Welcome to the Republican Party's bigotry primary, sponsored by Fox News.
With frontrunners Donald Trump and Ben Carson creating firestorms with their recent forays into birtherism and heavy-handed Islamophobia, the Grand Old Party once again is facing its perpetual political dilemma: How can the GOP reach mainstream voters when Fox News has completely seized control of the primary process and remains determined to serve the far-right fringe? How can the GOP succeed nationally when Fox News defends, or explains away, incursions into birtherism and Islamophobia?
It's true that the GOP primary represents a ratings gold mine for Fox News. But it's a looming political disaster for the Republican Party. Sound familiar? We're witnessing déjà vu from 2012, only this time it's worse for Republicans.
In the failed experiment three years ago, the goal was to attach a political movement with a cable TV channel in an effort to oust a sitting president. Despite the insular and illusionary claims of a pending "landslide" victory for Republican Mitt Romney, the experiment flopped -- in part, because Romney adopted so much of Fox's far-right rhetoric.
Yet rather than learn from the failed 2012 model, the GOP effectively handed over even more control to Fox News in preparation for 2016. And this time with Trump, Carson and company racing even farther to the fringes, it's a Fox News primary on steroids.
"Shrill Rhetoric In The GOP Primary Race Could Come Back to Haunt the Party," read a Washington Post headline this week.
Note that since Fox's programming regularly pushes out xenophobia to Republican viewers, you can't be surprised when Republican viewers embrace xenophobic candidates. Also note that Trump and Carson's rise come in the wake of Republican leaders, after sifting through the electoral damage of 2012, insisted the party become more inclusive of minorities if Republicans want to remain competitive in future national elections. (Note: It's not working, at all.)
Make no mistake, Donald Trump and Ben Carson are national Republican leaders today largely because of Fox News. Without Fox News' exaggerated generosity over the years, and without Fox providing endless free airtime in the form of sophisticated promotional blitzes to tout Trump and Carson as possible presidential players for years, it's unlikely either man would be leading in the Republican polls today.
Trump and Carson represent perhaps the clearest distillation of exactly how Fox News is not only running the Republican primary, but how the channel's handpicked candidates come with lots and lots of baggage.
For Trump, that baggage has been the Fox-sponsored campaign to question President Obama's American citizenship, and by extension Obama's legal right to govern the United States.
That was crystallized when an agitated questioner at a New Hampshire town hall event last week said to Trump, "We have a problem in this country. It's called Muslims. We know our current president is one. You know he's not even an American," adding, "Anyway, we have training camps growing where they want to kill us. That's my question: When can we get rid of them?" (Fox has peddled the bogus "training camps" claim in the past.)
Trump gave the guy a pass, opening himself to criticism that in 2015 he was still pushing the bogus birther charade. (Not to mention the odious attack on all Muslims laid out by the questioner.)
For Carson, his political rise has been synonymous with a never-ending string of baffling and offensive comments that seemed aimed at appeasing Fox's Obama/liberal-hating viewers:
* Marriage is "a well-established fundamental pillar of society. And no group, be they gays, be they NAMBLA, be they people who believe in bestiality -- it doesn't matter what they are. They don't get to change the definition."
His latest campaign flashpoint arrived when Meet the Press host Chuck Todd asked if Carson would be okay having a Muslim as president of the United States. "I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation," Carson responded. "I absolutely would not agree with that."
He added later that day: "Muslims feel that their religion is very much a part of your public life and what you do as a public official, and that's inconsistent with our principles and our Constitution."
That kind of deeply paranoid and divisive rhetoric appears to be common on AM talk radio in this country. But Carson isn't running for AM Shock Jock. He's running to become leader of the free world; of all Americans.
It's hard to believe that just a few election cycles ago, Republican frontrunner George W. Bush was making these types of inclusive comments while addressing the NAACP:
Discrimination is still a reality, even when it takes different forms. Instead of Jim Crow, there's racial redlining and profiling. Instead of separate but equal, there is separate and forgotten.
Strong civil rights enforcement will be a cornerstone of my administration. And I will confront another form of bias: the soft bigotry of low expectations.
Please note Fox News wasn't running Republican primaries in 2000, which meant GOP frontrunners were given room to roam politically, like Bush actively reaching out to black voters. Not today. Fox News has stifled that kind of growth. Instead, the hallmark of the Republican primary has become rigid adherence to far-right rhetoric. It's the kind that envelops mistrust and morphs into birtherism and Islamophobia.
Again, welcome to the Republican Party's bigotry primary, sponsored by Fox News.