The day after McCain’s “Agents of Intolerance” speech I was online exploring ways to volunteer for his campaign. Good thing I was quick, because it didn’t last much longer.
That speech in February of 2000, posted here in its entirety, was the last gasp of the Party of Lincoln. For a few weeks that spring it looked as if sane, thinking Republicans might stage a coup against the Neo-Confederate coalition gradually seizing control from the South. That coup failed.
When he took the nomination in 2008, he did it with apologies to his previous positions and a running mate chosen from a ‘basket of deplorables.’ Though he still had the temerity to acknowledge that climate change was real and Obama was a decent human being, he had been forced to abandon almost any other reality-based position. When he lost, the last flicker of Republican sanity had effectively been extinguished.
Human beings struggle to recognize environmental changes that occur gradually, even when those changes are enormous. As an exercise in alternative history, pull up a transcript of one of Donald Trump’s bizarre, stream of consciousness rants and place it next to McCain’s February 28, 2000 speech. That juxtaposition between war-hero statesman and reality TV idiocrat is a capsule of the party’s decline. The man who gave that speech 16 years ago very nearly became President. Now, Republicans will never see anything like that again.
Elections have consequences. McCain’s defeat in 2000 destroyed a rational, pragmatic wing of the Republican Party that will never be revived under that banner. By destroying their influence, Republicans lost the guardrail that could have pulled the party back from its white nationalist death-spiral. Trump is not an anomaly, he is a straight-line descendent of the forces McCain described sixteen years ago.
When he limps back to his bankrupt tower, there will still be no force in the Republican universe capable of stopping his ideological successor. The former Party of Lincoln is now the Party of Trump. There is no going back.