“Fracking” (hydraulic fracturing) involves vertical and horizontal drilling a mile or more beneath the Earth’s surface to capture oil and gas resources trapped beneath solid rock by first pulverizing that rock with an extremely high-pressure blast of a mixture of common water, specialized abrasive sands and toxic chemicals.
Certainly the Republican Party has plumbed unconventional depths with its nomination of Donald Trump as its presidential candidate: no person without military or elected or appointed governmental service has ever been elected to that office. And Mr. Trump’s personal platform has also consisted of a highly specialized mixture of both ordinary political populist rhetoric combined with especially abrasive and highly toxic messages delivered in high-pressure settings and volumes.
In addition, most of these abrasive and highly toxic messages have been surging “underground” via right-wing talk radio and similarly focused print, online and cable media for the eight-plus years spanning President Obama’s campaigns and two terms in office. Virtually the entirety of Trump’s messages about undocumented immigrants, Muslims, U.S. military incompetence, “radical Islamic terrorists,” trade deals, the Europeans, Japanese, Chinese, as well as Obama’s supposed foreign birth, allegiance to Islam, linkages to ISIS, Iran, the “Arab Spring,” the “gay agenda,” infanticide, the “fraud” of climate change, and dictatorial and treasonable actions have circulated in such media well before Trump picked them up — particularly from the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, and especially Trump’s frequent radio interlocutor, Michael Savage, who has even virtually called for the president’s assassination on his program (“Obama is a rabid dog that should be dealt with accordingly!” — a statement personally heard by this writer).
During Obama’s terms, the Republican Party has, to some degree, kept an arm’s length distance from Savage, Limbaugh and especially the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, as well as journals like National Enquirer and Breitbart, as they promoted mere gossip as facts and conspiracy theories as evidence of the “underground” version of “truth” that the above-ground “liberal media” could not be trusted to tell. (Mark Levin even purports to broadcast from an “underground bunker.”) Some of these talk-show folks and conspiracy theorists got their start during the Clinton Administration in the 1990s and simply picked up where they left off (with more contemporary “revelations”) Bill Clinton’s impeachment and survival when Obama came on the scene. They have now simply tripled-down on Hillary Clinton using the same techniques.
Just as during Clinton’s time, however, the GOP leadership and its supporters have been happy during Obama’s terms to quietly enjoy the fruits of the underground political “frackers,” particularly in the form of a Tea Party-driven majority in Congress. Often the Tea Partiers were elected from gerrymandered districts in largely rural states, where the only national radio news is delivered by those right-wing radio hosts, where National Enquirer is on sale at many supermarket check-out stands, and Fox News is the most watched cable news channel. But the Tea Partiers went too far in the view of the GOP establishment, forcing a government shutdown, putting the divided Republicans on the defensive for months and, along with the ultra-right Freedom Caucus, forcing a Party split and the resignation of GOP House Speaker John Boehner during the 2014-16 term.
That Party breakdown, however, pales in comparison to the GOP’s current existential crisis, brought on by the inflammatory statements and conduct toward women of its presidential candidate. That has already cost Trump the active support of the current Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan and the even more pronounced disdain of 25 percent of GOP state and federal office holders.
Lately, the GOP seems to be painfully learning — if not yet acknowledging — the Biblical lesson that you reap what you sow. Trump, by winning the GOP primaries “fair and square” with the largest vote in the Party’s history, even with multiple highly-qualified and well-enough funded political opponents most of the way, has made it virtually impossible for the GOP to use the defense of “plausible deniability,” given that Trump is only saying stuff that they quietly tolerated from the likes of Limbaugh (who has his own record of “locker-room” moments, as exemplified by his comments about “feminazis” and Sandra Fluke).
Unlike Louis in Casablanca, it is difficult for Republicans to claim to be “shocked, shocked” with a straight face by any of Trump’s offensive, xenophobic, authoritarian, untruthful and narcissistic rhetoric — not only because these traits were on full exhibit in Trump’s campaign from its very first day, but also because the Party has been living off the same messaging via the right-wing talk radio and media for many years. Obama, even more than Bill Clinton before him, got so into the GOP’s heads that they were all too susceptible to drink the ultra-right wing’s conspiracy theory Kool-Aid.
Race-baiting and treason charges against Obama from Limbaugh, Savage, Levin, Hannity and O’Reilly, and birtherism by pre-candidate Trump and others, were tolerated and even subtly encouraged as a way to de-legitimatize the first black president. Party leadership became so irrationally unhinged that their governing political posture seemed to be: “If Obama is for it, we’re against it, even if it’s our own idea.” (See, for example, ObamaCare’s mandates, and the tax cuts in the 2009 stimulus package).
But most Republican officeholders just want to win and, as noted, many seem willing to abandon Trump to do so. With Trump at the top of the ticket, GOP chances for retaining the small but controlling majority they now hold in the Senate and the larger, 30-seat majority in the House of Representatives are now at big-time — but not yet decisive — risk.
Trump’s obsession with a former Miss Universe, his leaked sex-soaked bus-ride tape and confrontation with, at last count, a dozen additional women who have charged him with some form or other of unwanted sexual approaches or contact have coincided with the poll numbers showing Clinton with a four- to eight-or-more-point national lead, and smaller but significant margins now in most of the so-called “swing states.” These poll results may be just as bad, if not worse, in the GOP’s own private polling, given the Party-splitting actions by seasoned officials like John McCain and John Thune as well as multiple state governors.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (booed in his home state by Trump supporters after he had banned Trump from his rally) tried to thread the needle through both sides of the emerging Party splintering by asserting he would no longer campaign for or defend Trump, but would also maintain his endorsement and vote for him. The Republican National Committee held a national conference call to confirm (remarkably, at this late stage of the presidential campaign) that it remained behind its candidate (though exactly how close or far behind, they didn’t quite say — evidence on that will come when we see how it allocates campaign resources in the closing weeks). Both these moves, in effect, acknowledged the seriousness of the very same Party split they tried to cover up. As one leadership meeting observer put it: “It’s every person for himself or herself.” That’s not a political party, it’s political anarchy.
Trump, as might have been be expected, has responded in kind by asserting the “shackles” holding back further criticism of his GOP critics are off! He knows from the polls that his debate performance energized his “base” but apparently did not expand it. Do not Trump and even his GOP critics — many of whom share Trump’s animus toward the president but in less hysterical terms — appreciate that no Democrat president, even the most popular or powerful like FDR, LBJ or JFK, has been able to trigger the fundamental destruction of the Republican Party such as we are now witnessing, but their nemesis Obama seems on the brink of doing so through virtually no action or intent of his own?
As The Dallas Morning News has put it, “Who knows what it means to be a Republican now?” The Trump phenomenon has it roots in the visceral, take-no-prisoners opposition to Obama adopted by the GOP leadership immediately upon his inauguration, with the stated, overarching goal of making him “a one-term President.”
Obama himself argues forcefully for the necessity of having two healthy contending political parties in the American democracy. But who would have guessed in 2009 that his second term could wind up being the last term of the Republican Party as we know it! And they continue to bring that fate upon themselves. Trump now portends a refusal to concede if defeated, and a few of his supporters now speak openly of riots, revolution and even rebellion and assassination if Trump should lose what they think is a rigged election (as Trump has charged).
Without the discipline inherent in a two-party political structure, there is reason to fear for the safety of Ms. Clinton even before inauguration. Trump’s threat to jail her if he wins (as authoritarian as it has ever been in America this side of Nixon) pales by comparison to the darker forces he has unleashed. The challenge to remaining Republicans to speak out against such rebellion talk — regardless of their own fear of not only Party primary challenges but now also violent reprisals by Trump diehards — and their silence to date are only furthering the GOP’s self-destruction. The Party can recover from a loss on its hands, but not blood.
Follow Terry Connelly on Twitter: www.twitter.com/deantrc