Unfortunately, the social and political poison that made a Cruz candidacy viable for so long isn’t gone. That’s obvious from the next-day headline the Huffington Post used to describe the new titular head of the Republican Party: Liar. Xenophobe. Misogynist. Demagogue. Presidential Nominee.
Donald Trump’s success completes for the moment the most astonishing act of self-destruction in the history of American politics. I’m referring, of course, to that of the Republican Party itself. Some GOP officeholders and operatives are now crying in their teacups about Trump – with a few even publicly pledging not to vote for him. But the GOP’s leadership has only itself to blame.
Consider this: The Republican Party is about to nominate a man of dubious political beliefs who has never before held any political office and whose personal life has, according to his many boasts over the years, violated several tenets of supposedly sacred conservative “values.” Yet, he has vanquished a Republican primary field that included four current governors, four current senators, and the son and brother of the Party’s last two presidents.
And Trump conquered the field not by reasoned discourse and a coherent policy platform, but via a reality-show-like campaign that appealed to the worst instincts and attitudes of a large segment of Republican voters.
That “winning” approach was fully on display in the weeks leading up to the Indiana primary. By then, the once-smarmy public “friendship” of Cruz and Trump had degenerated into a venomous display of cesspool politics. Trump’s scurrilous references to Cruz’s wife and father provoked Cruz to describe Trump as “a pathological liar,” “utterly amoral,” “a narcissist at a level I don’t think this country has ever seen,” “a serial philanderer … [who] boasts about it …”
In addition to what it says about the character of both men, we ought to see this deep dive into cesspool politics in its broader dimension: as a blowback of the immoral, win-at-all-costs attitude Republicans had been cultivating within the party for years. It should have been clear to them years ago that the profound intolerance and irrationality they stoked among GOP voters to try to wreck the Obama administration would sooner or later come home to roost.
In fact, as soon as Obama took office, the GOP’s “Obama Derangement Syndrome” began to wreak havoc among Republicans as a bloc of GOP voters applied a no-holds-barred intolerance to Republican officeholders who were deemed insufficiently extreme. Their fury would in time produce the startling defeats of several prominent Congressional Republicans, including Indiana Senator Richard Lugar and Virginia Representative Eric Cantor, then the third-ranking House Republican.
That descent into extremism also led to Cruz’s 2012 U.S. Senate victory, and, he thought, gave him the ammunition to begin running for the White House – by denigrating the GOP’s congressional leadership – from the moment he arrived in Washington.
A year earlier, Trump’s grab for attention in 2011 on a “platform” mimicking the GOP “Birthers” – who claimed that Obama wasn’t born in the U.S. and therefore wasn’t eligible to be president – had revealed just how irrational and uninterested in logic and facts a large segment of the GOP electorate was willing to be. Obama’s re-election and the major achievements he continued to score despite Republican control of Congress intensified the erosion of political sense and common decency within the party.
Cruz will now be overshadowed by the focus on Trump. But it shouldn’t be forgotten that (albeit Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who ended his campaign less than a day after Cruz did) they were the last men standing in the GOP primary. For they’re two sides of the same coin: Cruz tried to capture the presidency by running against his own party from the inside, while Trump, armed with his own financial war chest, was raiding it from outside.
Now that both parties’ nominees are set, expect more cesspool politics from Trump and the horde of overtly racist and sexist individuals and groups that comprise part of his winning coalition. That is what he – who opened his campaign with the most naked appeal to bigotry of any presidential campaign since the segregationist Dixiecrat Party of 1948 – used to defeat the Republican Party. That is what thrills the 40 percent or so of Republican voters who comprise his base. Indeed, the scurrilous and sexist T-shirts and other merchandise that are the artifacts of conservatives’ “Hillary Derangement Syndrome” are already being hawked at Trump’s rallies. Albeit his half-hearted promises to be “presidential,” cesspool politics is the only kind of politics Donald Trump knows how to play.
Lee A. Daniels, a former reporter for
The Washington Post and
the New York Times, is also a former editor of The National Urban League’s
The State of Black America. He is a keynote speaker and author whose books include
Last Chance: The Political Threat to Black America. He is writing a book on the Obama years and the 2016 election. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org