FAIRFAX, VIRGINIA – Look at the slogans Republican presidential candidates are running on: “Make America great again” (Donald Trump); “Believe again” (Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal); “Reigniting the promise of America” (Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas); “Restore the American Dream” (former Sen. Rick Santorum); “Heal. Inspire. Revive” (Ben Carson).
Notice a theme here? They’re all about restoring and reviving something. That would be the Old America, when the country was whiter, men were in charge, government was smaller and religion more influential. And, Republicans would quickly add, the United States was more successful, more self-assured and a more powerful player on the world stage.
Democrats rally to the theme of diversity and inclusion. Sometimes they go overboard, like the San Francisco middle school teacher who refused to announce the results of a student council election because the winners were not diverse enough. Her critics howled, “Diversity trumps democracy!” — until she relented.
Republicans hate political correctness. When challenged on his opposition to same-sex marriage, Carson said during the recent CNBC debate that you “shouldn’t automatically assume that, because you believe that marriage is between one man and one woman, you are a homophobe.” The left, he added, tries to “frighten people and get people to shut up. That’s what the PC culture is all about, and it’s destroying this nation.”
The Republican Party has become a resistance movement. Republicans are resisting the rise of a diverse New America and its attempt to impose political correctness on U.S. culture. You can see the signs of resistance everywhere.
You see it in new voter-identification requirements that have been passed in many Republican-controlled states. Like the law in Kansas that requires people to provide written proof of citizenship when they register to vote.
Trump’s cause is resistance to illegal immigration. He warned that if he doesn’t get elected president, Ford Motor Co. “will build a new plant in Mexico and illegals are going to drive those cars over the border.” He added, in defiance of political correctness, “They’ll probably end up stealing the cars.”
Carson’s cause is resistance to liberals who threaten traditional religious values. His call to “revive” is a signal to fundamentalists who have a long tradition of religious revival.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a former federal prosecutor, calls for resistance to the Black Lives Matter movement, which he blames for rising crime rates. “Police officers are afraid to get out of their cars,” Christie claimed during the debate. “They’re afraid to enforce the law.” In his closing statement, Christie stated, “I am deadly serious about changing this culture.”
Cruz’s cause is resistance to big government, which he defends as a populist cause. “The truth of the matter is, big government benefits the wealthy,” Cruz charged during the Oct. 28 Republican primary debate that was televised on CNBC. “It benefits the lobbyists, it benefits the giant corporations.”
“This is how socialism starts,” Carly Fiorina warned. “Government causes a problem, and then government steps in to solve the problem.”
Former House Speaker John Boehner, was overthrown by his own Republican Party largely because he didn’t put up enough resistance to the Obama administration. “Boehner just didn’t seem to want to fight anything,” a Republican voter was quoted as saying.
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida stood out at the CNBC debate because he didn’t talk about restoring the Old America. He couldn’t. He’s too young (44). His family came to the U.S. in the 1950s as immigrants from Cuba. “There’s a sense in this country today that somehow our best days are behind us,” Rubio said in his opening statement. “That doesn’t have to be true. Our greatest days lie ahead.”
Rubio talked about his personal experience of the American dream. “This is the nation that literally changed the history of my family,” Rubio said. “My parents in this country were able to give me the chance to do all the things they never did. We call that the American dream.”
He talked about expanding the American dream “to reach more people and change more lives than ever before.” Rubio’s answer to the immigration problem? “The ideal scenario is to train Americans to do the work so we don’t have to rely on people from abroad.”
Inclusion, Rubio said, should be based on values, not political correctness: “Whether or not you’re coming here to become an American, not just live in America, but be an American.”
The old saw about presidential nominations is that Democrats fall in love and Republicans fall in line. According to Rubio, the Republican Party establishment tells him, “Why don’t you wait in line?” His answer: “Wait for what? This country is running out of time. … The time to act is now. The time to turn the page is now.”
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush sees Rubio as a threat. He’s right. In a presentation to his top donors, Bush’s campaign staff members said: “We need to offer a contrast to the current president. Hillary [Clinton] will pitch competence and experience. Marco is a GOP Obama.” Meaning, he is inexperienced and will be in over his head.
There’s one problem with that argument. President Barack Obama won. Twice.
Bill Schneider is professor of public and international affairs at George Mason University.
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