They that sow the wind ...
Back in the 1960s, Barry Goldwater warned the Republican Party to avoid entanglements with the Religious Right, saying: "Mark my words. If and when [the Religious Right] get control of the [Republican] Party, it's going to be a terrible ... problem. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can't and won't compromise. I know, I've tried to deal with them." The party ignored his warning, and the first seeds of factionalism were sown.
Richard Nixon played to white resentment over the civil rights movement, particularly the Voting Rights Act of 1965 with the Republican Party's Southern Strategy. Former Democrats turned Republican, notably Strom Thurmond, who had built their careers on segregation, and Republicans like Jesse Helms, who espoused racist policies, sowed the seeds for drawing civil rights opponents into their party.
The Koch Brothers carefully nurtured the Tea Party with funds funneled through their advocacy groups, Americans for Prosperity and Freedomworks. Their uncompromising anti-government stance sowed the seeds for expelling "establishment" conservatives like Eric Cantor and Richard Lugar from Congress and for radical extremists like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio winning primaries against more experienced, better-qualified establishment candidates.
These and other trends such as talk radio's emergence divided the Republican Party into at least three factions: the "establishment," social conservatives and the anti-establishment libertarian Tea Party. They have nothing in common with each other but their obdurate — some say racist — opposition to President Barack Obama. This fragmentation led to internal struggles that, since 2012, drove House Speaker John Boehner out of Congress, shut down government, ruined the budget process and made bipartisanship impossible.
The Republicans' failure to deliver on any of their pie-in-the-sky promises to strip away abortion and gay rights, to reduce the size of government and shrink taxes only nurtured the resentment those anti-establishment factions and made being a political outsider the touchstone for political success this year.
... shall reap the whirlwind.
The 2016 Republican presidential campaign has exposed and exploded this factionalism. Each group has one surviving presidential candidate: John Kasich comes from the economic conservative wing of the party. Rubio entered the Senate in 2010 as the Tea Party's fair-haired boy; his position on immigration moderated enough that he has one foot in with the establishment. Ted Cruz, social conservative and anti-establishment flame-thrower, draws support from the Tea Party and Christian Right factions. Donald Trump, the wild card in the deck, positions himself as a populist rabble-rouser, out to exploit the large vein of anti-government resentment in the Republican and, to a lesser degree, Democratic parties.
Trump's presence has turned what began as a circus sideshow into a four-ring circus. His crude, vulgar, xenophobic, misogynistic remarks displace any serious discussion of issues. Trump just turns up the burner beneath the caldron of discontent the Republican establishment created, nurtured and encouraged. Last week, Rubio fell for his taunts and destroyed his own chances by responding in kind, reminding me of the old saw, "never mud wrestle with a pig. You just get dirty, and the pig doesn't mind."
Establishment Republicans declared war on Trump. Mitt Romney's blast stated the case against him in detail, but it didn't dissuade his supporters in weekend voting; neither did Kasich's, Cruz's and Rubio's pledge to support Trump, should he become their party's presidential candidate.
There's no way out for the Republican Party: If Trump is nominated, they fear he will cost them the presidency and possibly Congress. The only way they see to block his nomination is a divisive floor fight at their convention. But if Trump has a plurality of delegates and isn't their nominee, he will run as an independent, ruining their chances of winning the presidency. A half-century of fomenting strident dissent has created the mess they are in. President John F. Kennedy might well have been thinking of them when he said, "Those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside."
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Mitch Edelman writes from Finksburg. Email him at email@example.com.