Still, Republican leadership refused to eject the nutters from their party when, say, birtherism swept through the base. They may have privately winced at the racist conspiracy theory, but they nonetheless found it too useful to delegitimize the first Black president.
The reckoning also didn’t come after Mitt Romney, endorsed by one of the leading birthers, lost in 2012. The GOP dissected Romney’s defeat in an infamous “autopsy” report that concluded the party needed to develop more “non-inflammatory and inclusive” messaging — a recommendation it promptly ignored.
The reckoning didn’t come after then-candidate Donald Trump cleared the 2016 primary field, barking inflammatory and non-inclusive messaging that other Republicans had merely whispered or winked at. Perhaps afraid to out themselves as the “establishment” Trump railed against, Republican officials shrugged as Trump promulgated ever more cynical conspiracy theories about fake unemployment numbers, a climate change “hoax” and homicidal immigrant hordes. At the time, I predicted that Trump’s electoral loss would force the GOP to acknowledge it needed another Buckley-esque purge, draining the right-wing fever swamps, at least if it wished to survive.
I was wrong, of course. The reckoning didn’t come then, either, because Trump won.