From Lincoln to Trump: The Evolution of the GOP Platform

By: ANDRÉS ARROYO

The GOP, known as the Republican Party, is famously known for being the political party of Abraham Lincoln, and the party that abolished slavery, supporting the idea of liberating African Americans who were slaves in the south. But the party today, under Donald Trump, is not the party it once was, and it does not hold most of the values today that Lincoln held. As we get closer to the 2020 election, critics fear that the Republican Party under Trump is going to the extreme-right, wanting to consolidate power, do what they believe is good for them and their base instead of the whole nation, and closed mindedness, trying to silence those who disagree, refusing to work with and hear other views. Extreme-right wing politics are also very culturally conservative, often opposing and resisting demographic, social, and traditional change to the extent that it’s racist and anti-LGBT. This is one ideal that President Trump is heavily criticised for. So what changed in the GOP? How did it go from the party of Abraham Lincoln, to this extreme-right wing party of Donald Trump?

The evolution of right-wing politics all started back in 1853, one year before the GOP was established. At this time, there were two parties in the government: the Democrats and the Whigs. The U.S. was also beginning to expand westward, establishing new states. As the U.S. was moving westward in to the newly acquired territory, tensions and heated debates in the government arose as to whether or not these new states should or should not allow slavery. The Democrats, who at the time had strong support in southern states, supported the legalization of slavery in these new states. The Whigs, however, were very split on the issue. Whigs either strongly supported slavery or strongly opposed it. The Whigs couldn’t agree on the issue, and the party collapsed in 1854.

The remaining former Whigs who were still in government, with the support of citizens in the north, rose from the ashes of the Whigs in March 1854, and formed the new Republican Party. The new party vowed to fight against the expansion of slavery, and support equal rights for all of America’s citizens. Over the next six years to come, the party continued to gain support in the north, and by some minority voters in the south who opposed slavery. By 1860 they had enough support that Abraham Lincoln was elected as the 16th president. Abraham Lincoln, although he didn’t interfere with states that already had slavery in the south, he and his party still were committed to not permitting slavery in the north and in newly established states. Opposing the Republican views on slavery, eleven southern states broke away from the union, and established the Confederate States Of America, vowing to protect its citizens rights to own slaves. Republicans, with states in the north, chose to fight to keep the Union together, and the Civil War began. The result of the Civil War was a northern victory, the fall of the Confederacy, and the nationwide abolition of slavery. After winning the civil war, Republicans began fighting to ensure that the freed slaves in the south are guaranteed their rights. One year after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, the party passed the Civil RIghts Act of 1866, and established the 14th and 15th Amendments. But something happened during the civil war that began to change the party into what we know and view it is in 2020.

During the Civil War, government spending made businessmen in the northern states really wealthy. Gradually, these wealthy businessmen begin to take more and more political power and leadership in the GOP. These businessmen want to hold on to power, and they think that fighting for equal rights for black citizens, in a majority white country, is not the way to do that. Knowing that slavery has been long abolished, the Republican Party in 1870 basically gave up on national reforms to ensure equal rights to black people, leaving the south to its own devices. GOP voters and leaders felt that they have done enough for the black citizens in the country, and that it was time to focus on other issues, specifically big businesses and the nation’s economy. But in reality, they didn’t do enough. In the south, the region was politically dominated by white Democrats who were outraged by these reforms. White communities were continuing to resist the new racial reforms, often very violently. The southern Democrats formed organizations, such as the KKK, and began to viciously attack, and even kill black people. Fearing for their lives, many black people living in the south fled north, or went into hiding in rural areas of the south to avoid being attacked by these white supremacy groups. 

Fast forwarding to the early 20th century, the Republican Party has now established itself as the party of big business. This worked out very well for big companies and the GOP for most of the 1910s and 1920s, as the economy was booming. But in 1929, when the stock market crashed and the Great Depression began, it ended up hurting the GOP and the whole nation. Franklin D. Roosevelt and many other Democrats were elected into power, and started to expand both the size and control of the U.S. government in hopes to fight the effects of the Great Depression. Republicans opposed these reforms, believing that the government was beginning to play too big of a role. This, establishing a new GOP ideology: opposition to big government, an identity that the party sort of holds and sort of doesn’t hold today, as the party today wants less laws/regulations so big corporations make more money, while wanting to be the party with the most or all the power.

Moving forward to the ‘50s and ‘60s, racial equality became the top issue once again, with the Civil Rights Movement seeking to end segregation and redlining across the United States, and truly ensuring that the black population has the right to vote in elections. This was really a regional issue, rather than a partisan issue like slavery was. Northerners from both parties strongly supported the movement, while southerners strongly opposed it. In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson and the Democratic Party signed the Civil Rights Act into law. This comes as the party over time began to change its own views, recognizing, then tolerating, and now respecting the populations of color, which was now a significant minority in the U.S.. Meanwhile, the GOP nominee Barry Goldwater and his supporters opposed it, claiming that it expanded government power; that the government was being too controlling. The GOP also argued that this reform seemed suspicious, rather than as a change for the better. The black population went from being moderate to Republican, to almost entirely Democratic, while white people (mostly in the south), feeling betrayed by Democrats for allowing these reforms, converted to Republicans.

 It was this moment in 1964, where the GOP flipped on its views on equality for people of color. The Republican Party went from being the party of liberty and equal rights following the values and ideas of Abraham Lincoln, to the party of business, sort of anti-big government, white and wealthy voters, and now the prominent party in the south that dominates the region in elections (and still does to this day). By claiming the Civil Rights Act was a suspicious, big government move, the GOP also established itself as conservative, holding to traditional values and attitudes, and being cautious about change (this is an idea that the party still holds today).  This opposition to the Civil Rights Act, was once again another example of the GOP base feeling like they have done enough for people of color, when they really didn’t do enough.

In the 1980s, the party began to resemble the GOP we know today. Ronald Reagan, former actor turned politician, is elected by Republicans. Reagan promised to fight for business interests of big corporations, lower taxes, and traditional family values, opposing marriage equality, and LGBT rights. The party continues to be like this today. 

Fast forwarding to the 21st century, the United States is beginning to go through a major demographic shift in the form of Hispanic immigration, both legal and illegal. Democrats and corporate elites supported reforming immigration laws so that the over 10 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. would get legal status in an easier, not as long process. Republicans opposed the idea, and “tough on immigration” laws and rhetoric became popular among their voters. This idea of being “tough on immigration” ended up hurting the GOP in the election. The Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, who supported strict immigration laws, got blown off the wall against Barack Obama in the 2012 election who won a little over 70% of the Hispanic vote. The GOP starts receiving criticism from immigation activists, Democrats, and Democratic voters, who see these strict immigration ideas as racist. After the 2012 election, the GOP was now starting to look like a party for white and culturally conservative voters. 

Republican began to fear that if they kept losing the vote of Hispanics and black people at the same rates as the last election, they would keep losing elections. So, in hopes of gaining support among Hispanics, top Republicans in the senates such as Marco Rubio and John McCain work with Democrats on an immigration reform bill which wuld give undocumented immigrants a path to legal status. This ends up backfiring. The party received backlash from its majority white base who said the bill was “amnesty” for those who broke the law, and white Republican voters begin to no longer trust the party. This mistrust among voters during 2015, as candidates began to run for president in 2016, is what left the door wide open for a person like Donald Trump, a business tycoon turned 2016 candidate who wants to build a wall on the U.S./México border.

Trump is not a traditional conservative by any means. During his campaign he was criticised for his racist and misogynistic remarks. He called Hillary Clinton a “nasty woman” in the debates. The day he announced he was running in 2016, he attacked Latino immigrants, specifically Mexicans, saying, “When México sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you (God). They are sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with them. They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, and they’re rapists.” 

Although he received heavy backlash for his rhetoric, it was popular among enough white and southern voters, to become the GOP nominee for President. From there, his rhetoric became more extreme. He proposed the ideas of bringing back waterboarding, issuing a travel ban on Arab and predominantly Muslim nations, and also spreading a conspiracy theory that Obama is actually a Muslim who was born in Kenya, and that he shouldn’t be in office because he isn’t eligible (Obama later released his birth certificate which debunked the conspiracy theory), and that Hillary Clinton mishandled classified inrofmation. In the debates with Clinton, he accused her of hiding 33,000 emails, calling it “a threat to our security”. The FBI investigated the emails, and said that investigators found “no persuasive evidence of systemic, deliberate mishandling of classified information.”  

Regardless, Donald Trump kept bringing up these conspiracies alongside his racist rhetoric, as well as promising a border wall, to replace Obamacare, lower taxes, loosening EPA laws claiming global warming was a “hoax”, and loosening regulations to help businesses. And his rhetoric worked. Although losing the popular vote, he had enough votes in the electoral colleges from states he won the majority of votes in the south to become the 45th president. 

Once taking office, not only did the rhetoric, conspiracies, and extreme right policies problem EXPLODED. He called white supremacists in Charlottesville “very fine people”, and called a politician of Native American descent “Pocahontas”. He was impeached by the House for asking the President of Ukraine to launch an investigation into a political rival in hopes to benefit himself in the upcoming 2020 election. He failed to unite the country when protests erupted after George Floyd’s death, and called peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters outside the White House by St. John’s cathedral “anarchists”, calling for the police to crack down hard on the protests, and then clearing them out with tear gas for a photo-op at the church. He didn’t listen to Dr. Fauci and his health advisors who told him to take Covid-19 seriously, and falsely recommended people to inject disinfectant to cure the virus. Now there are 172,000 and counting dead from the pandemic. The current administration did nothing in response to Russian bounties on U.S. troops, while killing General Solemani in Iran when he attacked the U.S. embassy.  

Worse, corruption scandals have also broken out. In early 2020, Trump was impeached with charges for abuse of power by withdrawing aid to Ukraine so the Ukrainian president can launch an investigation into a political rival to benefit himself, and also obstruction of justice, for trying to block witnesses and document from testifying and being revealed in the trial claiming executive privilege. Despite all the profound evidence said by witnesses, GOP congressmen and women in the senate stood by his side, and acquitted Trump, keeping him in office. 

And in the last two months, the president fired the Postmaster General, and hired a former businessman and GOP party donator who is loyal to Trump, named Louis DeJoy to be the new Postmaster General. Now, Dejoy and Trump are working to slow down the transportation of mail, so that votes won’t reach the mail in ballot deadlines for them to be counted. This comes amid Trump calling to delay the election due to fraud in mail-in voting via twitter, and calling for him to be granted a third term at a rally in Yuma this week. 

“You know, considering that we caught President Obama and Joe Biden spying on our campaign, it’s treason, we should be granted another four more years after that.”

– Donald Trump

 This conspiracy theory of mail in voting fraud was debunked by democrats and voting officials, but the Trump administration continues to try and discredit the system and the post office. Meanwhile, the GOP has remained by Donald Trump’s side throughout the four years, doing nothing to condemn the president’s actions, telling the press that “This president did nothing wrong”, and to “Get over it.” Democrats, the press, and critics say that this is the President and the GOP’s attempt to sabotage the election as polls show the GOP falling behind presidential candidate Joe Biden and other  Democrats running for congress. Republicans, for the last four years, and especially now, have been trying to discredit the polls and press which are criticising them and predicting them to lose in 2020. 

Now critics say that the GOP has gone from the party that ended slavery, to the party of white voters, cultural conservatism, a party for the wealthy and for big corporations, a voice for white supremacy organizations, and an increasingly extreme right wing party that is refusing to give up power, flirting with fascism. As the GOP fights against mail in voting and the post office amid a pandemic, many news organizations, liberals, Democrats, international activists, and former republicans fear for our democracy and the future of the Republican Party. Former GOP representative Joe Scarborough, now center-left wing news anchor, expressed his worry on his show Morning Joe that the GOP’s unshakable loyalty to Trump will “Lead to the end of the party of Abraham Lincoln.”

As we get closer and closer to the 2020 presidential elections, the GOP is once again at a major crossroad. Will the GOP turn back to Lincoln’s ideas and values, or continue to choose big business and their base over the whole nation? Will they remain loyal to Trump, as critics claim Republicans are? Will they have the same fate as the Whigs? Will they become a fascist regime? We really don’t know. The present day GOP really has entered uncharted territory. It will all depend on what and who they choose to represent, and what views and ideas the GOP chooses to believe are most important. It will also be up to not only current voters, but also the next generation, and what they want to have in their government.

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