everyone in the media makes bank by flattering Conservative meatheads and pandering to their delusions.
So let's call this Critical Base Theory Prime: The Republican base is the way it as because of the long-term Republican strategy by Republican politicians, think tanks and Conservative media to build an electoral army of reprogrammable meatbags -- a strategy which proved to be both highly successful and highly profitable.
And since there is now broad, general agreement that the Republican base is, in fact, an army of reprogrammable meatbags, inevitably any honest seeker-after-the-truth will find themselves asking this very obvious question: if lowly, disreputable Liberals could see this existential threat from the Right hurtling towards our democracy and gaining speed and wildness decades ago, how exactly is it that professional Republican strategists like Stuart Stevens and Republican party leaders like Michael Steele and longtime Republican media influencers and insiders like Charlie Sykes failed to notice that anything was amiss until it was far, far too late?
Well, that brings us to the three main alternative theories floating around the anti-Trump crowd, and lemme tell you, alternative theory #3 is a doozy.
Alternative theory #1 is Stuart Steven's own "It was all a lie" explanation for how we got here. It doesn't conflict with Critical Base Theory Prime in any meaningful way. Instead Mr. Stevens merely that he was just wrong. He knew the racists were there all along, but he believed they were the GOP's "recessive gene". And however much their continued presence (and the media that catered to them) might have troubled him personally, he never believed they had any real clout until their clout punched him in the mouth.
The dark side has always been there, dating to McCarthy vs Eisenhower. Many of us thought it was a recessive gene. It turned out to be dominant. https://t.co/zwsthxf8Vc— stuart stevens (@stuartpstevens) December 11, 2020
Alternative theory #2 might be called the Special Carveout Theory.
As noted above, while Michael Steele is quite capable of enumerating as well as any Liberal the deep roots and spreading branches of racism in the GOP, when pushed and ask how he could, as a black man, front for a party he clearly knew was deeply racist, Mr. Steele always reserves a special carveout for himself. Sure, the GOP was deeply racist before he became RNC chair, and obviously it is a racist shithole now, but during the brief interregnum when he served as the party's chair he drove all the bigots out like St. Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland! And it was only after he was cruelly betrayed and deposed that the bigots all came rushing back.
A variation of this Special Carveout Theory has been extremely popular among anti-Trump Republicans in the media who, almost to a person, have maintained that the GOP was healthy and doing great until Donald Trump came along and something something magically transformed the entire party into a racist shithole overnight. Then and only then was their dudgeon raised high enough for them to storm off and take up residence on cable teevee and in the pages of America's major newspapers where they now whine endlessly about how Trump ruined everything (and how Liberals are pretty awful too!)
A prime example of this refusal to acknowledge the history of his political party topped with a drizzel of self-absolving drivel can be found shot through the writings of people like reliable Beltway stalactite Michael Gerson. From me back in May of 2016 ("Today In Republican Detachment Disorder: Michael Gerson"):
Former George W. Bush chief speechwriter, senior Republican policy adviser and reliable Beltway Republican stalactite, Michael Gerson, is truly, madly, deeply, concerned about the millions and millions and millions of bigots and imbeciles who apparently all suddenly and simultaneously precipitated out of thin air -- fully formed and raving mad -- and joined the Republican Party mere moments after Michael Gerson left.
What an amazing coincidence!
Ah, but there is a third alternative theory of how the GOP got this way that I think deserves much wider exposure. A "Blame the Liberals" theory that I have seen popping its head up here and there for months, and has been stinking up The Bulwark for the past couple of weeks courtesy of frequent MSNBC contributor Charlie Sykes and two of his podcast guests.
Last week, after kicking Tucker Carlson and the racist, batshit GOP around the block for 20 minutes or so, Charlie's guest Tom Nichols just could not stop himself from rolling out the Both Sides Are To Blame cannon and...
Nichols: And who is a better ally in this than the people on the Far Left! Um, you know, there's another symbiotic relationship of, y'know, the kind of the every Everything is About Racism Left and the Racism Doesn't Exist Right.
Nichols: And there's absolutely no room for any kind of considered thought or policy development here.
About a minute later Sykes bellies fully up to the Whine Bar and treats his listeners to a full Melchizedek of dark, bitter bitching about how awfully Liberals like me treat enlightened souls like him.
Sykes: ...people need to understand. Folks on on the Center Left who listen to us...
driftglass: I feel seen!
Sykes: ...I ...I think they may intellectually know this but I don't think they fully understand the how many... how intense the accusations of "You are all racists! You've always been racist!" are directed at guys like you and I. So every single time that I appear on MSNBC...
driftglass: Remind me again why the fuck you are on MSNBC at all.
Sykes: ...um there... there's a little cottage industry of folks that will say "You should never have him on because he's a complete racist! Everything he did was always a racist!" Um one of your good friends on... on... on... on... Twitter...
driftglass: You know he is absolutely talking about Charlie Pierce but won't mention him by name because he knows better than to tempt the wrath of the whatever from high atop the thing.
Sykes: ...writes basically, like, "Oh... oh it's so sad Charlie Sykes realizing that the Conservatives are awful! He was one of the people that built all of this!" and it makes it hard to say to conservatives, "You know we actually need to think about some of these issues in a different way. We need to confront this. We can have this balance between loving the American idea but maybe we have underestimated the American reality when it comes to race." because over our shoulder there's this huge chorus of Leftists saying "Ah, don't listen to him! Because you people are all racist! You're all bigots you've always been bigot[s]..."
driftglass: So which group of open-minded Conservatives were you planning on having this enlightened conversation with, Charlie? The 62,984,828 of them who voted for avowed racist Donald Trump in 2016, or the 74,216,154 of them who voted for avowed racist Donald Trump in 2020 after he spent four years amassing an unparalleled record of lies, treason, death and corruption?
Sykes: So there's a reason why the Right has been conditioned to roll its eyes and to push back against, uh, against this sort of thing and... and I find it... I find it very... very difficult because I do think that...
driftglass: Wouldn't you know it? Just as Charlie Sykes was about to completely reverse the 50 year trajectory of his racist Republican with some straight talk about race, we damn Liberals come bumbling along and fuck it all up by pointing out the irrefutable fact that appeals to racism have been a central pillar of his Republican Party for Mr. Sykes entire adult life. Isn't that right, Tom Nichols?
Nichols: Yes I feel it in my bones. Um, y'know, that this... uh... well.. y'know, "You guys... None of you are... None of you were really all that different from David Duke."
There follows a long diatribe about the sanctity of Ronald Reagan and how useless it is to talk to anyone about Reagan who doesn't understand the 1960s and 1970s.
But what about the 1980s?
And the 1990s?
And the 2000s?
And the 2010s?
And the 2020s? You know, that long period of time during which Tom Nichols was [check notes] a grown ass man who is now passing himself of as an expert knower-of-important-political-stuff?
I mean, how the hell could you have possibly missed what was happening to your party during those many decades Tom?
Nichols: I mean, y'know part of the problem that you and I have is you were a Wisconsin Republican, I was a Massachusetts Republican, um, y'know so we were already different from our South and Mountain colleagues in the party.
And what the fuck does that have to do with anything? During all of that time I was an Illinois Democrat but I sure as shit could see was going on with your Republican Party, so how did you miss it? Did they not have teevee in your state, Tom? No radio? No internet? Were there no books available to you hardy pioneers of the rustic of Massachusetts frontier? No magazines to bring you news of the wider world?
And that's the real question. The question from which fragile Conservatives political "experts" flee in terror, and against which they deploy this same, ridiculous squadron of straw men whenever it comes up. The question is not whether every single person in the GOP was David Duke, but a much simpler question that we have been asking in a hundred different ways ever since goofs like you were promoted by the media to the rank of Trusted Political Sage: since it is irrefutably true that race was "the original sin" of the modern Republican Party during the entire time you have been leading voices of that party, were you...
A) Willfully blind to the rampant racism and derangement of your Republican Party until Trump punched you in the mouth with it?
B) Too stupid to see the rampant racism and derangement of your Republican Party until Trump punched you in the mouth with it? Or...
C) Aware of the rampant racism and derangement in your Republican Party but were willing ignore it and/or lie about it for profit and/or because the party was meeting you ideological needs?
Now you might think that Charlie Sykes blaming Liberals for messing up his inspirational messages to the Right by bringing facts into the matter, or Tom Nichols pretending that no political news from the outside world was able to penetrate the shield wall of the mighty Berkshire mountains until sometime in 2015 is just about as low and craven as our Never Trump allies could possibly go to weasel out of responsibility for what has happened to their party during their adult lives while at the same time somehow blaming Liberals.
But you would be wrong, as we will discuss in Part II of Critical Base Theory.