Reading Max Boot’s column (How the ‘Stupid Party’ Created Donald Trump) in the New York Times, I was reminded of a piece I wrote last September called How the Stupid Party was Made. Here’s my intro to that piece:
It’s easy to get inured to polling results that demonstrate that a significant part of the American population barely has enough brain capacity to operate their lungs. It’s hard to imagine how a brain that can simultaneously hold that the president is a Muslim and that he is at fault for being a member of Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s congregation can figure out how to simultaneously pump the heart and regulate body temperature.
And, therefore, it’s sobering to realize that a plurality of Republican poll responders think the president was born outside of the United States (44%-29%) and a big majority believe that he is a Muslim (54%) rather than a Christian (14%).
Consider the latter proposition. Republican poll responders are almost four times more likely to be wrong about the president’s religion than they are to be correct about it, and a third of them are too stupid to be sure one way or the other.
Okay, so there are a lot of dumb people in the world. This is not a newsflash to anyone.
But they’ve sorted themselves into this conservative movement in a rather striking fashion.
I’ll get to how I diagnosed this sorting in a minute, but first I want to take a look at Max Boot’s argument. He begins by noting that historically important Republicans like Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard Nixon were highly intelligent. He then seems to make a case that Republicans, perhaps starting with Eisenhower, began masquerading as the “stupid party,” in order to “preserve [their] political room to maneuver.”
Boot is taking a longer view than I had in my September piece. He’s trying to figure out how the Republican Party wound up nominating a Birther who “doesn’t know the difference between the Quds Force and the Kurds.” And he may have identified an important component of the explanation which can be described as “pretending to be stupid attracts stupid people.”
However, that doesn’t explain why the Stupid catalyzed from a strategic affectation into a virulent strain of Dumb during the (latter) Bush and Obama presidencies. My explanation addresses that question frontally:
What the Republicans did was create an electorate that didn’t previously exist. Sure, the gullible people were there already, but they weren’t misinformed and they weren’t sorted politically.
The reason this was done by Republicans, I believe, is because the conservative movement has determined that they can hold onto power a little longer despite demographic changes and the browning of America if they can sharply increase their share of the white vote. And the way to do that is not to figure out what these people need and offer ways to give it to them, but to get them to think more in terms of their whiteness. Whites go over here in the right column and everyone else goes over there in the left column.
This is the rationale. It has the potential to work, and it’s already working on the state and congressional district level, helping Republicans control legislatures throughout the country and in Washington DC.
It’s a transparent effort to ramp up racial animosity as a way, probably the only way, to avoid softening their positions on their conservative ideology. If they don’t do this, then they’ll have to recraft their appeal, which means that conservatives will lose control of the Republican Party– one of only two viable parties in the country.
There’s an ironic beauty in the fact that Trump came along and adopted this strategy as his own, but without the intention of preserving the power of the Conservative Movement. So, Max Boot is correct that the Republicans created Donald Trump by becoming the Stupid Party, but I don’t think he understands how this hijacking really occurred. It wasn’t dabbling in stupidity that weakened the party to the point that it could be stolen from conservatives. It was dabbling in racism that did that.
A political movement that relied on polarizing the nation by race in order to survive without compromising or evolving their ideology wound up getting a racially polarized nation and losing their party and their power.
So, now, conservatives are actually offended the racism goes too far and is sincere, and the pretense to stupidity has become the reality.
There’s a big cleanup in aisle three, and very few of the people who created this mess are in a position to be part of the solution. There’s no constituency left that wants to accept their leadership or listen to what they have to say.