There was a time when the Republican Party earned the moniker the “Grand Old Party.”
That time is fading fast. Beyond fading, the reputation of the party is being erased.
There has never been a time that bigotry and racism were conservative values. I know that at various times in history, both parties have been home to unsavory elements. Around the Civil War, it was the Democrats who tried to cling to the social and economic construct of slavery. Republicans ended that. Granting basic freedoms to black people was a huge step forward.
Fast forward a century and it was the Republicans that stood in the way of the Civil Rights movement. The roles had clearly reversed.
But through presidents like Ronald Reagan and both Bushes, compassionate and thoughtful conservatism advanced the party.
The 2016 election cycle changed those dynamics.
The rise of the Trump cult allowed people whose views are dark and distasteful to come into the light. President Donald Trump has — either through intent or ignorance — validated many of these abhorrent views.
Confederate flag waving bigots? He calls them good people. He supported Roy Moore in Alabama despite disturbing allegations. He alienates our allies and calls Russia and North Korea friends.
Many Trump supporters were incredibly offended when Hillary Clinton called them deplorable. However, there are a lot of Trump supporters who are accurately described as deplorable.
This week, my concern for my party has grown to record levels. I always assumed that Trump winked at these horrible people because he needs every vote and he wants to see his popularity increase beyond historic lows.
I assumed that Trump was letting those deplorable vermin eat at the same table as the good Republicans who make the old party truly grand. It seemed like no matter how bad they were, they were anything but a significant portion of the party.
This week, though, that belief was questioned — if not entirely dispelled.
Corey Stewart winning the Republican nomination for the Senate race in Virginia was a step backward for the entire party. It is revealing that a Minnesota-born man can cling so tightly to his “confederate heritage.” Stewart doesn’t just wink at racist groups, he embraces them. The alt-right calls him a friend.
Yet he won the nomination in a state-wide race.
More Republicans chose someone who poses for publicity photos with Confederate flags and the white supremacists who rallied in Charlottesville than for other good candidates.
Look it up. Deplorable literally means “deserves strong condemnation.”
Republican Party voters in Virginia choosing Stewart as their Senate candidate is deplorable.
Former Republican Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling agreed.
“I am extremely disappointed that a candidate like Corey Stewart could win the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate,” Bolling said. “This is clearly not the Republican Party I once knew, loved and proudly served. Every time I think things can’t get worse they do, and there is no end in sight.”
I know exactly how he feels. Beyond Stewart’s nomination, Iowa Rep. Steve King — who has had more than a handful of racially suspicious incidents — retweeted a known white supremacist. It wasn’t like the white supremacist tweeted about baseball and King retweeted it. The tweet was talking about turning the tide against immigration — legal, not illegal immigration.
King retweeted the account. Why would he even see such a tweet in his timeline? Those of us who aren’t racists have to wonder.
No Republicans have condemned King’s vile retweet. Have Republicans distanced themselves from Stewart and his deplorable ideals? No.
In fact, the leader of the party gave him a full-throated endorsement.
“Congratulations to Corey Stewart for his great victory for Senator from Virginia,” President Donald Trump tweeted Wednesday. “Now he runs against a total stiff, Tim Kaine, who is weak on crime and borders, and wants to raise your taxes through the roof. Don’t underestimate Corey, a major chance of winning!”
That total stiff is, in fact, the same stiff who was Hillary Clinton’s running mate in 2016. I want to believe the voters in Virginia are decent enough to send Kaine back to the Senate and send Stewart to an early political retirement.
But after Tuesday night’s results, and a presidential endorsement of quite likely the most racist candidate since Strom Thurmond left office, who knows what will happen?
If there is a Blue Wave in 2018 and Democrats seize control of Congress, it will be because of voters pushing back against people and candidates like this. If not, we will have revealed that this isn’t the country we always pretended it was.
I have been horribly disappointed in the Republicans I know in Oklahoma and Kansas in Congress who have stood idly by basking in the glow of their supermajority while not protecting the party and the ideals it once stood for.
As Republican strategist Steve Schmidt said, “Very nearly every elected member of the Republican Congress has chosen Trump and party over our country. It is shameful.”
It is shameful.
It is more shameful that they are waiting to see the midterm election results before deciding if they have a backbone.
Kent Bush is publisher of Shawnee (Oklahoma) News-Star and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.