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The GOP still clings to the idea that it’s the party of “traditional values” and “strict construction” of the U.S. Constitution even while breaking with past precedent in radical and reckless ways. It’s clear by their actions over the past 22 years that the Republicans are willing to chuck precedent and tradition out the window if they believe it will serve their narrow partisan interests.

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The Republican Party Breaks with Precedent, Finds Itself in an Unprecedented Predicament—Joseph Palermo

Let’s review:

In 1994, when the Republicans won the House of Representatives for the first time in forty years the first thing they did was shut down the government in an unprecedented attempt to extort the Democratic president to bow down to their demands to voucherize Medicare.

It’s clear by their actions over the past 22 years that the Republicans are willing to chuck precedent and tradition out the window if they believe it will serve their narrow partisan interests.

The full-throated denunciation of the U.S. government as a new form of “tyranny” coming from Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay, and radio shock jocks like Rush Limbaugh, helped create the politically toxic environment that led a handful of right-wing extremists to truck bomb the main federal office building in Oklahoma City.

When the government shutdown tactic faced public opprobrium the House Republicans moved on to transforming their oversight function into a partisan attack machine. Abusing their subpoena power, as well as the post-Watergate rules requiring “Special Prosecutors” to be appointed when evidence of administration wrongdoing surfaced, they took the unprecedented step of impeaching a Democratic president for trying to hide a private sexual relationship.

The Republican Justices on the Supreme Court had ruled that the partisan investigations of President Bill Clinton would not impair his ability to carry out his constitutional obligations. Boy were they wrong. After the federal government was tied in knots for the better part of two years over the Monica Lewinsky revelations, the Clinton sex scandal became the functional equivalent of a government shutdown by other means.

The Republicans not only forced the country to endure months of graphic descriptions of the president’s trysts with his young intern, but also revealed their own shameless hypocrisy when Speakers Newt Gingrich and Bob Livingston were both exposed as serial adulterers even while denouncing Clinton’s “character.”

The Republicans then settled on the boring and outwardly asexual Dennis Hastert as Speaker. Hastert, the creator of the hyper-partisan “Hastert Rule” that the Republicans in the House still dutifully enforce (where no bills are allowed to come up for a vote unless a “majority of the majority” approves them) is today in prison for illegally spending millions of dollars to try to cover up his earlier life as a sexual predator. It turns out that the longest serving Republican House Speaker in American history was a pedophile.

All of these extreme actions of the 1990s showed that the GOP had no qualms about breaking with precedent and tradition (or “family values”) if it furthered its partisan objectives.

And these acts of unprecedented partisanship and recklessness continued into the 21st Century.

In 2000, the Republican attacks on anyone advocating recounting the vote tally in the state of Florida to find out who really won the presidential election dovetailed perfectly with the five Republican-appointed Supreme Court Justices stepping in to rule George W. Bush the winner. These actions were unprecedented and no election has come close to the irregularities in the 2000 race, except for maybe the thoroughly messed up Hayes-Tilden debacle in 1876.

But the Republicans’ break with precedent and tradition was just getting started.

After eight years of Republican misrule, and four full years (2003-2007) where they ran the whole government, they left the country in the worst shape since the Great Depression.

And the moment Barack Obama was sworn in as president in January 2009 the Republicans began to obstruct everything the new president wanted to do to try to deal with the economic crisis. Their wrath was unprecedented in its vindictiveness and bile.

House members yelled “You Lie!” at the president in the middle of a State of the Union address, a kind of outburst that hadn’t happened since the lead up to the Civil War; they questioned whether the president was born in the United States; they claimed he was aKenyan Mau-Mau, and so on.

The reception Republicans gave the first African-American president, a chief executive who constantly shunned his own base to reach across the aisle to work with them, was shameful in its thinly veiled racism.

And in 2010, when the Republicans won the House they wasted no time in once again shutting down the government, this time inventing the novel tactic of holding the “debt ceiling” hostage to extort draconian budget cuts from the Democratic president.

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Never before had the viability of the world’s reserve currency been held hostage in this manner, which was a move that even some of the Republicans’ most important corporate boosters thought was too extreme.

Once again, the Republicans showed their willingness to put the perceived political interests of their party ahead of what was best for the country they claim to love so dearly.

And then, following the 2010 census Republicans at the state level moved to cement their political advantage through the most aggressive gerrymandering the nation had seen since the early 19th Century.

Later, we saw the Republican House invite a foreign head of state to lambaste the sitting president over an international nuclear arms agreement, an unprecedented step that the Republicans no doubt would have denounced as “treason” had a Democratic House done the same thing to a Republican president.

And following that slight to the office of the presidency’s ability to manage U.S. foreign policy, the Republicans in the Senate under Mitch McConnell took the unprecedented action of refusing to allow a vote for the president’s nominee of a Supreme Court Justice.

So the Republicans in the House and the Senate moved from attacking the Democratic President to attacking the office of the presidency itself – all for what they believe to be in the service of narrow partisan gain.

Which brings us to the disgraceful way the Republicans have handled the presidential candidacy of Donald J. Trump.

They gave the country in the form of their 2016 presidential nominee a person who is not only unfit for the presidency, but who is a charlatan, misogynist, con artist and sexual predator.

Then they rallied around this unstable person as the Republican standard bearer even after all of his stinging insults aimed at Mexicans, Muslims, the disabled, women, immigrants, Jews, and any other group that doesn’t fit into his white supremacist worldview – all the while the Republicans still claimed to be the party of “patriotism” and “family values.”

Bernie Sanders pointed out during the primaries that the GOP has become a “fringe party”; but the process that brought the Republicans to this sordid juncture has been long in coming.

The only way any social progress can happen in this country is if this fringe extremist party is pushed aside. We cannot “reach across the aisle” and meet these bigots “half way.”

Franklin Delano Roosevelt didn’t go to the Republicans begging them to sign on to his Social Security and other New Deal programs; Lyndon Baines Johnson didn’t go hat in hand to the Republicans asking them to meet him in “the middle” on Medicare and the Great Society. These gains were only done at a time when the Republican Party was totally sidelined and was in no position to obstruct progress.

Let the Republicans whine about “rigged” elections and scream about “big gov’mint” – it’s time for the adults to take charge.

The whole Trump phenomenon should at long last drive home the fact – along with the last quarter century of American political history – that the Republican Party in its current form must be vanquished if we are to move forward as a nation. It might take several more election cycles to attain this goal, but when you hear pundits talk about how Hillary Clinton must “move to the center” and “reach across the aisle” let us remember this recent history.

And now, following the third and final debate between Hillary Rodham Clinton and Donald J. Trump in Las Vegas, we see yet another well established precedent in American politics fall by the wayside: a nominee from a major party has announced that he will keep the nation in “suspense” about whether or not he will accept the legitimate outcome of the electoral process.

Never before (with the exception of 1860) has a nominee from a major party thrown such shade on American democracy before election day. Trump’s stubborn insistence that the system is “rigged” places the Republican party in turmoil. Down-ballot Republican politicians are already jumping like rats off a sinking ship.

With any luck the Trump people will break away from the GOP, form their own grievance political party, and tear a hole in an institution that has so terribly lost its way it allowed a megalomaniac blowhard to play a starring role in its own ignominious denouement.

Joe Palermo

Joseph Palermo