How Republicans went from the party of Abraham Lincoln to the party of Donald Trump

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In 2016, the Republican candidate Donald Trump won the US presidential elections, due to the strong support from the southern states and the country’s white community. It is simply astonishing how the Republican Party’s history began and how it developed through time.

In the 18th century, they promoted progressive ideas and fought against one of the worst acts in history of mankind – slavery. Their duty and primary goal was to stop it. Three centuries later they ended up promoting white supremacy. How could that have happened? Let’s have a closer look at the main stages of the political development of the Republican Party.

The beginnings: the Whigs and the Democrats

The Republican Party started to form in the 1850s by the faces of anti–slave activists, such as Abraham Lincoln and his associates.  Before the foundation of the Republican Party, two major parties were in charge – the Democrats and the Whigs. The Democratic Party, with strong support in the South, had become increasingly pro–slavery. The Whigs, on the other hand, were divided on the issue, as their northern supporters were worried that the enormous number of slave states might have a considerable political influence. Economically speaking, this could have negatively affected the white workers. However, with the admission of many Western states to the Union, the decision whether these new states should allow slavery was in the government’s hands. In 1854, the big controversy regarding the support for slavery in Kansas and Nebraska, ended with the collapse of the Whig Party. After some time, a new northern party started to form. Later on, the party became known as the Republican Party.

The Civil War – the end of slave era

In the 1860s, a little known Republican named Abraham Lincoln won the presidency. He promised he wouldn’t pursue slavery interference, but his party was still too anti–slavery for the South. 11 Southern States split up from the rest of the US forming the Confederate States of America. This event was the flame which led to the Civil War between the Union and the Confederate States of America. The Civil War ended with the victory of the North and suddenly slavery was banished throughout the country. A year after Lincoln’s assassination, the party passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866 to make sure that every black American had equal rights as white American. It was stated that everyone born in the US is a citizen, that all citizens should have equal protection by law and that the right to vote can’t be denied because of one’s race.

Republicans are giving up on reforming the South

In the North, many businessmen got very rich and started taking a leading role in the Republican Party. However, the only interest they had was power and they considered that fighting for black rights was not the optimal way to maintain it. Therefore, they basically gave up on the South in that moment. Meanwhile, in the South, the white community started using violence to protest against the racial reforms. Plenty of Republicans said that they had done enough for the black citizens in the South and they started to consider it a part of the US history. It was time for the Republicans to turn to other problems they had to face. Later on, the South became politically dominated by the Democratic Party.

The development of the Republican Party in the 20th century

In the 1920s, governed by the Republican Party, the US economy was continuously growing until it crashed during the world economy crisis. At that time the Republican Party was represented by its president Theodore Roosevelt. In 1929 during the Great Depression, it was the Democrats including Franklin D. Roosevelt who resolved the crisis and provided a new and better life for American citizens. After that, the Republicans started presenting themselves as an opposition to an even bigger government. As we proceed into the 50s and 60s, the black voters started turning their backs on the Republicans. The main reasons were the Great Depression in 1929 and the contract named The New Deal by the president of Democrats – Franklin D. Roosevelt. Suddenly, the numbers of black voters who identified themselves as Democrats was twice the number of those who identified themselves as Republicans. In 1964 the president of Democrats Lyndon B. Johnson finally signed the Civil Rights Act into law. Many Republicans supported this reform prompted by the Democrats, except their president Barry Goldwater. He thought it excessively increased government power. At that time the Democrats had 80 or more percent of black voters, which was a massive turnover. Also, more and more white voters – former Democrats, turned themselves to the Republicans and the South started to pick up its today’s shape. By the 1980s the Republicans elected Ronald Reagan, who introduced new ideas and reforms such as lower taxes, fighting for business interest, traditional family values etc.

Immigration, Republican policies and Donald Trump

In recent decades, America has gone through a major demographic shift in the form of Hispanic immigration – both legal and illegal. Many Democrats, business elites and some leading Republicans hardly supported the reform of immigration laws, which meant that more than 10 million unauthorized immigrants in the US could get legal status. The Republicans were tough on the immigration reform. They wouldn’t provide it and that led to the big loss of the Republican proxy Mitt Romney on the US elections in 2012 among the Hispanic voters. The majority of Hispanic voters voted for the opposite candidate – Barack Obama, who won the election that year. Later on, the Republicans were worried about losing many voters, so they came up with a plan. In 2013, the old hands like John McCain and stars like Marco Rubio accepted to collaborate with their opposition – the Democrats, on a bill that would give immigrants a safe path to legal status. However, the bill died in the House of  Representatives because Republicans could not see a short-term benefit of it. Their long-term policy (for 2016 and 2020) was to remove immigration as an issue. Eventually, it was in 2016 when an outsider businessman Donald Trump became a Republican candidate. After he won the presidential elections, he made immigration policies his signature issue. His main goal was to build a wall on the border with Mexico, which caused a lot of controversy among the people who didn’t support such ideas. The 2020 elections, which Donald Trump lost, once again showed that his controversial ideas were not supported by the majority of American voters. An additional blow to the Republican Party were the Capitol riots on January 6, 2021, which means that the Republicans will have to reconsider their values, beliefs and policies.

Written by Noa Planinc

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