For most of us, the GOP is a distant memory, only seen in history books or documentaries. Some remember a time, before Ronald Reagan, before right-wing hate permeated the Republican party, when the GOP championed the poor, supported the middle class, worked to free slaves, and stood up for what was right. Prior to the 1930’s, the GOP was more often than not on the right side of history. During the Civil War, The Grand Old Party was the party of Abraham Lincoln, the party that worked to free slaves, while Democrats, who held power in the South, vehemently opposed freeing slaves. The Ku Klux Klan was founded by Southern Democrats, something that is hard to admit. From History.com:
Founded in 1866, the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) extended into almost every southern state by 1870 and became a vehicle for white southern resistance to the Republican Party’s Reconstruction-era policies aimed at establishing political and economic equality for blacks. Its members waged an underground campaign of intimidation and violence directed at white and black Republican leaders. Though Congress passed legislation designed to curb Klan terrorism, the organization saw its primary goal–the reestablishment of white supremacy–fulfilled through Democratic victories in state legislatures across the South in the 1870s.
In 1948, however, thirty conservative, white, Southern Democratic senators left the party over civil rights, and formed a states’ rights group nicknamed the “Dixiecrats,” whose campaign slogan was “Segregation Forever.” There was larger fallout on the civil rights front:
Ultimately, the Dixiecrat movement paved the way for the rise of the modern Republican Party in the South. Many former Dixiecrat supporters eventually became Republicans, as was highlighted by Strom Thurmond’s conversion in the 1960s. (source)
In the 1930’s, the parties switched sides regarding “big government,” primarily in response to FDR’s New Deal. The New Deal was FDR’s rather grandiose plan to lift the United States out of the Great Depression. FDR wanted to expand the role of government, raise taxes on the rich, and provide for the less fortunate. Again, from History.com:
Roosevelt’s quest to end the Great Depression was just beginning. Next,he asked Congress to take the first step toward ending Prohibition—one of the more divisive issues of the 1920s—by making it legal once again for Americans to buy beer. (At the end of the year, Congress ratified the 21st Amendment and ended Prohibition for good.) In May, he signed the Tennessee Valley Authority Act into law, enabling the federal government to build dams along the Tennessee River that controlled flooding and generated inexpensive hydroelectric power for the people in the region. That same month, Congress passed a bill that paid commodity farmers (farmers who produced things like wheat, dairy products, tobacco and corn) to leave their fields fallow in order to end agricultural surpluses and boost prices. June’s National Industrial Recovery Act guaranteed that workers would have the right to unionize and bargain collectively for higher wages and better working conditions; it also suspended some antitrust laws and established a federally funded Public Works Administration.
In addition to the Agricultural Adjustment Act, the Tennessee Valley Authority Act, and the National Industrial Recovery Act, Roosevelt had won passage of 12 other major laws, including the Glass-Steagall Banking Bill and the Home Owners’ Loan Act, in his first 100 days in office. Almost every American found something to be pleased about and something to complain about in this motley collection of bills, but it was clear to all that FDR was taking the “direct, vigorous” action that he’d promised in his inaugural address.
Many Republicans did not approve of the New Deal, because it expanded the role of government, supported unions, and raised taxes on the wealthy. The conservative majority on the Supreme Court began dismantling the New Deal, ruling the National Recovery Act and the Agricultural Adjustment Act unconstitutional. Anti-Roosevelt sentiment increased, and despite his best efforts, and a period of recession, the Great Depression did not until World War II.
Could the New Deal have been the beginning of the end of the Party of Lincoln? A party that had once supported government intervention now decried it. So perhaps, at least politically, the New Deal heralded in the next iteration of the GOP. But to track the start of the true conservative party, we can look to the 1970’s and 1980’s, especially the merging of the Moral Majority, evangelical Christians, and the Republican party. And of course, Ronald Reagan.
In the decades following World War II, many Americans began feeling disillusioned about the government. They saw a rise in crime, and “sexual immorality,” and their anger created a fertile breeding ground for right-wing pastors like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. Falwell, the founder of the Moral Majority, and Robertson, who founded the Christian Coalition, wanted government to take a more active role in what they deemed important social issues: overturning Roe v Wade, restricting homosexuals, banning pornography, and a focus on “family values.” They found a champion in Ronald Reagan.
Reagan, a former actor and Goldwater supporter, was elected as governor of California in 1966. One of the first signs that Reagan was easily influenced by right-wing extremism was the Mulford Act. Prior to 1967, gun laws in California stated you could carry a loaded gun on the street, provided it was registered, not concealed, and not being used in a threatening manner. Then the Black Panther Party showed up on the Capitol steps, armed with rifles. Suddenly, Ronald Reagan, champion of gun rights, signed the Mulford Act into law, effectively reversing California’s law on open carry. Reagan was not a staunch conservative by today’s standards, however, he was easily influenced by right-wing evangelical leaders to support their causes. Thanks to the merger between the GOP and right-wing Christians, Reagan’s administration signaled the end of “Modern Republicanism.”
In 2016, it is painfully apparent the transformation of the GOP is nearing completion. What was once a party that championed equality and freedom is now a right-wing, conspiracy-embracing, anti-science, anti-equality, pro-war, pro-discrimination, anti-tolerance political nightmare. The party that gave us Abraham Lincoln, and Dwight D. Eisenhower, now has Donald Drumpf as their presumptive nominee to the White House. Donald Drumpf, who calls women dogs, who wants to ban all Muslims, who wants to overturn Roe v Wade and make abortion illegal, who believes the best way to combat terrorism is to slaughter their families, and who wants to bring back torture, violating the Geneva Convention. Donald Drumpf, a racist, misogynistic, Islamophobic, xenophobic bully, could be the next President of the United States.
The party of Lincoln is no more. And the GOP has no one to blame but themselves.