Just when you thought we had reached the nadir of conservative American politics, the party of Donald Trump showed us it is indeed possible for things to get worse. This week the GOP developed a party platform that doubles down on its politics of exclusion, willfully ignoring the very factors that led to its demise in the last two presidential elections and all but announcing that anyone who isn’t a white, straight, cisgender male can go elsewhere.
Given the divisive and rightward-shifting politics of the GOP over the last four years—not to mention the sheer existence of Donald Trump—the platform should probably not come as a surprise. But it’s worth remembering that for a brief sliver of time four years ago, there was an indication that the party might—even if for purely selfish reasons—begin to expand its tent.
After President Obama won re-election in a decisive victory over Mitt Romney, RNC chairman Reince Priebus asked party leaders to conduct a post-election analysis and figure out just where the party had gone wrong. The resulting 100-page report details the party’s failure to engage women, people of color, immigrants, young people, and the LGBT community and insists the party must build a diverse coalition if it is to have any chance of winning future presidential elections. To be sure, the report was more a condemnation of the GOP’s messaging than of the actual policies that have been responsible for pushing away so many voters; calling for an overhaul in the way the party talks to voters rather than the way it actually treats them. Still, it was at least an indication that some inside the party knew a different path was necessary if the party was to remain relevant.
As we near the final phase of this bizarre and terrifying presidential race, it’s worth revisiting that report, even if the GOP has once again failed to take its own advice. The report’s authors concluded, “Unless changes are made, it will be increasingly difficult for Republicans to win another presidential election in the near future.” They continued:
It is time to smartly change course, modernize the Party, and learn once again how to appeal to more people, including those who share some but not all of our conservative principles… Our standard should not be universal purity; it should be a more welcoming conservatism.
The report warned that if Hispanic Americans believe a nominee or candidate does not want them in the United States, “they will not pay attention to our next sentence.” It recommended that the GOP must be “committed to building a lasting relationship within the African American community year-round, based on mutual respect and with a spirit of caring.” It acknowledged that the GOP lost the single women’s vote by a “whopping 36 percent” and recommended making a better effort to listen to female voters; combating the Democratic rhetoric against the “so-called War on Women”; and using Women’s History Month to “remind voters of the Republican’s Party historical role in advancing the women’s rights movement.” (For now let’s suspend disbelief that the party has ever had a meaningful role in advancing women’s rights.) It acknowledged that the party’s stance on LGBT issues is often a “gateway” into whether the GOP is a place young voters want to be.
And yet, here we are. With a platform that affirms Trump’s proposal for building a wall between Mexico and the United States. One that calls for the explicit integration of church and state in the lawmaking process (“man-made law must be consistent with God-given, natural rights”). One that includes multiple provisions that lash out against homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and transgender rights, going so far as to give a nod to “conversion therapy” for gays and state that a “‘natural marriage’ between a man and a woman is most likely to result in offspring who do not become drug-addicted or otherwise damaged.” Earlier this week Mary Fallin, Oklahoma governor and co-chair of the GOP’s party platform, announced the party was unlikely to change its staunch anti-choice position to allow exceptions for rape, incest, and life of the mother (exceptions Trump claims to support), and anti-choice groups are celebrating the platform as the “most pro-life ever.” It’s almost surprising that they didn’t include a plank on witch-burning.
So much for “welcoming conservatism.”
The platform illustrates that despite great division and discord in the GOP over the personality and proposals of its new figurehead, there is actually very little daylight between the exclusionary politics of Trump and the party he now represents. The GOP is clearly hoping its exclusionary politics—born of the same social and economic backlash that has thrust Trump onto the party’s throne—will pack enough people into its increasingly small tent that it will win the election and restore American to a time of greatness that was really not great at all for the majority of us.
For the sake of the rest of us, let’s hope they’re wrong.