Trump didn’t hijack the GOP and bend it to his will. He did something far easier: He looked at the party, saw its fault lines and then offered himself as a pure distillation of accumulated white grievance and anger. He bet that Republican voters didn’t really care about free trade or mutual security, or about the environment or Europe, much less deficits. He rebranded kindness and compassion as “PC” and elevated division and bigotry as the admirable goals of just being politically incorrect. Trump didn’t make Americans more racist; he just normalized the resentments that were simmering in many households. In short, he let a lot of long-suppressed demons out of the box.
This paranoid element in the party has existed for decades, since the Joe McCarthy era, when some Republicans who saw dark forces threatening the country argued that only radical action by “true” Americans — white, Christian, conservative — could safeguard the nation. Barry Goldwater revived the theme in 1964, and George Wallace won five states with it as a third-party candidate in 1968. I worked in every Republican presidential campaign from 1996 through 2012 and assumed that those guys had long been vanquished and that optimism and inclusion had prevailed. I was wrong.
This impeachment moment and all that has led to it should signal a day of reckoning. A party that has as its sole purpose the protection and promotion of its leader, whatever he thinks, is not on a sustainable path.