New York magazine recently hosted President Obama for an interview, in which one of the topics he covered was the rise of Donald Trump and the newly unashamed racist and bigoted conservatism that accompanies him. The interviewer asked him what his opinion was on where this all began. Was it really just Trump’s particular brand that unlocked the gates, or was it something more? Obama indicated that he saw this coming years ago, and a direct line can be drawn from today back to 2008 and someone everybody in the world unfortunately knows.
I see a straight line from the announcement of Sarah Palin as the vice-presidential nominee to what we see today in Donald Trump — the emergence of the Freedom Caucus, the Tea Party and the shift in the center of gravity for the Republican Party.
That really is when it started. John McCain needed a woman to have a chance at winning in 2008. Instead of picking someone like a Northeastern moderate, he went with crazy Sarah, because who knows why. Her commercial and tabloid success, in spite of her being completely unqualified to do the job, indicated that stupidity and smug, proud ignorance could be peddled with great success.
President Obama uncharacteristically added a pessimistic note as well when he said he doesn’t see it changing anytime soon. He used the example of how he’s thought over the past 8 years that at certain points, the “fever” of Republican obstruction would break. He admitted he was wrong.
Whether that changes, I think, will depend in part on the outcome of this election, but it’s also going to depend on the degree of self-reflection inside the Republican Party. There have been at least a couple of other times that I’ve said confidently that the fever is going to have to break, but it just seems to get worse.
Continuing in an unusually candid manner, he went on to describe perfectly why the modern Republican party is so incredibly impotent and unable to work with Democrats to do virtually anything.
They’re looking at Charlie Crist down in Florida. One hug [from me] and he was toast. Chris Christie couldn’t get his presidential race launched — it was basically over before it started — because he was too friendly and cooperative with me in accepting federal aid for a state that had been devastated by a hurricane.
They’re imagining the potential problems that arise, so it’s pretty hard for them to publicly say, ‘Obama’s a perfectly reasonable guy, but we just can’t work with him because our base thinks he’s the Antichrist.’ It’s a lot easier for them to say, ‘Oh, the guy’s not listening to us,’ or, ‘He’s uncompromising.’
Perhaps the best part of the entire interview, though, was when Obama described how he had to help Republicans for virtually his entire term, because they couldn’t control their own ignorant base.
In fact, sometimes I tease them about it behind the scenes; I’ll tell them, ‘Look, if you need some help, me attacking you or you know …’ And the times where we have gotten things done, it has been very important for me to, frankly, help them try to manage their base.
While it is the same thing we’ve all been saying for the past 8 years, hearing President Obama speak so frankly and candidly about it really is a bit redeeming. It was apparent that Republican voters’ disdain for compromise was fueling a conservative block, but it was so bad that Obama had to practically put on a play with them in our nation’s capitol to help the GOP fool their own voters into being quiet.
Without Obama, Republicans would have totally lost control of everything — likely before his second term. Who even knows what we’d have ended up with at that point? Would Trump have been the 2012 nominee? Would we have a congress completely full of little Trumps? If it wasn’t for our President helping Republicans control their own voters there really is no way to know where we’d be right now. Thanks Obama, yet again, for being there and quietly saving us.