THE BLOG
09/30/2015 12:27 pm ET Updated Sep 30, 2016

Has the GOP Been Right About Anything This Century?

Here's what Peter Wehner, who headed the White House Office of Strategic Initiatives under President George W. Bush, had to say about the Republican presidential contest as it currently stands:

"This year is different, and what is happening now is leaving a searing impression," he said. "This is toxic for the Republican Party -- potentially lethal for it."

It almost feels Wehner is lamenting what has his party become. Though legitimate, there's another possibility.

Could Wehner's concerns be based more on the unvarnished version among many within the current GOP field, though uncomfortable to some, is it consistent with where the party has been for decades?

Decades before Donald Trump began blathering his mean-spirited utterings about immigration or Dr. Ben Carson, with total disregard for the Constitution, telling every Muslim American child that the day you were born, if he had his way, their religion would disqualify them from becoming President of the United States, Richard Nixon was crafting his "Southern Strategy."

The Southern strategy was a campaign tactic adopted by Republican Party for gaining political support, in particular white Southern voters, by appealing to racism against African Americans.

In 1980, candidate Ronald Reagan, days after securing his party's nomination for president told a group in Philadelphia Mississippi, the place where three civil rights workers were murdered by the Ku Klux Klan in 1964, he believed in State's rights. For many whites living in Mississippi and the surrounding areas, this was the dog whistle for race.

Here's what the late Lee Atwater, Republican political advisor and architect of the infamous Willie Horton ad during the 1988 presidential campaign, said in 1981 about the Southern Strategy:

You start out in 1954 by saying, "N****r, n****r, n****r." By 1968 you can't say "n****r" -- that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states' rights, and all that stuff, and you're getting so abstract. Now, you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites... "We want to cut this," is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than "N****r, n****r."

For several decades this Faustian bargain with race had proven effective for the Republican Party. The GOP did not universally embrace this macabre practice, there was enough, however, to comprise a quorum.

As the nation moved into the 21st century, the changing demographics did not detour the party from perusing the path of systematic marginalization.

Beyond being on the wrong side of practically every significant public policy issue foreign and domestic, what does the Republican Party have to show for itself this century?

Its current brand has been shaped by championing an ill-advised war in Iraq, opposing gay rights, conflating illegal immigration with terrorism, against equal pay for equal work, blaming low-income people for the economic mess that was created by irresponsibly supporting tax cuts ad nauseam, exploding the deficit, and shutting down the government.

When asked how he planned to reach out to African Americans, presidential candidate Jeb Bush stated, "Our message is one of hope and aspiration." He continued, "It isn't one of division and get in line and we'll take care of you with free stuff."

Really? To whom was Bush's response directed? Was it the African American community or is he still stuck in the morass of post-Southern Strategy thinking?

Were GOP predictions right about the Affordable Care Act? Is it, as Ben Carson stated, "the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery"?

The party in its current state suffers from a toxic form of insufferable certainty based on a track record that has proven consistently wrong, rendering it unable to compromise. Eschewing that compromise is the hallmark of American democracy.

It is unhealthy for any group to overwhelmingly support a political party based on biological consideration, i.e. blacks, Hispanics, etc. But the voter suppression tactics, conducted largely in the states that necessitated the Civil Rights Act of 1964, along with the vitriol immigration speech is not the language of a party who truly wants their support.

Perhaps more recalcitrant, but what the party has become in 2016 is what it has been since the Southern Strategy.