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Obama says Republicans are offering phony civility

Former President Barack Obama says current congressional Republicans are acting polite so they can get what they want and not be called out for sticking it to people.

Posted: Sep 9, 2018 10:11 AM
Updated: Sep 9, 2018 10:31 AM

"What happened to the Republican Party?"

That's the question former President Barack Obama asked in a speech at the University of Illinois on Friday, taking direct aim at not only the presidency of Donald Trump but also at the broader Republican Party's capitulation to him.

It's easy to dismiss Obama's speech on Friday as nothing more than a disgruntled politician settling scores in an effort to motivate his side to turn out in the coming midterm elections. "Barack Obama had 8 years to complete his hope & change in America, and the only change agent has been President Trump," said White House director of strategic communications Mercedes Schlapp within moments of Obama concluding his speech.

And sure, that is, in part, what Obama is doing here. He is setting the stakes and reminding Democratic voters of where the US is as a country and where it needs to go. He's a politician. And so politics plays a role in his speech.

But the question Obama asks about where the Republican Party of George W. Bush, Mitt Romney, John McCain and Ronald Reagan has gone is one I have heard lots of Republicans wonder about/lament since it became clear that Trump was going to be the GOP presidential nominee in 2016.

That Republican Party was built on a few first principles: lower taxes, aggressive foreign policy -- particularly in regard to Russia -- and shrinking the debt we were leaving for future generations. It was also built on the idea of gentility, that there was a way people in public life can and should act.

On most of those issues, Trump is the polar opposite of where the party was just a few short years ago. Yes, he is a believer in lowering taxes -- and passed a major tax-cut bill last year. But his ongoing skepticism about the threat posed by Russia is antithetical to the modern Republican Party. (Hell, Reagan ran an ad in which he portrayed Russia as an ominous bear wandering the woods!)

Trump ran a campaign in which he rarely -- if ever -- mentioned the country's looming debt problems. (He did, however, promise to eliminate the national debt in eight years.) And he pushed the tax cut bill through, which is projected to add more than $2.3 trillion to the deficit over the next decade.

Reagan said famously that the 11th Commandment was to not speak ill of other Republicans. Trump's 2016 campaign was rooted in his willingness to -- and effectiveness at -- bullying the more traditional candidates in the race. There was "Low Energy" Jeb Bush. And "Lyin' " Ted Cruz. And on and on.

Trump -- from his policies to his tone -- ran expressly against Republican orthodoxy in 2016. He offered himself up as the antidote to oleaginous politicians who said one thing on the campaign trail and then did something else once they got to Washington. Trump's argument during the primary campaign was that the GOP was rotting from the top down and only by chopping off its head could you hope to save the rest of the body politic.

Given that, no one should be surprised at the way Trump has acted as President. We knew exactly what we were getting when Trump won -- and he has been that person from the moment he took the office. (In truth, he couldn't possibly be anyone else.)

What surprised lots of people -- and this is what Obama is getting at in his speech -- is how the broader Republican Party reacted to Trump. The resistance to Trump -- from not just Sens. McCain and Jeff Flake, but also Romney and Sen. Ted Cruz -- that was active and vibrant during the campaign suddenly melted away. It was as if, having seen their ship of state taken over by pirates, Republican put on an eye patch, swigged some grog and happily joined the crew.

The reason was -- and is -- some combination of realpolitik and fear. Republicans looked at the bodies strewn in Trump's wake during the 2016 presidential primary fight and didn't want to watch their own political careers sacrificed on a quixotic charge against Mount Trump. And the likes of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan saw opportunity in the chaos: Trump, bereft of any real belief system or policy agenda, could be molded to move long-standing priorities of the party -- from judges to a tax cut.

That Faustian bargain wasn't worth it, argued Obama -- noting that what it meant to be a Republican has now been lost. "It shouldn't be Democratic or Republican to say that we don't target groups of people because of what they look like or how they pray," Obama said. "We are supposed to stand up to discrimination and we are sure as heck to stand up clearly and unequivocally to Nazi sympathizers."

Obama's speech highlights just how much -- and how fast -- the Republican Party has changed even since he beat Romney to win a second term in 2012. Trump's hostile takeover of the Republican Party has not only put many long-term stalwarts of conservatism on the outside looking in -- Ryan is retiring, the national security establishment within the party is ignored and taunted -- but also has fundamentally transformed what it means to be a Republican.

Over and over during the 2018 primary season, Republican candidates ran and won on a simple message: I'm just like Donald Trump. In Florida, for example, Ron DeSantis ran ads showing him teaching his kids how to "build that wall" and reading to them from "The Art of the Deal." He won a Trump endorsement -- and the governor's primary.

The Republican Party has, in the main, been replaced by the Trump party. And the beliefs of those two "parties" just aren't the same.

"This is not normal," Obama said on Friday. "These are extraordinary times."

He's got that right.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 96032

Reported Deaths: 2894
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds7110159
DeSoto556559
Harrison385374
Jackson348670
Madison329788
Rankin329377
Lee271468
Forrest247872
Jones247579
Washington223872
Lafayette217339
Lauderdale2049125
Bolivar184066
Oktibbeha177850
Lamar170035
Lowndes156958
Neshoba1566104
Panola147129
Sunflower146546
Warren140550
Leflore140481
Pontotoc126616
Pike123451
Monroe122868
Copiah118433
Scott117427
Coahoma115528
Holmes109659
Marshall109517
Lincoln109053
Grenada108336
Yazoo105930
Simpson103346
Union99724
Tate98737
Leake95338
Adams93837
Wayne90021
Pearl River88353
Marion85935
Prentiss85517
Covington82022
Itawamba81521
Alcorn80311
George77113
Newton77024
Tallahatchie77021
Winston73819
Tishomingo68238
Chickasaw67924
Tippah66917
Attala65925
Walthall60026
Clay59218
Clarke58746
Hancock58222
Jasper57315
Noxubee54816
Smith53215
Calhoun51512
Tunica48615
Claiborne46316
Montgomery46120
Lawrence43313
Yalobusha43314
Perry42319
Humphreys37715
Greene37517
Quitman3735
Stone37112
Jefferson Davis34111
Webster33813
Amite32910
Carroll31612
Wilkinson30518
Kemper28915
Sharkey26613
Jefferson2439
Benton2263
Franklin1923
Choctaw1856
Issaquena1043
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 134231

Reported Deaths: 2357
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson19572348
Mobile13320292
Montgomery8811183
Tuscaloosa8586117
Madison782078
Shelby592349
Lee588759
Baldwin545650
Marshall393343
Calhoun349942
Etowah343945
Morgan327328
Houston280221
Elmore265947
DeKalb240620
St. Clair230835
Walker230683
Talladega214628
Limestone208820
Cullman189020
Dallas178326
Franklin176729
Autauga175725
Russell17573
Lauderdale169833
Colbert164126
Blount160815
Escambia160324
Chilton156431
Jackson156011
Covington138527
Dale135844
Coffee13206
Pike119410
Chambers116142
Tallapoosa115685
Clarke108916
Marion95729
Butler91639
Barbour8737
Winston73812
Marengo71620
Pickens65614
Lowndes65327
Bibb65210
Randolph64213
Hale63428
Lawrence61623
Geneva6074
Cherokee60313
Bullock59914
Monroe5848
Clay5797
Washington55613
Perry5416
Crenshaw53632
Conecuh53511
Wilcox53111
Henry4935
Macon48119
Fayette4508
Sumter43519
Lamar3662
Cleburne3646
Choctaw34912
Greene30315
Coosa1683
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