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Comment: Trump is the latest Joseph McCarthy or George Wallace. The GOP must excise the poison. History says they won’t

13th July 2015

Slightly hunched over and surrounded by a forest of “Jeb!” signs and shouting supporters, Jeb Bush was pressed by a reporter about the bigoted, race-baiting comments made by leading GOP candidate, hotel mogul and kitsch peddler Donald Trump.  Jeb, seeming like he did not particularly relish the chance to answer this question, remarked, “I don’t assume that he thinks that every Mexican crossing the border is a rapist.”

Bush was holding back and making excuses.  Surely the Trump stunt, Bush figured, was meant to “inflame and incite and draw attention, which seems to be the organizing principle of his campaign.”  The coiffed king of bad taste did not represent the Republican Party, said Bush.  But is that really true?  Republican Party renegades can always tack to the far right.  It pays to do so.

Trump has been polling amazingly well.  Apparently his comments about drug-smuggling Mexicans, anchor babies, rapists and jobless chiselers have helped him with the crimson-red base of the party.  Many major news polls place him second — some even in first.  He and his swooped coif have a strong chance of appearing in the first TV debates scheduled for Aug. 6.

Where is the outrage from other GOP candidates?  Some respond to Trump’s bomb throwing with little more than a shrug of the shoulders.  Others express the kind of dissatisfaction a suburbanite might register at crabgrass on the neighbor’s lawn.  Said Republican candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, “I’m not going to engage in the media’s game of throwing rocks and attacking other Republicans.”  In fact, the senator commented, “I salute Donald Trump for focusing on the need to address illegal immigration.”

That was probably a wise move.  Few in the post-Tea Party environment want to be out right-winged by the competition.  If one candidate claims to have two handguns and a blunderbuss, the next will proudly raise his Winchester rifle and point to a full arsenal’s worth of heavy weaponry.

The Old Testament maxim “there is no new thing under the sun” holds true here. The establishment wing in the GOP has been pandering to, drawing on, and occasionally ignoring the smoke and fire of far-right opportunists, miscreants, racists demagogues in its ranks for decades now.  How the party has responded over the ages sheds some much needed historical light on the Trump debacle.

In the early 1950s President Dwight Eisenhower had his own Trump troubles in the hot mess of Sen. Joseph McCarthy.  Unshaven, disheveled and toting around a dirty briefcase with a whiskey bottle in it, McCarthy took his anti-communist crusading on the road and onto the new medium of television.  Along the way he ruined numerous careers, made a mockery of the justice system, and proved that proof was irrelevant.

Through it all President Eisenhower refused to take a firm public stand against the rabble-rousing red-baiter.  Always careful about his public image and not wanting to lose important political capital in a fight with the controversial crusader, Ike laid low.  The former general angrily said that he didn’t want to face a back alley brawler like McCarthy or “get into a pissing contest with that skunk.” Lucky for the president, the Wisconsin senator finally met his demise. The Senate censured him for his recklessness and utter lack of ethics.  Three years later he died as a result of his raging alcoholism.

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