YONELA DIKO: After selling hate, the Republican Party needs to find redemption
The last time the Republican Party had a credible conservative philosophy that had a crossover appeal was in the 80s under Ronald Reagan. Reagan had presented the Grand Old Party (GOP) as the party of order, a party of duty and responsibility, separating it from what he deemed a Democratic Party of rights and entitlements. There was no moral confusion. Family, church, hard work and self reliance.
Most importantly, coming as America was from an oil crisis that saw Reagan's predecessor, Jimmy Carter, reduced to a wimp by Opec, Reagan was armed with the gospel of an America that would never be bullied, that would decide its own fate and with each citizen pulling their weight, and no one expecting free lunch from government. Reagan spoke to an America that had always believed in its invincibility and found citizens who were longing for his message.
Reagan presented a party that sided with innovators and business, hated grants and welfare, and supported those who obeyed the law and not those who wanted privileges from the state. He helped clarify and draw a clear line between Republicans and Democrats.
It was Reagan who took the market system to its logical conclusion, pulling government off its critical investments and letting corporates run amok, raiding every small business and innovator and breaking companies apart to sell them in pieces. Reagan's favorite line was that government is not the solution to your problems, government is the problem. Everything went private. The rich quadrupled their riches and the poor, with their unions, could only watch in pain. However, everyone understood that this was a contest and you either competed or you drowned and government was not going to help you.
After Reagan, the Republican's George Bush Senior tried to run on the Reagan ticket, but as with all 'no regulations, no taxes policies', the bubble had burst and the economy had entered into a recession. Bush Snr had no plan because he could not invoke the same loose policies that brought the recession in the first place. He was forced to break promises about increasing taxes and things went downhill from there. The political contest was still on policy and ideology, if not pragmatism. It was the economy, stupid!!
ENTER BILL CLINTON
It was, however, the arrival of Bill Clinton on the Washington scene, with his own crossover appeal and a third way, that new Republicans were forced to go to extreme heights to set the party apart and push the Republican Party too far.
Clinton showed that government could actually be efficient, make critical investments in education and health and help millions climb up the ladder. With almost 20 million jobs created and rising incomes, he had proven his point. Government was the solution to problems when run efficiently and preferably small. There was no choice between the markets and government. Both had a role to play, but both had to pull up their socks and be run as lean and mean machines.
While Reagan preached personal duty and responsibility, Clinton agreed, but added government duty and responsibility. Discipline was expected from people, but it was also expected from government, particularly fiscal discipline.
Frustrated by the skyrocketing popularity of Clinton and the inevitable Democratic Party dynasty that would follow Clinton, Republican leaders like Newt Gingrich, Karl Rove, Grover Norquist and others, were not interested in a growing economy or jobs or thinking things through - they only wanted to beat Clinton down his high horse and this would require an almost messianic approach to their version of Republicanism. If you were a Republican, you had a doctrine to follow and you were not allowed to have doubts or make alterative views. They would create a Clinton vs the Grand Old Party narrative and then demand true loyalty and belief from the Conservative Party, which kept going further and further to the right.
If you were a Republican and thought you couldn't be taxed the same tax as your secretary, you were chastised. If you thought that abortion was sometimes an acceptable option, you had joined the evil side, the Godforsaken democrats. Their task was to mobilise conservatives through massive investments, tapped those from gun companies to corporate firms, to create a conservative world within a world, TV networks, evangelical mass programmes, NGOs and organised units, so that if you were a Republican, you knew exactly where you belonged and what was expected of you. Every elected Republican had to toe the line or they would be cast out as weak, soft and likely to sell out. The threats of losing corporate funding and organised support has always been too much for those individual Republicans who may have felt the party was going too far.
Then there was America's South, which was an already organised force which needed little agitation to charge their emotions about America First and its values, the hate of the progressive North and its Sinners, which now included Muslims, blacks, gays, women in mini skirts, and the whole California life which set them off in its liberalism.
Clinton, however, was a hard man to beat and even this intense consolidation of the Republican force could not prevent him from rising in popularity and winning a second term. When it came to governance, and to handling the federal government duties and responsibilities, Clinton was godlike. What was left now was attacking his person, his personal lapses in judgment, his personal wondering eye and clear fascination with women. They had to go and look at his personal finances, his past financial deals, where he went to school, what his wife did, could she breastfeed, could she cook? Politics had to turn personal and frivolous to defeat Clinton and these new Republicans would spare no effort in punching in this hole, and Clinton crumbled.
When Clinton's vice president, the towering mind that is Albert Gore, failed to convert their unmatched government success into a clear win in the 2000 elections, many blamed Clinton's personal lapses for the failure and how it was exploited by the Republicans.
GEORGE BUSH JNR
Despite the bruising 2000 elections which saw a government decided by the Supreme Court, George Bush Jnr came in to restore moral clarity which had suffered under Clinton and the evangelicals were behind him all the way.
It did not take long for Bush Jnr to prove to be an overwhelming disaster, so much so that any administration that would follow would have to make godly feats to restore America.
It is Obama who would restore the role of government in advancing the American dream. Unlike Clinton, Obama had noticed that it did not matter whether a government was big or small, what mattered was whether it worked. Obama went to work, rebuilding a government bruised by Bush's deregulation and disinvestment and would see another 20 million jobs created and a stable and present government.
Like Clinton, Obama was hard to fault in government, but unlike Clinton, he was also hard to fault in his personal life. So a lie, which would be believable enough and told loosely, had to be invented.
This is how Trump entered the national political scene, by questioning Obama's American citizenship.
It was a trick that had been invented long before, during the Clinton years. It was the same trick created by the Newt Gingrich, Karl Rove, Grover Norquist grouping, on how to get into the mud and play trash politics - go personal and actually win.
For an American South that was already charged up by immigrants who were coming into America and 'taking' American traditional jobs and becoming majority minorities in other states, to have a president who represented how an outsider could come into America and take over as president, Trump had found a sweet spot that he could run with and stay relevant in the national political space. Trump saw that people were angry and went to work to find the many things Americans were angry about, and play that anger card straight into the high office.
It is the collection of these anger points that become another test to all Republican elected officials. It was yet another test of how conservative one was, and whether they were as angry as their constituencies with losing America to the immoral, 'world first' liberals whose patriotism and national loyalty were under question.
As it was in the Clinton times, Trump and his new Republican Party presented more than policy differences among Republicans and Democrats, they presented a fight between good and evil, between America First and those who didn't love America enough, it was a test between god and the devil.
The invasion of the US Capitol by parts of these organised units had been long in the making, cooked and heated in Republican bases for years by the political stronghold of conservative leaders who always wanted to win by any means necessary. And as they faced tougher opponents in Clinton and Obama, they devised new desperate and disastrous methods and America was cursed for it. You had to lie to win. You had to sell hate to keep your base. The other side was not only politically different, they were not children of God, they were not Americans, they were evil.
Unfortunately on 6 January 2021, when these leaders who had sold hate and zealotry among its followers, when their own lives were also in danger, they got a rude awakening on the dangers of their reckless politics of the last few decades.
The Republican Party has some soul searching to do. They have gone too far in their conservative purity politics, but most importantly, they have sold a very dangerous politics to their bases which has now come home to roost.
As Joe Biden restores the integrity and dignity of America, Republicans must focus on restoring the dignity and credibility of the Grand Old Party.
Yonela Diko is the former spokesperson to the Minister of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation. You can follow him on @yonela_diko.