The past, present and future of the GOP, all in one posting.
Enter the Gipper
Back in 1980, Ronald Reagan was elected President of the United States. Love him or hate him, he was elected. There was much wailing and mashing teeth among Democrats, but the man remained popular throughout his presidency. He was also, at least by modern day Republican standards, fairly moderate: He worked with Democrats in Congress (including the legendary Tip O'Neill), supported amnesty for illegal immigrants, and he campaigned with a more or less positive message. I don't consider myself a fan of the late President Reagan, but contrary to current practices of both parties, it's possible to disagree with someone's politics without demonizing them in the process.
The Hand-off & Fumble
After two terms, President Reagan had to ride into the sunset. His heir apparent, George H. W. Bush, was elected President in 1988 and served just one term in office. This is where I think the train went off the tracks. You see, it wasn't supposed to end that way for national Republicans. The Reagan-Bush years where supposed to last, maybe forever. It just didn't happen. Making it far worse? The fact that the Reagan-Bush legacy was up-ended by a man who many Republicans loathed as being nothing more than a hillbilly JFK: Bill Clinton. George H. W. Bush may have been denied a second term in office, but national Republicans would have their revenge and oust the upstart hillbilly. While national Democrats may have looked on Ronald Reagan as being nothing more than a hack actor who had a mind (and policy agenda) in lock-step with the 1950's, there never seemed to be a need to beat him at all costs. They were, instead, content with nibbling at him from the edges (Iran-Contra, Anne Gorsuch Burford, etc.). With national Republicans, it was outright war against Bill Clinton. The problem was that they failed, miserably, I might add.
Yes, despite despite investigations and whisper campaigns, atrocious right-wing talk radio attacks, and plenty of self-inflicted wounds, Bill Clinton was simply better than his Republican foes. The fact that he beat them, and ended the Reagan-Bush dynasty is, in my estimation, what brings us today.
Being beaten by Bill Clinton was simply too much for national Republicans. That failure brought the party onto a trajectory that landed this year with candidate Donald Trump. In failing to beat Bill Clinton, the national GOP pumped it's grass roots full of vitriolic steroids, instilling a hatred of all things government and counter to hard right conservatism that even surpassed what Ronald Reagan ever envisioned. The whisper campaigns test driven on Bill Clinton (remember when Hillary Clinton was both a lesbian and having an affair with Vince Foster?), fine-tuned on Michael Dukakis and perfected by Karl Rove (sometimes against fellow Republicans, such as actual war hero John McCain), became part in parcel of the political process.
What national Republicans created in all of this was a monster they just simply could never control. It's painfully ironic in a way: They campaigned against an "evil federal government" from the seat of the federal government, never stopping for a moment to believe that they might in fact get caught in their own political backwash. National Republicans don't want to admit this, but they are just as much a part of "the system" as the Democrats they seem to loathe. It's not just me who thinks this by the way...you can add in millions who voted for Donald Trump (against far more conservative challengers, such as Rafael Cruz).
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This doesn't end well for Republicans. It simply can't. Even if they win the Presidency, they've already lost their dream of a national Republican majority. Donald Trump is a lot of things...most of them evil in my estimation...but one thing he's not is beholden to the national Republican party. His tormenting of the party during the primaries is proof of that point. His winning in November though seems (hopefully) unlikely. Assuming he loses, there will be a day of reckoning for those members of the national GOP that supported him...they know this by the way, which explains the many hedging of endorsement bets by the likes of Speaker Paul Ryan and others.
Mark my words: No matter what happens in November, a storm is coming for the Republican party.