The Republican Party has experienced a radical transformation in its political ideology. Compared to the GOP of the Reagan era, the party has become much more populist, less neoliberal, and now places much more focus on domestic issues. As this development has taken place, the Democratic Party and its sympathetic media allies continue to feign sadness over the supposed downfall of the Republican Party. Numbers of Democrats now point to Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, John McCain, and Mitt Romney as the “good” Republicans of the modern era. Despite their popularity for their rhetorical ability, compassion, war heroism, or pragmatic ideological beliefs, all the above Republicans were dogpiled on and criticized in grotesque, disingenuous ways by Democrats and the mainstream media before falling out of favor with their party.
Throughout his presidency, Ronald Reagan was endlessly hounded by numerous media outlets for his austere conservative policies. Fringe Democrats accused Reagan of being a fascist for his nationalist-capitalist mindset towards foreign policy and the economy. Slightly less radical Democrats settled for accusing him of setting up the groundwork for far-right movements worldwide and accusing him of supposed incompetence after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Despite the complete absence of any evidence supporting such claims, the media promoted these narratives years after his final term. Democrats like Mario Cuomo even became sudden deficit hawks under Reagan, promoting the Democratic Party as a beacon of fiscal responsibility after the disaster of the Carter presidency. Like most past presidents, Reagan was beloved by many Americans, especially those who continue to view him as their ideological compass to this day. Headlines on prominent news outlets that condemned the Reagan administration in his day now pretend to lament the ideological shift in the Republican Party away from the classical conservative positions of the former president.
Since the announcement of his initial presidential campaign in 1999, George W. Bush was incessantly criticized and parodied by the media. Attacks on Bush as an incompetent buffoon lacking poise and practical speaking ability dominated media headlines, only pausing for a short period following the September 11 terror attacks. As the Iraq War became immensely unpopular at home, media criticism of Bush grew even more hostile. He was even accused of being a puppet of his vice president, Dick Cheney. Today, Bush’s image has been completely remade. He’s now an esteemed president representing a “better time” for the Republican Party. The former president’s criticisms of the current Republican Party on immigration and foreign policy are taken as gospel by media pundits hungry for any “gotcha moments” from veteran Republicans. Conveniently, the utter contempt for that very same individual is forgotten.
John McCain has become the most prominent example of the rehabilitation of former Republicans for political ammunition. Considered a true statesman after spending 31 years as a senator, McCain was a symbol of the old legislative order, prioritizing debate and compromise for political issues in the Senate. When the 2008 presidential election came around, McCain was still crucified by the media. When critics could not outright attack him, they focused their attention on McCain’s unorthodox vice presidential pick, Sarah Palin. The New York Times even ran stories attacking McCain’s character for promoting “anti-intellectualism … and disrespect for facts at the center of the party.” Vox argued that McCain directly promoted the reality TV nature of politics that would come to dominate the airwaves and that he had somehow legitimized the Tea Party movement. McCain was also hounded by the media for anti-Muslim supporters at his rallies, despite his rejection of their Islamophobic attacks on Barack Obama in a now-famous video clip.
Despite the media’s bad-faith bashing of John McCain, his rehabilitation would come soon after. Democrats wistfully pushed McCain to live up to his reputation as a maverick and vote against his party whenever possible. McCain finally became a Democratic darling after casting the deciding vote against the skinny repeal of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), opposing both President Trump and the Republican Party. President Trump’s feud with McCain dominated the news cycle, helping the media prop up McCain as yet another relic of the GOP. Like Reagan, Bush, and a handful of other Republican politicians, the media once again rhetorically asked, “What happened to this Republican Party?”
Ideological Consistency v Partisan Ammunition
Despite many simply summing up the media’s shift in opinion on former Republicans as an innocent, natural act, the reality is just the opposite. The press continues to rehabilitate the reputations of politicians as it sees fit, unconcerned with the intellectual honesty of its actions. In 2012, now-President Biden told an audience of black Americans that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney would “put ya’ll back in chains,” with practically no pushback against his comments from the media. So far, Democrat-aligned media have rehabilitated the reputations of Republicans that can serve as political ammunition against the current GOP. Can the left succeed in rewriting history for the sake of today’s narrative? Many Republicans still remember the two-faced attacks on former presidents and party leaders that took place years ago, so probably not.
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