WASHINGTON -- Sidney Blumenthal, a longtime confidante of Hillary Clinton, said Thursday that Donald Trump's appeal to racism and nativism within the GOP base has been central to his rise.
"Nativism and racism are at the core of Trump's appeal. Without it there is no Trump," said Blumenthal, who holds no formal role within the Clinton campaign and whose comments go further than those Clinton herself has made.
Blumenthal offered his analysis of Trump during a Facebook Live interview with The Huffington Post to discuss his new book, A Self-Made Man, the first in a planned four-volume political biography of Abraham Lincoln.
The Republican leadership, said Blumenthal, brought the radicalization of their based on themselves. "The base has been enflamed and galvanized by their leadership in order to win various election cycles, and in each cycle they promised they would overthrow Democrats and they would reverse all progressive legislation," said Blumenthal, tracing the phenomenon all the way back to Robert Taft going after Dwight Eisenhower, who elements of the base thought was too much of an establishment figure.
"They're infuriated that Obama won in 2008; they were promised he wouldn't. They were furious at Bush in violating so-called free market principles," he said.
Then the GOP won the House in 2010 and the Senate in 2014, and controlled the Supreme Court, he said, "and yet Obama still prevails and Obamacare is still there. He keeps doing things, he keeps winning and guess what, the Supreme Court approves gay marriage."
The GOP's face-plant over Benghazi, which ensnared Blumenthal too, only further enraged the base, he argued.
"They're going to eliminate Hillary Clinton and instead they make monkeys of themselves," he said. "The base gets more and more angry. So Trump grabs control of that anger and in particular one issue, and that issue is immigration. Nativism and racism are at the core of Trump's appeal. Without it there is no Trump. He defeats the Republican Party as it was, represented by Jeb Bush, and the conservative movement as it was, represented by Ted Cruz. So both the Republican Party and the conservative movement have been defeated by this character, who now is the dog who's caught the firetruck."
As for the book itself, whatever one thinks of Blumenthal, it's a tremendous historical and political contribution. Lincoln scholarship has long mythologized him as a statesman who only dipped his toes into the muddy waters of politics reluctantly, in order to advance a noble cause. Had he lived, the project of Reconstruction would have shown much more magnanimity toward the defeated Confederates, goes the thinking. This erroneous understanding of Lincoln ironically allows him to be used in the service of white supremacy.
Allen Guelzo, a conservative-leaning historian and one of the nation's foremost Lincoln scholars, is Henry R. Luce III professor of the Civil War Era at Gettysburg College. In Washington Monthly, he set aside today's partisan bitterness to shed glowing praise on Blumenthal's book.
Blumenthal will be best recognized as the onetime tiger of the Clinton administration—senior White House aide and personal confidante to President Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, then senior advisor to Hillary Clinton during her 2008 bid for the Democratic nomination, and a paid consultant for the Clinton Foundation. This may seem like an odd fit for writing about the politics of the first Republican president. But the skeptical should drop their shields. This is a splendid book, and on a Lincolnian theme—the political Lincoln—that was in sagging need of a facelift. ...
Here is a great book, on a theme that too many people disdain to regard as great. That they are wrong about the theme, and wrong about Lincoln, is the burden of Blumenthal’s labor, and no one can come away from reading A Self-Made Man without understanding that, or without eagerly anticipating the ensuing volumes.