Grand OId Party Pooper

An open letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan on why backing Trump will gut the Republican Party for decades

By Kurt Eichenwald

Speaker Ryan:

This presidential campaign has raised a few crucial questions, ones you are uniquely qualified to answer: What does the Republican Party stand for? And how much damage is it willing to inflict on itself—and the country—to put Donald Trump in the White House?

Let’s start with the reality that has led the GOP to the crisis it now faces: Trump is not a Republican. Sure, he appears on the ballot with an R next to his name, but you are supporting a candidate who has hijacked your party. This is my fourth open letter urging you to withdraw your endorsement of Trump, and at no point have I suggested that my efforts are in support of Hillary Clinton; instead, these missives were written to preserve the two-party system and to save the GOP and its rational supporters from the toxin of Trumpism. I have already written to you about my experiences with Trump, dating back decades, that convinced me he will govern as recklessly as he has campaigned; I have also reviewed for you his repeated lies under oath and discussed the disturbing ruse of his “religious commitment.” Now I will address what, for you, Mr. Speaker, may be the most important point here: Trump will poison the Republican brand for decades because he embodies the racist, xenophobic, angry faction your party has exploited for the past eight years.

The high point for the modern Republican Party may have been the 1984 GOP convention. Ronald Reagan was riding toward his 49-state romp over former Vice President Walter Mondale, and the mood at the convention was upbeat, with party leaders looking to expand what was being called “Big Tent Republicanism” to make the GOP appealing to all Americans. That message was hit throughout the GOP gathering in Dallas, perhaps with the strongest moment coming during the keynote address by Reagan’s U.S. treasurer, Katherine Ortega, who spoke to voters outside the party by saying, “Nuestra casa es su casa.

Our house is your house—a powerful message for Hispanics and all nonwhite voters, as well as others who previously might not have felt welcomed by the party.

The GOP’s low point is now. In the eight years building up to this election cycle, the party has made foolish, self-destructive decisions that showed contempt for voters who are not traditional Republicans. The birther nonsense—contending that Barack Obama is not an American—was subtly, and sometimes explicitly, encouraged by Republican politicians. Conservatives are now acknowledging that the effort was, as Republican Senator Jeff Flake said, “a fantasy.”

Republican strategist Matt Mackowiak was more blunt in a series of tweets. He bemoaned the rise of Trump and tied it to the birthers. “We knew Obama wasn’t born in Kenya. But for some conservatives, we liked seeing Obama being forced to answer questions and provide documentation…Republicans had a chance to do the right thing, and many passed. Many Republicans didn’t want to offend their base, which despised Obama for taking the country far left. But the base was wrong.”

The enterprise was built on racism, and minorities throughout the country know it. Add to that the GOP’s refusal to fix the Voting Rights Act to address concerns raised by the Supreme Court, its grotesque efforts to gerrymander congressional districts on what the courts have found to be intentionally racial lines, and its pumping up of another fantasy of your base—voter fraud—that courts have also found is designed to make it harder for minorities to vote, and the message is clear: People in the fastest-growing demographics are not welcome in the Republican Party. In fact, they are an enemy that must be stopped.
There is no “Nuestra casa es su casa” message anymore. Instead, phrases like “F*ck that n*gg*er!” are yelled (on camera) at Trump rallies. Hispanic citizens of the U.S. are regularly confronted with screams of “Build the wall!” A dark-skinned Trump supporter was escorted out of a rally for fear he was a protester. Sean Jackson, the head of the Black Republican Caucus of Florida, was also evicted from a rally and now says the Trump campaign doesn’t care about minorities. When Senator Tim Kaine, the Democrats’ vice presidential nominee, spoke Spanish in his speech at the convention (just as Ortega did at the Republican convention more than three decades ago), über-preppy Fox News pundit Tucker Carlson on saw this as omino Sean Jackson, us, warning that it had “deeper implications for the country.”
I do not believe the Republican Party is racist, but racism is a slow-growing cancer within it that metastasized during the Obama administration. Trump is the ultimate (and predictable) outcome of the GOP’s pandering to bigots. He has been sued by the government for refusing to rent apartments in his buildings to black people. His casinos were fined for removing black card dealers. He was one of the leaders of the birther movement. He attacks a judge as biased merely because he’s of Mexican descent. He does not condemn the many white supremacists campaigning for him. He refers to “the blacks” as some monolithic group that is universally poor and uneducated. His attacks on Muslim-Americans have been reprehensible.

Trump’s appeals to hatred are having a huge effect, even on children, according to 5,000 teachers polled by the Southern Poverty Law Center about the state of racism in schools. Read these quotes: “My students are terrified of Donald Trump,” says one teacher from a middle school with a large population of African-American Muslims. “They think that if he’s elected, all black people will get sent back to Africa.” In Oregon, an elementary school teacher says her black students are “concerned for their safety because of what they see on TV at Trump rallies.” In Tennessee, a kindergarten teacher says a Latino child, who has been bullied by classmates telling him he will be deported, asks every day, “Is the wall here yet?”

If Republican Party leaders continue to support this hateful, lying demagogue, it will rightfully be pushed into irrelevance as these children grow up and America’s old, white racists die off.

And why, Mr. Speaker, should you allow your party to be brought down by a man who doesn’t stand for Republican beliefs? Compare Trump’s policies with the long-standing principles of the Republican Party. In the 1980s, Reagan was clear about the party’s commitment to free trade. “Protectionism is destructionism,” he said in his 1988 State of the Union address. “Our goal must be a day when the free flow of trade, from the tip of Tierra del Fuego to the Arctic Circle, unites the people of the Western Hemisphere in a bond of mutually beneficial exchange.”

Trump constantly declares that many of the free trade agreements vigorously supported by Republicans have led to the “rape” of the United States. He wants only “good deals,” while attacking Republican bastions like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for “selling out Americans.” What are those good deals? How will he achieve them? What pixie dust does he have that the rest of the Republican Party has chosen not to use for decades? He has often vowed to impose high tariffs to bully American companies into keeping jobs in the United States. Experts in both parties say that would lead to a ruinous trade war.

Now consider Trump’s many harangues against the immigration of Muslims and people from many Muslim countries. I don’t need to make an argument here, Mr. Speaker, because you’ve already done it for me. “This is not conservatism,” you said in May. “[It] is not what this party stands for, and more importantly, it’s not what this country stands for.” Yet it is a primary message of the Trump campaign.

What about Trump and the military? Reagan said, “Use of force is always and only a last resort.” Compare this with Trump, whose strategy for dealing with the Daesh militant group includes attacking both allied and non-allied nations in the Middle East to “bomb the shit out” of refineries and pipelines “until there was nothing left.” Then he would lead some sort of invasion (Syria? Iraq?) while ignoring the sovereignty of those countries, to force them to bring in Exxon Mobil to rebuild. How can any responsible adult support such a dangerous, ignorant plan, one that would violate international law? Trump can do it because he thinks experts are stupid. “I know more about Daesh than the generals do,’’ he proclaimed during the campaign.

A lot of Trump’s military strategy is based on war crimes. Regarding terrorists, for example, he said “you have to take out their families.” How will he force the U.S. military to intentionally murder innocents and risk ending up in the dock at The Hague? When told that the military would refuse to carry out an illegal order, Trump harrumphed, “They won’t refuse. They’re not going to refuse me. If I say do it, they’re going to do it.”

His love of torture suggests more war crimes. He doesn’t even use the phrase “enhanced interrogation,” which the Bush administration coined to represent a torture-light that didn’t cross the lines of legality (an argument now dismissed by almost every legal expert). Trump just flat out declares, “Torture works,” and he vows to use it extensively, despite the fact that it violates both international and federal law and has been proven to not work. Even the authors of the Bush administration’s interrogation policy oppose Trump.

There are so many more profound differences between Trumpism and Republicanism: taxes, Social Security, Cuba, eminent domain, Medicare drug negotiations and so on. He has suggested America should abandon military agreements with Japan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia and push each of those nations to develop nuclear weapons. He has denigrated America’s commitment to NATO and waffled on whether the U.S. would meet its obligations for a joint defense. He has insulted major U.S. allies, including the former British prime minister and the German chancellor; he snubbed the Israeli prime minister after he criticized a Trump policy and even threatened the mayor of London. It seems the only major international figure Trump has not insulted or appalled is Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom he has repeatedly praised.

Which leads back to my original question, Mr. Speaker: What is the Republican Party today? What is it you’re endorsing in this campaign? If you believe the GOP stands for racism, xenophobia, protectionism, nuclear proliferation, torture, war crimes, the reckless use of military force and fanboy support for a powerful and conniving dictator who threatens America, then please proceed. But I am sure you support none of that.

Do the right thing, Mr. Speaker. Withdraw your endorsement of this dangerous man. Do not put the futures of my children and yours at risk. Stand up for what the Republican Party has historically believed and condemn Donald Trump.


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