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Dan Gelber: Republicans have only themselves to blame for the popularity of Donald Trump

The “establishment” of the Republican Party is going nuts. Donald Trump is leading a hostile takeover of their party and they — the Koch brothers, Glen Beck, the National Review, George Will and every other self-professed conservative thinker — don’t know what do to about it.

First, they ignored him. Then they laughed at him. But now that Trump is on the verge of winning the nomination, the party leaders are frantically trying to upend him. For all their hysteria and shock, no one, especially the leaders of the GOP, should be surprised.

Trump didn’t create this movement. They did.

Fifty years ago, when the Democratic Party embraced the civil rights movement, the Republican Party decided to embrace disenchanted southern white voters. The party of Lincoln cravenly adopted a “southern strategy” that gave angry voters a home. They fed their little pitbull puppy red meat every election cycle, continuing the strategy with new, imagined boogeymen. They built a reliable coalition based upon fear and anger.

And it often worked. While their economic policies might be giving everyday folks the shaft, their social rhetoric made them feel good — good and angry.

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Well, the pitbull is fully grown, escaped its crate, and is now snarling as it roams throughout the house leaving all the adults cowering in the locked bathroom.

Talk to any one of them, and they righteously proclaim the Republican Party is really about high-minded ideologies like “free enterprise” and “reduced government regulation.” Of course, it’s a rank fantasy for Republicans to think these are the issues that have defined them on Election Day.

No national election has been won because Republican voters stormed the polls to give insurance companies higher rates, or to make sure utility companies were unconstrained by regulators, or to help hedge fund managers maintain a lower effective tax rate.

When push came to shove, the Republican Party has always excited its base (and funded its message) by demonizing immigrants, opposing the progress of minorities, gays and women, making people think the government was taking away their guns, and ensuring that the wealthiest remain so.

Not all Republicans agreed with the strategy, but too many were willing to go along with it.

When preserving power by any means becomes the singular goal of your party, virtue is bound to be replaced with bombast, and thoughtful policies supplanted by callow rhetoric.

And don’t get me wrong, Trump will be formidable because appealing to the worst instincts in people can sometimes be effective. But at least this election will present clear choices.

So don’t blame Donald Trump because more than half your party adores the fear, anger, misogyny, racism and xenophobia he spouts. Don’t blame Donald Trump because his adolescent pronouncements and charlatan promises have become your organizing principles.

You know exactly whom to blame.

***

Dan Gelber is a former State Senator and Democratic Leader of the Florida House. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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