In May, during an Aspen Institute conference, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told the audience, “I want the Republican Party to take back the party, take it back to where you were when you cared about a woman’s right to choose, you cared about the environment…This country needs a strong Republican Party. And we do. Not a cult. But a strong Republican Party.” Her comments echoed a sentiment that Joe Biden had expressed during the 2020 campaign: If Donald Trump were out of the White House, the GOP would return to normal and be amenable to forging deals and legislative compromises.
Both Pelosi and Biden have bolstered the notion that the current GOP, with its cultlike embrace of Trump and his Big Lie, and its acceptance of the fringiest players, is a break from the past. But was the GOP’s complete surrender to Trumpism an aberration? Or was the party long sliding toward this point? About a year ago, I set out to explore the history of the Republican Party, with this question in mind. What I found was not an exception, but a pattern. Since the 1950s, the GOP has repeatedly mined fear, resentment, prejudice, and grievance and played to extremist forces so the party could win elections. Trump assembling white supremacists, neo-Nazis, Christian nationalists, QAnoners, and others who formed a violent terrorist mob on January 6 is only the most flagrant manifestation of the tried-and-true GOP tactic to court kooks and bigots. It’s an ugly and shameful history that has led the Party of Lincoln, founded in 1854 to oppose the extension of slavery, to the Party of Trump, which capitalizes on racism and assaults democracy.
In my book American Psychosis: A Historical Investigation of How the Republican Party Went Crazy, I lay out this sordid history in great detail. But even a highlight reel makes it clear that the GOP has bowed to, depended on, and promoted far-right extremists and conspiracists for the past 70 years. Trumpism is the continuation, not a new version, of Republican politics. [Continue reading…]