The “Morning Joe” panel had a discussion last week about the reckoning that some on our show believed should take place about Donald Trump’s sins against American democracy. One guest suggested that Thanksgiving dinners across America should be used as a forum for Hillary Clinton supporters to lecture Trump-supporting family members on how their vote promoted racism and xenophobia.
“Please pass the cranberry sauce, you white-privileged bigot.”
Since our family makes it a habit to not talk politics at holiday gatherings, I will leave it to others to pollute their Thanksgivings with such unpleasant talk. The better place for such nasty political forums might be at Republican meetings across the country. After all, it is past time that my party confront the ugly undercurrents that led us to this point and have been allowed to fester in the Party of Lincoln for too long.
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This November will mark the 50th anniversary of the GOP’s cracking of the Democrats’ “Solid South.” In 1966, voters across Dixie rebelled against Lyndon Johnson’s landmark civil rights laws and began electing Republicans to posts they had not held since the 1870s during Reconstruction. Next month will also mark the 50th year since the Reagan revolution was launched in California by the former actor’s stunning victory over Democratic legend Pat Brown.
While Reagan voters were far removed from the Deep South’s segregationist strife in 1966, that year’s Golden State gubernatorial election broke for Ronald Reagan, in part, because of fears stirred by the televised violence of the Watts riots. Other factors such as the Berkeley student protests, as well as Reagan’s own remarkable skills, certainly contributed to Reagan’s victory. But few would deny that racial fears roiling Southern California in the mid-60s also contributed to that historic landslide.
For the half century that followed, Republicans across the United States got elected with the backing of working-class whites, usually at the expense of giving Democrats 90 percent of the black vote. GOP presidential nominees paid lip service to the needs of people of color, but candidates from Richard Nixon to Mitt Romney also benefited from the racial resentments of white working-class voters.
This year, that undercurrent exploded to the surface of the 2016 campaign with the nomination of a candidate who dismissed many Mexicans as rapists and murderers, called for the banning of a billion Muslims from the United States, feigned ignorance on the topic of David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan, and spit out other racially charged comments that diminished his chances in the general election while seemingly feeding into his support in the Republican primary.
As Mika Brzezinski, Willie Geist and I have said for a year now, there are not enough white guys in America to elect Trump president without the support of others. His narrow strategy worked in a 17-person primary fight, and it may have even gotten him elected president had their been a few other legitimate third-party candidates. But Trump’s rhetoric seems to have limited his vote percentage to about 40 percent from the start of his campaign, and in 2016, that will not be enough to win.
Will the Trump candidacy serve as a wake-up call to Republicans? Did Romney’s loss and the party postmortem do any good four years later? Of course not. But it is past time that someone in the Republican Party leadership uses his or her position of influence to hammer into the heads of recalcitrant members that a half-century later, Reagan’s party is about to lose a presidential race’s popular vote for the sixth time in seven elections.
The Republican Party must reform or die. Because if it stays on its current course, George W. Bush’s fear may be proven right. He may be the last Republican ever elected to the White House.