The Republican Party could have met those challenges in one of several ways. It could have adopted a genuinely pro-family, populist economic message with a patriotic bent that elevated the “dignity of work” with child tax credits, subsidized child care, a minimum wage tied to a realistic cost-of-living escalator and national service. But that would have brought the wrath of the GOP’s donor class, Wall Street interests and anti-government libertarians (who never attracted much of a following outside right-wing think tanks and lobbyists).
So instead, the right incubated a hodgepodge of know-nothingism (e.g., climate change denial and screwball economic protectionism), racism, xenophobia, misogyny and victimhood (legions were emotionally wounded by hearing “Happy holidays!”) to whip up the less-educated White vote. It did so with the help of two factors: First, a range of voter-suppression tactics helped sustain White political dominance despite demographic decline. Second, a greedy, right-wing media machine fed a steady diet of stories to its audience suggesting Christians were the most persecuted faction in the United States, immigrants were criminals and expertise-wielding elites were out to get them.
Could President Trump have risen to power without his racist birtherism conspiracy fanned by talk radio and Fox News? Unlikely. Could Republicans have maintained their lock in increasingly diverse states without voter suppression? Almost certainly not. Without white supremacy and right-wing media supporting each other, the runt Republican Party would have been vulnerable.
In a real sense, the Republican Party came apart at the seams in the Trump years. Reality intruded. Americans saw with their own eyes the brutal killing of George Floyd. They knew the reality of covid-19 and could tell Trump and his media sycophants were lying to them, with deadly results. They realized that supply-side tax cuts only expanded the gap between rich and poor and that ripping away the Affordable Care Act would cause them untold pain.
Trump, of course, helped pull down the scaffolding that kept the party standing by sending women and college-educated voters fleeing. In 2018, the Democrats had the good sense to run moderate standard-bearers, gaining more than 40 seats in the House. And for once, Democrats nominated a presidential candidate who could not be caricatured successfully as a “socialist” and whose character starkly contrasted with the amoral, un-Christian, cruel, dishonest and racist Republican nominee. The presidential election now transcends politics. Light vs. dark. Decent vs. malicious. Facts vs. lies.
The obscure conspiracy theories from Trump and the right-wing media now only provoke eye-rolling. The public will no longer tolerate the ludicrous lies that Republicans must rely upon to sustain power (e.g., covid-19 has been conquered, Blacks are coming to destroy the suburbs).
The upside-down world of the MAGA crowd cannot right itself. Covid-19 is real. Systemic racism is real. Economic suffering is real. Trump is unfit for the presidency. It’s the Republican Party and its media handmaidens who are fake. Their time is up.