REPUBLICAN Party also unknown as GOP (Grand Old Party) is traditionally opposed to big government and is culturally conservative. Its demographic support is strongest among white voters and it usually dominates elections in the Southern states. The party’s 2016 Presidential nominee has been heavily criticized for inciting racial tensions. However, things were not always this way. Over the past 160 years or so the party has undergone remarkable transformation from the party of Abraham Lincoln to the party of Donald Trump.
To understand how the GOP got this way, we have to go back when it first came into existence in 1854, just 7 years before the civil war. There were two parties at this point, the Whigs and the Democrats. America was quickly expanding westward and there was an intense debate of whether or not new states should permit slavery. The Democratic Party had strong support in South and had become increasingly pro-slavery but the Whigs were divided on this issue. Their northern supporters were afraid that the growing number of slave states would have too much political influence, which they fear might hurt free white workers economically. So in 1854 the country was debating whether or not territories of Kansas and Nebraska should allow slavery.
The Whigs could not agree and the party ended up collapsing. The former Whigs in the north formed a new party that started fighting against letting slavery expand any further. They called it the Republican Party. By 1860 the Republican Party became increasingly powerful in the north, enough so that a little known Republican named Abraham Lincoln won the Presidency. Even though Lincoln promised that he will not interfere with slavery in states that already have it but he and his party were still too anti-slavery for the south to tolerate. As a result, the 11 southern states seceded from the Union forming the confederate states of America. The northern states decided to fight for keeping the union together and the civil war ensued. The result was a northern victory and the abolition of slavery nationwide.
Something that happened during the civil war began changing the young Republican Party. Govt spending during war made many northern businessmen very rich. Gradually, these wealthy financiers and industrialists started taking more and more leadership role in the Republican Party. They wanted to hold on to power and did not think that fighting for black rights in a mostly white country is the best way to do that.
Later in 1920s the party became the party of big business. This worked out quite well for them as the economy was booming but not so well when the economy crashed in 1929 and the great depression began. Frank D. Roosevelt and other democrats swept into power and then the size and role of the Federal government expanded dramatically. In an attempt to fight the depression and better provide for Americans the Republicans opposed this rapid expansion finding themselves as opposition to big government, an identity that the party still holds today. Going into the 1950’s and 1960’s, racial issues in the south came to the forefront of national politics with the civil rights movement attempting to end the segregation and to ensure that blacks truly have the right to vote. The civil rights debate was not purely a partisan issue; it was more of a regional issue with Northerners from both parties supporting it and southerners from both parties opposing it. Then in 1964, the Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson who signed for civil rights act into law and the Republican Presidential nominee Barry Goldwater opposed it arguing that it expands government power too much. Both the parties switched their viewpoints on this issue. Black voters, some of whom had already been shifting from Republican Party converted almost entirely to their new advocates, the Democrats.
The white voters in the south, who had been staunch democrats started to resent the big govt interference here and in other matters like abortion rights and school prayer. Over next three decades, whites in the south switched to the GOP, which made the south an overwhelmingly Republican region. By the 1980s, the party began to resemble the GOP we are familiar with today. Republicans elected Ronald Regan who promised to fight for business interests, lower taxes and traditional family values.
As the 21st century began, 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 the over 10 million unauthorized immigrants in the US would get legal status. On the Republican side, tough on immigration policies rhetoric became popular but this ends up costing the Republicans when in 2012 Mitt Romney lost his bid for Presidency. He was blown out among Hispanic voters. Exit polls showed that 71% of them voted for Obama. So the Republican Party starts to look more like a party for white voters in an increasingly non-white country. Given these demographic trends, Republican leaders worry that if they keep losing Hispanic voters by that much, they will lose their chances of ever winning Presidency so in 2013 some key Republicans in Senate including Marco Rubio collaborated with Democrats on an immigration reform bill that would give unauthorized immigrants a path to legal status but there was a huge backlash from the Republican party predominantly white base which views the bill as amnesty for the illegal immigrants who broke rules. It exacerbates GOP voters mistrust on their own party leaders.
A mistrust that is already been growing for some time and that makes the political landscape of 2015 Federal ground for a candidate like Donald Trump, an outsider businessman who wants to build a wall on the border of Mexico. Trump is not a traditional conservative but he appealed to the resentment, mistrust and frustration of party leaders that Republican primary voters had as well as the 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 the President. So now the Republican Party is again at a major crossroads as it tries to meet the political challenges of the 21st century. It is up to Republican voters and leaders to decide just what they want their party to be.
— The writer is a freelance columnist based in Germany.