Bill Clinton? Barack Obama? Nope, that is George W. Bush. And therein lies the story of the modern GOP’s descent into noxious white supremacy.
Bush was a two-term Republican president and the leader of his party. While his welcoming spirit toward immigration was not uniformly held within his party, he was certainly within the mainstream. He also signed a 25-year extension of the Voting Rights Act.
Now, less than 13 years after he left office, the mainstream of his party is xenophobic. Today’s GOP has no place for a conservative like Bush, given its devotion to limiting legal immigration; its veneration of Confederate imagery; its obsession with limiting access to the ballot (and affirmation that fewer voters are in its interest); its opposition to police reforms that would address violence disproportionately directed at Black Americans; and its refusal to repudiate its most recent party leader after he goaded his followers into proudly displaying their contempt for democracy.
Indeed, a politician who supports the Voting Right Act’s pre-clearance provisions, insists that immigrants are treated with dignity, opposes ballot restrictions based on the Big Lie that the election was stolen and demands white supremacists be held responsible for the Jan. 6 riot is well within the mainstream of the Democratic Party — even if they have deep misgivings about the pullout from Afghanistan and worry about the size of President Biden’s infrastructure plan. Bush has far more in common these days with someone such as Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) than he does with the overwhelming majority of Senate Republicans who voted to acquit Biden’s predecessor and who cheer restrictions on voting.
Progressives are correct in identifying the antecedents of Trumpism in Richard M. Nixon’s Southern Strategy, but the difference between the party of Nixon (who, for example, set up the Environmental Protection Agency), Ronald Reagan (who championed immigration reform), George H.W. Bush (who signed into the law the Americans With Disabilities Act) and Bush 43 and the party of MAGA racists is not merely one of degree. It is an entirely different animal.
A party that tolerates “replacement theory” — let alone advocates it — and sees high voter turnout as a mortal threat to its survival should not be trusted with power in a multiracial democracy in which equal protection under the law is enshrined in its Constitution. The GOP might survive, but it should not survive in its current incarnation.
There are many on the left who may take issue with George W. Bush’s policy preferences, but the United States needs a second party in which someone like him would be welcome. Until then, the Republican Party remains a threat to our inclusive democracy.