Ohio, voting for its Republican governor, Kasich, said no to Donald Trump, the egomaniacal entrepreneur who has offered himself as the savior of the nation and the Republican Party. Missouri remained divided between Trump and right-wing Sen. Ted Cruz. But elsewhere, Trump’s Republican challengers collapsed. “We have to bring our party together,” said Trump, enjoying every moment of his triumph over that ephemeral body that the media call “the Republican establishment.”
While he is still short of a majority of Republican National Convention delegates, it would take a yet-unseen act of courage by his weak-kneed foes to stop him.
As for the Democrats, it looks as though they are going along with their party’s establishment, a collection of local pols, union leaders, lobbyists and financial and movie industry entrepreneurs. Hillary Clinton, after winning crucial Ohio and other important states, is on her way to becoming the Democratic presidential candidate. As it stands now, Bernie Sanders must figure out how he and his supporters can be a force for the rest of the year.
No matter who wins the general election in November, scholars and journalists will spend many nights, even years, puzzling over how the Republican Party reached the point where it could give the presidential nomination to Trump, so different than the Republicans who preceded him.
I first encountered Republican leaders many years ago, when they were crusading against literature they considered pornographic and against liberals on local school boards. Their beliefs were so far right, in that liberal era, it was hard to take them seriously. When President Lyndon B. Johnson swamped their 1964 candidate for the White House, Sen. Barry Goldwater, the Republican right was written off by pundits, scholars and many journalists. Yet the ferocity with which the right-wingers jeered Goldwater’s moderate Republican foe, Nelson Rockefeller of New York, at the party’s national convention was a tipoff to their tenacity and intensity.
Those qualities grew and were harnessed by a candidate with charm and civility, a politician without Goldwater’s hard edge. His name was Ronald Reagan, who was elected governor of California and then president of the United States. Preceding him in the presidency was Richard M. Nixon.
What Nixon and Reagan had in common was the despicable “Southern strategy,” executed in the states of the Old Confederacy with a thinly veiled racist appeal against civil rights, school integration and other social accomplishments of post-World War II Democratic and Republican administrations.
But as awful as some of the practices of the era’s Republicans were, they had a certain politeness, regard for institutions and common courtesy that made it easy for a liberal Jewish reporter like me to connect with them. I was on a different wavelength from them politically, but it was fun to drink with them. We respected each other.
Trump is a different kind of politician. He has adopted the worst aspects of traditional Republicanism—the implicit racism, the nationalism, the embracing of the rich and their goals—and added poisonous new ingredients. One is encouraging violence in his rallies. Goldwater wouldn’t have done that, nor would have Reagan. It would have been foreign even to Nixon, despite his disrespect for laws limiting presidential power. And Trump revels in overt and inflammatory racism, which, combined with ethnic and religious prejudice, he aims at Latinos and Muslims.
Another element is his authoritarianism, our American Mussolini. With that, and his oratorical skills, he is able to harness the anger of his crowds and direct it against protesters and reporters.
And finally, there is his complete lack of discipline, his inability to harness his ego and temper.
If he wins the nomination and goes up against Hillary Clinton, he will be tough for her—an essentially decent woman, disciplined and with manners—to defeat. He’s not the heir to Goldwater, Reagan or even Nixon. He is something new in American political life, something vile and frightening. We can only hope that Clinton or Sanders is up to the job of bringing him down.
Author: Bill Boyarsky