This column ran in Dome Magazine.
“With such extremists rising to positions of leadership in the Republican Party, we cannot recapture the respect of the nation and lead it to its necessary spiritual, moral, and political rebirth if we hide our heads in the sand and decline to even recognize in our platform that the nation is again beset by modern ‘know nothings.’” –– Michigan Gov. George Romney, 1964
More than a half-century ago, Michigan Gov. George Romney famously refused to back the GOP’s far-right presidential nominee.
The former American Motors CEO believed that libertarian-leaning Barry Goldwater would destroy the Republican Party as he knew it. So Romney tried valiantly to persuade his GOP brethren to reject Goldwater in 1964.
They didn’t –– and Republicans lost by a landslide.
Today, the presumptive GOP nominee isn’t an Ayn Rand disciple (the man named in the Empress of Objectivism’s honor, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), dropped out early on). And ironically, another Rand fan, U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), has been floated as a third-party alternative.
That’s because Goldwater’s “extremism” looks quaint in today’s GOP. You could make a compelling case that even the “moderate” Republican presidential hopeful, John Kasich, lands further right than Goldwater, especially on social issues.
For decades, the Republican base has been egged on, first by talk radio, and later by FOX News and online players like The Daily Caller and Breitbart. They sell a rage-infused cocktail of racial resentment and jingoistic militarism. In their world, enemies are all around us: African-American criminals, illegal immigrant drug dealers, uppity feminists, gays using our bathrooms, snooty left-wing professors and more.
Why, it’s enough to make you paranoid.
And so, it’s not terribly surprising that Republicans have picked a presidential nominee who promises to “Make America Great Again.” But Donald Trump’s seemingly cheery Reaganesque slogan sells much darker policies, from banning Muslims from entering the country to building a wall to shield us from murderous immigrants.
Trump’s need to constantly belittle women (they’re “pigs” and “dogs”) and sexualize them (he even called his then-teenage daughter “hot”) tears a page from Men’s Rights Activist playbook. And he’s oddly fond of retweeting neo-Nazis.
He’s made no bones about his contempt for the Constitution and democratic process, with promises to gut the First Amendment. And he wants to meddle in private business, like ordering companies like Ford not to build plants overseas.
It’s nothing short of amazing that one of our major political parties is on the brink of nominating a man who seeks to rule as a thuggish dictator.
Not all Republicans have fallen in line, of course. The last GOP presidential nominee, Mitt Romney –– George Romney’s son –– refuses to vote for Trump. Both Presidents Bush have said the same, after watching the bombastic businessman beat up on fellow contender Jeb Bush for the better part of a year.
And there are the #NeverTrump forces, which launched a laughably ineffective campaign long after the alleged billionaire started racking up victories.
You can hear echoes of George Romney’s warnings of a Goldwater-era bloodbath in their plaintive anti-Trump pleas.
Of course, the most powerful way for sane Republicans to torpedo Trump is to endorse the likely Democratic nominee. Some would have held their nose and done so if it wasn’t Hillary Clinton, who conservative media has demonized as a feminist shrew for decades. Old habits die hard –– and she’s just too fun to hate (just ask far-left Bernie Sanders supporters).
In the end, almost all Republicans who are on a ballot this year –– or yearn to be in the future –– will make the same calculation as Richard Nixon did with Goldwater in ‘64. They’ll endorse Trump, just as Lt. Gov. Brian Calley did in a resigned late-night tweet this week.
Some will stump for Trump with the manufactured gusto that Nixon did for Goldwater, like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
But many Republicans will do their best to deflect questions about Trump’s racist policies and sexist remarks. They’ll stay on message that it’s important to support the Republican nominee (apparently, no matter who it shall be). And they’ll continue to pray that Trump doesn’t wipe the party out down-ballot.
You can see this crass calculation even within the Romney clan. Mitt will probably never run for anything again, so he can take a principled anti-Trump stance. His niece, Ronna Romney McDaniel, however, is a highly ambitious former GOP national committeewoman and the current chair of the Michigan Republican Party.
And so, even before Trump wrapped up the nomination, McDaniel announced she would serve as one of his delegates. Her grandfather went to the GOP convention in 1964 on a long-shot crusade to save the party from an extreme nominee. Now she’ll be in Cleveland to cheer on another.
But if McDaniel eventually becomes the first Republican to hold a Michigan U.S. Senate seat since 2000, it will all be worth it.
Susan J. Demas is Publisher and Editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a nationally acclaimed, biweekly political newsletter. Her political columns can be found at SusanJDemas.com. Follow her on Twitter here.