But what if the accounting comes from one of the Republican Party’s most accomplished political strategists, an insider provoked by Trump to reconsider his life’s work? In fact, it has.
Consider “It Was All A Lie,” the forthcoming book by disillusioned Republican ad-maker Stuart Stevens. He casts Trump as not an aberration but rather the culmination of decades-long evolution within the GOP. Having advised four Republican presidential nominees and dozens of winning Senate and gubernatorial campaigns, Stevens blends diagnosis of the party’s ills with confession for having fostered them.
“Blame me when you look around and see a dysfunctional political system and a Republican Party that has gone insane,” Stevens writes. “Many will argue that my view of the Republican Party is distorted by my loathing of Trump. The truth is that Trump brought it all into clarity and made the pretending impossible.”
Trump’s crudeness, he argues, has stripped the veneer from familiar Republican themes concerning social order, values and even economic policy. If they once represented principled ideological arguments, they’ve now curdled into content-free bludgeons to preserve power for the dwindling ranks of white conservatives in a rapidly-diversifying America.
A gifted stylist who has written television scripts as well as seven other books, Stevens dissects several categories of deception. Though he could not have anticipated it — the book, completed last September, does not include the words “coronavirus” or “George Floyd” — events of recent days keep offering improbably-vivid evidence for his assessments.
His largest target is the politics of race; the Mississippi native, borrowing from historical allusions to the nation’s founding, calls it “the original Republican sin.” It traces to the mid-1960s when GOP presidential candidate Barry Goldwater opposed civil rights legislation signed into law by Democratic incumbent Lyndon Johnson.
Trump has discarded the subtlety of what became known as the “Southern strategy” to seek White votes almost exclusively. Last week, he threatened to veto legislation that would remove the names of Confederate generals from military bases — even if commanders want to rename them.
The same has happened with “family values,” which Stevens calls “never a set of morals or values that the Republican Party really desired to live by” but instead “another weapon to help portray those on the other side as being out of the mythical America mainstream.” While he enjoys near-unanimous support among White evangelical Christians, Trump this past week offered well-wishes to a friend charged by federal prosecutors with child sex-trafficking.
Stevens skewers the GOP’s “spiritual” devotion to cutting taxes; Trump sought unsuccessfully to force a payroll tax cut into corovanirus relief legislation only to be knocked back by Republican members of the Senate.
And Stevens laments his party’s rejection of science and evidence for conspiracy theories and dogma to shield special-interest allies like the National Rifle Association.
“Today the intellectual leaders of the Republican Party are the paranoids, kooks, know-nothings and bigots who once could be heard only on late-night talk shows,” Stevens writes. Trump last week called coronavirus testing “overrated,” falsely suggested schoolchildren don’t transmit the virus, and boasted of his performance on a cognitive test that screens for dementia.
Conservative media outlets that Stevens labels a “machinery of deception” encourage the Republican flight from reality — and risk backlash if they don’t. When Fox News surveys showed him trailing Democratic opponent Joe Biden last week, Trump denounced them as “fake polls.”
Taken together, Stevens concludes, these trends have made the GOP a “white grievance party.” The grievances grow as demographic, cultural and economic changes move America closer to becoming a majority-minority nation and alter the balance of societal power.
White fear has become the unalloyed rallying cry of Trump’s bid for a second term. Last week he rolled back fair housing regulations he claims would destroy suburban neighborhoods, falsely accused Biden of seeking to “defund the police,” warned mail-in voting would “rig” the election, and sent federal officers to battle Portland street protestors in the name of “law and order.”
Tom Ridge, the former Pennsylvania Republican governor who became the first Secretary of Homeland Security following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, warned against the specter of “the president’s personal militia.” Republicans in office now said little.
Polls show voters speaking emphatically. Rejecting Trump’s bluster on the pandemic and racial division alike, they’ve made Democrats mid-summer favorites to win the White House and undivided control of Congress in November.
Would repudiation make Republicans change in pursuit of a broader swath of 21st century America? It didn’t after 2012, when Stevens’ client Mitt Romney lost to President Barack Obama.
“I’m not hopeful,” the author concludes. “Better than most, I know the seductive lure of believing what you prefer to believe and ignoring the obvious truth.”