Southern white voters abandoned the Democrats in favor of the Republicans, even if they brought brought with them their dirty linen of racial prejudices.
Then came the posse of evangelical preachers, the Moral Majority, who couldn't tire of bashing gays, feminists, and other infidels. The passage of state constitutional amendments banning gay marriage became routine.
White America felt righteous about its righteousness, and the GOP thought it had a winning hand.
It all worked well until last week, when those venomous strategies blew up, with a big assist from the U.S. Supreme Court. Presidential candidate Donald Trump's hair really seemed to be on fire.
Yet the growing and previously loud choir of GOP presidential candidates—from the real-shots to the you've-got-to-be-kidding's—mostly mumbled their shock at the implosion of some of the GOP's cherished causes.
|Republican strategists should view this as a warning flag.|
An attempt to pass a Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Indiana, which was denounced by several corporate leaders and even the NCAA, as a rear-guard play to legitimize discrimination against gays, sent Gov. Mike Pence into fits of double- and triple-talking, as he supported the law, denied it had to do with discrimination against gays, but then promised to revise the language, just to clarify everything.
While House Republicans kept voting to repeal Obamacare—at least fifty-six times—and offering nothing to alleviate the plight of the medically uninsured, millions of people quietly signed up for the program, which admittedly had a very unpromising launch.
The first substantive legal challenge to Obamacare was turned back by the Supreme Court, so the GOP filed another challenge, based on six words that seemed to contradict the other million words in the mammoth law. Didn't work again.
But the most significant shift in public opinion may have been on the topic of race, even if we're still far, far away from the racism-free American utopia some Fox News pundits have trumpeted.
The protagonist in this shift was the tiny camera in smart phones, which bystanders used, time and again, to document egregious acts of brutality, mostly by white cops against African-American victims. It was like a mirror America could not turn away from.
Then came the massacre of nine people at a black Charleston, South Carolina, church by a white punk with fantasies of starting a race war.
Suddenly the stench of racism in the country could be not be ignored, nor the Confederate flag blandly dismissed as just a symbol of Southern history.
Even at that tragic juncture, the response of most GOP presidential candidates was muffled by fears of offending the all-important Southern white voters. Jeb Bush finally denounced the flag as a racist icon.
Still, this blizzard of bad news, and ominous warnings, could become epiphanic if it led the GOP to rethink its strategies.
Americans, particularly younger ones, favor marriage equality for gays and lesbians by wide margins, and all the GOP preachers and their denunciations are not going to change that. If the GOP can't muster a round of applause for gay marriage, grudging acceptance might have to do.
Obamacare is here to stay too. Perhaps a well thought-out campaign to change the parts of the law Republicans find offensive—instead of futilely braying about repeal—could help the GOP regain the respect of scores of voters tired with the party's negativism.
Of course, Republicans would run the risk of improving a law they have spent so much time trying to destroy. That would be ironic, I grant you. Except that, remember, Obamacare is here to stay. Nothing you can do it about it, so let's try fixing it.
Immigration? Let's talk about Trump's revelations of Mexican rapists and narco-traffickers being sent to the U.S. by the tens of thousands. The reaction to such idiocy came from all corners and fast, and ultimately even embroiled the Miss Universe pageant.
The GOP beating up on immigrants, or Mexican-bashing if you will, a policy that may have once serenaded the ears of angry whites in the party, is now a toxic strategy.
Racism, an ugly national vein the GOP repeatedly, and not-so-subtly, tapped as it tried to destroy the administration of America's first black president, will remain a reality for generations to come.
But I would like to dream the conciliatory moves by some Southern Republicans, including South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, over the Confederate flag debate, could be a sign of reflection, and even an admission that times are a' changing.
Long shot, but worth fantasizing about.