Donald Trump didn't start the fire that is consuming the Republican Party, but he's been pouring gasoline on it from the day he entered the race.
Long before there was a Donald Trump there was turmoil inside the party. Unlike the Democrats whose politics run the gamut from A to B - they’re either liberal or very liberal — there are widely disparate factions inside the Republican Party.
Yes, the GOP is the conservative party, but conservatism alone isn't enough to bring the factions together. A lot of Republicans who share mainstream conservative principles on the size and scope of government are liberal on the social issues. When it comes to those issues, what does the moderate wing have in common with the Religious Right? Not much.
I know Republicans who favor small government and low taxes and don't think waterboarding is torture, but who have no problem with same-sex marriage. Some of them just can't vote for Ted Cruz, who went to Kentucky to support that county clerk who wouldn't issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples - even though the Supreme Court had ruled that banning such marriages was unconstitutional.
Trump, who has no detectable ideology, didn't create the disparate wings. He didn't create the chaos inside the party. But things did get more chaotic after he decided to run.
And as much as they viscerally detest the very idea of Hillary Clinton as president, a lot of Republicans will not be able to bring themselves to vote for Donald Trump — a man who lies too much; who brags too much; who is mean-spirited too much; who says Bush lied to get us into a war in Iraq; who denigrated a fellow Republican that spent five years as a POW; who made fun of a female opponent's face; who said he would ban all Muslims from entering the country; who mocked a disabled journalist; who imagined a story about thousands of Muslims cheering as the World Trade Towers came crashing down; who claims he'd like to make his tax returns public while many of us believe he never will; who says he's worth $10 billion but may be worth considerably less; who thinks eminent domain is "wonderful" even when it gives the government the right to take your house to build a casino parking lot; and who has embraced just about as many liberal causes as Bernie Sanders has.
That's enough gasoline to keep the fire going for a while.
And while Donald Trump has turned presidential politics more boorish than it's been in modern times - unless you count Bill Clinton turning the White House into a place for casual sex — the culture was getting crummy long before Trump opened his mouth to tell the world about the size of his penis, another claim he may be lying about.
It’s not just rap with its bitches and hos, or movies you can’t watch with your kids. Even mainstream network TV sit-coms have gotten downright dirty. There's a show on CBS called 2 Broke Girls. Every 15 seconds or so there's a sex joke - and not exactly a PG rated sex joke.
This is how one episode began: One of the girls (they're both waitresses at a coffee shop) takes the bill up to the cashier and tells him that the diners want to split a measly $11 tab three ways - even though only one of them did most of the eating. The cashier smiles and says, I was in a three-way once — and it was the same thing.
You can't blame Donald Trump for that.
In fact, the only reason Trump could get away with a classless remark about his penis - at a presidential debate broadcast on national television - was because of the waste that has been coarsening our culture for quite a while now.
In a piece about Trump and "culture rot" for National Review, Andrew McCarthy writes that, "In 1966, which is not exactly millennia ago, Trump's vulgarity would have had him banned from appearing on anyone's black-and-white TV - even after midnight. Today, he is the front-runner. Today, in fact, he is coveted not by the blue channels but by the news channels. He is ratings. He sells. He is Viagra without commercials."
We can blame Donald Trump for a lot of things. I've done just that here in this space and on television. But he's not the cause of the breakdown of our politics or our culture, as convenient as it may be to lay it all on him.
The GOP is a party of unnatural alliances and sooner or later the Republican establishment is going to have to deal with that. How? Who knows? Ronald Reagan was able to unite the disparate wings of the party, but the Gipper is gone and he's not coming back.
Donald Trump has told us that he is a ” unifier,” that he will bring people with different ideas together. He may be on to something. He’s already managed to bring Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and whole bunch of principled conservatives together … in condemning Donald Trump.
As for the culture, Donald Trump didn't make it nasty. But he did make it nastier. For years, as our pop culture descended into the sewer, many Americans barely noticed. The fall came in small doses, a little at a time. Like the frog in the boiling pot, we didn't understand how bad things were really going to get.
And now we're supposed to be shocked that a man running for President of the United States — boasting that he will make America great again — tells the world about his penis?
It was bound to happen.