The ascension of Donald Trump, playing on the inherent bigotry and prejudices of the Republican Party, has enthralled the world as somehow both shocking and painfully predictable in equal measure.
This is a party that has long preyed upon the fears of the American people through misinformation, making it hardly surprising this toxic environment allowed such quasi-fascist demagoguery to thrive.
The list of Trump’s indiscretions, racism, buffoonery and hateful behaviour has been laid bare in newspapers across the country, to almost universal condemnation outside of the States, even amongst the UK’s thriving right-wing commentariat.
It would be perfectly reasonable to assume there is very little subtlety to Trump whatsoever. However, equally as perfidious as Trump’s obvious hatefulness, is the cover he provides the rest of the conservative movement.
It is tempting to dismiss the man as a ridiculous or pathetic figure, who in a decade will be a mere afterthought in America’s winding political history. After all, his Democratic rival is reported to be enjoying anywhere between a 9 and a 15-point lead in the polls. Key swing states Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, and New Hampshire are leaning heavily towards Clinton, the latter providing a vital boost for Democrat Maggie Hassan, which could help steer control of the senate away from the Republicans.
For any candidate to come back from such a poor performance post-convention would be unprecedented in U.S. electoral history.
Yet, it is not Trump’s electoral prospects that should worry liberals, but something far more realistic; the cover he is providing for leaders of the most extreme Republican Party we have seen in decades.
A perfect example is previous Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, who, for the past month, has been touring various media outlets decrying Trump for his “bullying, the greed, the showing off, the misogyny, the absurd third-grade theatrics" going so far as to suggest he will vote instead for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate. As a result, Romney won plaudits across liberal media outlets from experienced pundits to late night talk show audiences, and is now categorized widely in U.S. media as a “moderate Republican”.
Consider this; Trump has shaken up the political spectrum so much that Romney - a politician who vocally supported ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ and regularly decried same-sex unions - is considered a moderate.
This is a man who also refused to concede global warming is a product of mankind’s actions, who pledged to demolish Medicare within the United States, and who proposed $10 trillion of tax cuts, a third of which would have effected only the top 0.1% of Americans. In 2012 Romney arguably positioned himself as the most extreme nominee since Barry Goldwater, but he is not alone in being painted as a moderate.
The likes of South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham, George W. Bush, even Speaker of the House Paul Ryan are now referred to as the ‘established moderate wing’ of the Republican Party, precisely and solely because of their public opposition to Trump and his statements.
However, the caustic ideology behind Trump’s campaign has permeated the Republican Party long before this season’s primaries.
For many years now, the party has been held hostage to the whims of the ultra-conservative Tea Party movement, and have shown the rhetoric to match it. The only reason Ryan was propelled to his position was that he was able to showcase his extreme credentials on abortion rights, gun control, and foreign policy, campaigning against the early withdrawal of troops from the Middle East, even after the full extent of the fiasco in Iraq became clear.
Although the Republican establishment has portrayed the reality star’s rise as anomalous, Trump is simply a less subtle form of what they’ve been doing for years.
Run through the charges levelled at Trump and one can easily draw parallels with the actions of many senior Republicans over the past decade. It was only last year that Senator James Inhofe (a man of seemingly unparalleled intellect), threw a snowball across the floor of the senate in an attempt to disprove global warming. Go back as far as 2008 and Sarah Palin, (the Alaska governor infamous for claiming Down Syndrome children would have to face a “death panel”) was selected to be John McCain’s running mate.
The American conservative movement in 2016 not only shies away from intellectual debate, it appears actively immune to it. The oldest party in American politics has been overrun with those who intentionally deceive and frighten to achieve their electoral goals, and those so intellectually inept they refuse to accept either scientific evidence or empirical fact.
What unites the movement is their overarching goal to tear down women’s reproductive rights, take away healthcare for the poorest, deny the consensus of 97% of climate scientists, and to cut taxes for the wealthiest whilst blaming the poorest for their own circumstances (amongst a plethora of other, equally horrifying aims).
That Donald Trump is more blatant about his bigotry and less covert in his scaremongering signifies little more within the Republican Party than a transition from manipulative to downright stupid.
It is essential the left doesn’t rest on its laurels and watch as Trump’s electoral bid heads for oblivion. Instead, it must hold the Republicans accountable for what they have given birth to, and the way in which they have long been allowed to reign free in tearing away the social fabric of a nation built on hope.
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