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The apparent crisis in the Republican Party over whom to nominate as the Party’s candidate in the 2016 presidential election is the logical outcome of Republican irresponsibility for at least the last 36 years, if not the last 48 years. Since Democrat Lyndon Johnson took the lead in cajoling Congress into passing major civil rights legislation in 1964, the Democratic Party has gradually lost the white supremacist vote to the Republican Party, a trend Strom Thurmond started in 1948, when Harry Truman decided to use African American civil rights as a major theme in his reelection campaign that year, prompting Thurmond to bolt the convention and run on the “States’ Rights” ticket and lose badly, carrying only four states, plus one electoral vote from Tennessee.
In the 1968 presidential election, Richard Nixon, ever the political opportunist, realized that the white southerners who disagreed with the federal law prohibiting racial segregation were fertile ground for attracting new voters to the Republican Party, but he had to be suitably calculating about it, because he also realized that the law passed because much of the rest of the country supported it, and would not vote for a presidential candidate who attacked the concept too openly.
The next three Republican Presidents who won election in their own right understood this principle, and more or less observed it in their own campaigns. Then, horror of horrors, the Republic elected a black man as President in 2008. The Republicans adopted the explicit goal of obstructing everything this new President proposed, and of ensuring his defeat in 2012. Because his fellow Democrats held majorities in both Houses of Congress when he took office, the Republicans could not prevent enactment of a law that achieved the major promise the new, black President made during his campaign: substantial reform in the U.S. system of healthcare delivery, which was scandalously inefficient, ineffective, and expensive.
Republicans have long and loudly denounced that law, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and wasted huge amounts of public money and time on pointless votes to repeal it, making all manner of scurrilous, absurd claims about it along the way. Despite effectively fomenting loud political opposition to the new law, the Republicans proved unable to prevent the black President from winning reelection in 2012. Since they pretend to be conservatives, and are good conservatives insofar as they oppose change out of habit, they continue to promise their primary constituents that they will hurry up and repeal the Affordable Care Act at the first opportunity, which necessarily means after the black President leaves office because, even after gaining control over the Senate in the 2014 elections (they have held control of the House of Representatives since 2010), they yet do not have large enough majorities in either House to override a presidential veto, which is exactly what the black President did when they finally passed a repeal bill through both houses.
So now, in 2016, the leading candidate for the Republican nomination is a man who channels the racial resentments of white supremacists — compounded by the Republicans’ inability to repeal the ACA — toward undocumented immigrants and Muslims instead of African Americans, but the problem, as cooler heads in the Party know, is that racism is racism, and whatever else one may think of most Americans’ attitudes towards racism, they do not much like to vote for overtly racist presidential candidates.
Less obviously racist, the number two man for the Republican nomination is still closely identified with the fruitless effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, even causing a brief shut down of the federal government with a pointless filibuster as a symbolic stab at the ACA.
Neither man is particularly compelling as a presidential candidate. The Republicans reap what they have sown.