But the right’s strategy of militantly opposing, and sometimes delegitimizing, Democratic presidents stretches back two decades now. It has its roots in the end of the Cold War, which stripped Americans of a common enemy; in the fragmentation of media that once spanned ideological divides and now exacerbates them; and in the near-extinction of the southern conservative Democrats and northern liberal Republicans who once helped broker political compromise.
As for dogmatically opposing the president’s agenda, that preceded Obama too. In 1993, every single Republican member of Congress voted against Clinton’s inaugural budget. When Clinton pushed for healthcare reform, Senate Minority Leader Robert Dole repeatedly opposed even reforms he had previously cosponsored. When Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell tried to draft a compromise proposal, Bill Kristol—who rose to fame fighting Clinton’s healthcare effort—urged GOP senators to “sight unseen, oppose it.” It’s worth remembering that when Obama ran against Hillary Clinton in 2008, one of his selling points was that Republicans didn’t hate him the way they hated her.
To believe that the right’s hostility to Obama stems mostly from his race is actually comforting, since it suggests that the next Democratic president won’t have it nearly as bad. If you believe that, Hillary Clinton has a bridge she’d like to sell you.