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Today’s Republican Party opposes big government. It’s culturally conservative. Its demographic
support is strongest among white voters, and it usually dominates elections in the South.
The party's 2016 presidential nominee has been heavily criticized for inciting racial tensions.
But things weren’t always this way. Yet over the past 160 years or so, the party
has undergone a remarkable transformation from the party of Abraham Lincoln… to the
party of Donald Trump.
And to understand how the GOP got the way it is today, you have to go back to when it
first came into existence — in 1854, just 7 years before the Civil War.
There are two parties at this point, the Whigs and the Democrats. America is quickly expanding westward
and there’s an intense debate over whether the new states should permit slavery
The Democratic Party, with strong support in the South, has become increasingly pro-slavery.
But the Whigs are divided on the issue. Their northern supporters are really afraid that
the growing number of slave states would have too much political influence, which they feared
could hurt free white workers economically. So In 1854, the country is debating whether
or not the new states Kansas and Nebraska should allow slavery. The Whigs can’t agree and
the party ends up collapsing. The former whigs in the north form a new party that will fight
against letting slavery expand further; they call it the Republican Party.
By 1860 the Republican Party become increasingly powerful in the North, enough so that a little known
Republican named Abraham Lincoln wins the presidency.
Even though Lincoln promises he won’t interfere with slavery in the states that already have it,
he and his party are still too anti-slavery for the South to tolerate. So 11 Southern states
secede from the Union, forming the Confederate States of America.
The Northern states decide to fight to keep the Union together, and the Civil War ensues.
The result is a Northern victory and the abolition of slavery nationwide.
After the war, Republicans begin fighting to ensure that reasonably free slaves in the South have their rights.
A year after Lincoln’s assassination, the party passes the Civil Rights Act of 1866,
which said black citizens have the same rights as whites. They fight to make sure that black men
have the right to vote, with new laws and constitutional amendments.
But something had happened during the civil war that began changing the young Republican
Party. Government spending during the war made many northern businessmen really rich.
Gradually, these wealthy financiers and industrialists start taking more and more of a leading role in the Republican Party.
They want to hold on to power, and they don’t think that fighting for black rights in a mostly white country is the best way to do that.
Meanwhile, the South is resisting these new racial reforms, often violently.
And most white Republican voters and leaders now feel that they’ve done enough for Black citizens in the South,
and that it was time to emphasize other issues. So in the 1870s, the party basically
gives up on reforming the South, deciding instead to leave it to its own devices, even if
that meant black citizens were oppressed and deprived of their new right to vote,
and the region was politically dominated by white Democrats.
Fast-forward to the new century. By the 1920s, the Republican Party has become, essentially, the party of big business.
This works out quite well for them when the economy was booming,
but not so well when the economy crashes in 1929 and the Great Depression begins.
Franklin D. Roosevelt and other Democrats are swept into power, and begin dramatically
expanding the size and role of the federal government, in an attempt to fight the Depression
and better provide for Americans. Republicans oppose this rapid expansion, defining themselves
as opposition to bigger government, identity that party still holds today.
Then, going into the 50s and 60s, race and the South return to the forefront of national politics,
with the civil rights movement attempting to end segregation and ensure blacks truly had the right to vote.
The civil rights isn’t purely a partisan issue,
it’s more of a regional issue with northerners from both parties supporting it and southerners from both parties opposing it.
Then 1964, it’s Democratic president Lyndon Johnson who signs the Civil Rights Act into law.
And it’s Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater who opposes it,
arguing that it expands government power too much.
A massive switch-up takes place. Black voters, many of whom had already been shifting from Republicans,
convert almost entirely to their new advocates, the Democrats. And white voters in the South,
who had been staunch Democrats, start to really resent “big government”interference here
and in other matters, like abortion rights and school prayer.
Over the next three decades, whites in the South switch to the GOP, which makes the South an overwhelmingly Republican region.
By the 80s, the party begins to resemble the GOP we are familiar with today.
Republicans elect Ronald Reagan, who promises to fight for business interests, lower taxes,
and traditional family values.
Then, as the 21st century begins, America is going through a major demographic shift
in the form of Hispanic immigration, both legal and illegal.
Democrats and business elites tend to support reforming immigration laws so that over 10 million
unauthorized immigrants in the US would get legal status. Under Republican side,“tough on immigration”policies
and rhetoric become popular but this ends up causing the Republican
when in 2012 Mitt Romney loses his bid for the presidency, he gets blown out among Hispanic voters
— exit polls showed that 71% of them voted for Barack Obama.
So the Republican Party starts to look more like a party for white voters in an increasingly nonwhite country.
Given these demographic trends, Republican leaders worry that if they keep losing Hispanic voters by that much,
they’ll lose their chances of ever winning the presidency.
So in 2013, some key Republicans in the Senate — including rising star Marco Rubio —
collaborate with Democrats on an immigration reform bill that would give unauthorized immigrants a path to legal status.
But there’s a huge backlash from the Republican party’s predominantly white base, which
views the bill as “amnesty” for immigrants who broke the rules. This exacerbates GOPvoters’ mistrust of their own party’s leaders,
and a mistrust had already been growing for some time.
And that makes the political landscape of 2015 is fertile ground for a figure like Donald Trump,
an outsider businessman who wants to build a wall on the border with Mexico.
Trump isn’t a traditional conservative, but he appealed to the resentment and mistrust of party leaders that Republican primary voters had,
as well as their strong opposition to growing immigration trends.
And even though he was loathed by party leaders, he won enough support in the primaries to
become the GOP nominee for president.
So now, the Republican party is once again at a major crossroads as it tries to meet the political challenges of the 21st century.
It’s up to Republican voters and leaders to decide
just what they want their party to be.
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How the Republican Party went from Lincoln to Trump

14145 Folder Collection
Anita Lin published on November 24, 2016    Anita Lin translated    Sabrina Hsu reviewed
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