When the GOP lost its damn mind: Sarah Palin spawned Donald Trump and Ben Carson

The former White House chief of staff traces the Republican Party's demise to McCain's fateful decision in 2008

By Janet Allon
Published October 27, 2015 3:30PM (EDT)
 (Jeff Malet, maletphoto.com)
(Jeff Malet, maletphoto.com)

This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

AlterNet Wondering where the insanity that is today's GOP started? Look no further than nonsense-spewer Sarah Palin. This is the view espoused by William M. Daley, former White House Chief of Staff under President Obama from 2011-2012 in Monday's Washington Post.

He makes a pretty good case, first for the fact that the party has descended into utter chaos. "When The Post’s front page declares: 'Republicans are on the verge of ceasing to function as a national party,' it’s time to ask: How did this come to pass?" he opens. How did we get to the side-to-side clown shows of the GOP presidential contest, and the total breakdown of a functioning party in Congress?

The turning point came in 2008, when the party put then Alaska-Governor Sarah Palin a heartbeat away from the presidency, despite her utter lack of competency. That is when the party effectively embraced the lack of competence and experience as a virtue. From that flows Ben Carson and Donald Trump as frontrunners for the nomination and a variety of other ills. Daley writes:

Palin’s blatant lack of competence and preparedness needs no belaboring. What’s critical is that substantive, serious Republican leaders either wouldn’t or couldn’t declare, before or after the election: “This is not what our party stands for. We can and must do better.”

By the campaign’s end, GOP operatives were shielding Palin from even the simplest questions. (She had flunked “what newspapers do you read?”). Barack Obama cruised to victory.

Fox snapped up Palin. All bombast, no reason, no compromise ever became both the party's and the network's daily bread. And let's not forget that it was one of the "party's more thoughtful and substantive veterans," a.k.a. John McCain, who ushered in the new era of substanceless sizzle, writes Daley.

Once McCain put Palin on the ticket, Republican “grown-ups,” who presumably knew better, had to bite their tongues. But after the election, when they were free to speak their minds, they either remained quiet or abetted the dumbing-down of the party. They stood by as Donald Trump and others noisily pushed claims that Obama was born in Kenya. And they gladly rode the tea party tiger to sweeping victories in 2010 and 2014.

 Now that tiger is devouring the GOP establishment. Party elders had hoped new presidential debate rules would give them greater control. But they are watching helplessly as Trump leads the pack and House Republicans engage in fratricide.It’s hard to feel much sympathy. The Republican establishment’s 2008 embrace of Palin set an irresponsibly low bar. Coincidence or not, a batch of nonsense-spewing, hard-right candidates quickly followed, often to disastrous effect.

It's not just this election cycle. Remember Delaware Republican Christine O’Donnell, who promised “I’m not a witch”?

And in 2012, when Todd Akin, who was running to unseat Democarat Sen. Claire McCaskill expressed his crazy views about "legitimate rape," the era of crazy continued, right on through arguably insane Michelle Bachmann and Pizza company executive Herman Cain who led the polls for a while. Eventually, they chose Mitt Romney. But here we are again with Trump, "who vows to make Mexico pay for a “great, great wall” on the U.S. side of the border — and Ben Carson, who questions evolution and asks why victims of the latest mass shooting didn’t “attack the gunman.

Daley assures his point isn't just to heap scorn on these various charactes, it's to attack the recklessness of putting a nut like Palin that close to the presidency. McCain was no spring chicken at 72, and had battled skin cancer. This seems not to be a party that has America's back, Daley concludes.

Now Republicans ask Americans to give them full control of the government, adding the presidency to their House and Senate majorities. This comes as Trump and Carson consistently top the GOP polls. Republican leaders brought this on themselves. Trump calls Palin “a special person” he’d like in his Cabinet. That seems only fair, because he’s thriving in the same cynical value system that puts opportunistic soundbites above seriousness, preparedness and intellectual heft.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Janet Allon

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