In 1964, Nelson Rockefeller was the odd man out at the Republican National Convention. His brand of big government, socially progressive Republicanism had been killed by Barry Goldwater, who took the nomination.
Goldwater was humiliated by President Johnson in the election, but he had redefined the Party. Richard Nixon won the 1968 Republican nomination and the presidency with the ‘Southern Strategy” — coded racist appeals to white Southerners to win the South for the Republicans, while holding onto the traditional Republican base — small town voters and the rich.
The Republicans have been drifting to the right ever since.
We had a similar Rockefeller moment this year with Ted Cruz. Cruz no doubt had a variety of reasons not to endorse Trump (Trump calling Cruz’s wife ugly and his father an associate of Lee Harvey Oswald certainly didn’t help.) But like Rockefeller, Cruz was preaching an old vision of Republican ideology to a crowd that has moved on. The new Republican Party of 2016 is a knockoff of nationalist movements in Europe — direct appeals to racism, fear of white’s loss of control, and a dose of xenophobia.
This change has been driven by economic stagnation of the middle class, as more and more of the wealth the economy generates goes to the one percent. (The increase in the concentration of wealth since the Reagan years have been staggering.) But demographic changes have also been a major factor. With more and more Latinos moving into Southern States — or at least the promise of it — the imbalance of power between whites and blacks might change. This is the loss of control in peoples’ lives Trump likes to talk about.
Although Trump’s political amateurishness and evil buffoonery will, I suspect, cause him to lose this election, Tom Cotton or another Republican politico will be this generation’s Richard Nixon in 2020, turning down the heat a tad, but mainstreaming Republican white nationalism. Cruz thought he was standing up for principal and paving the way for his own 2020 nomination by striking out against Trump, but instead, he’s consigned himself to the past.