In spite of all of this, it is true that Trump’s views on race and gender are overall more extreme than the Republican Establishment. But when it comes to civil rights for LGBT Americans, the Establishment is as bad or worse than Trump. “The Donald,” is homophobic, to be sure, and that has not gotten as much attention as it should. But rabid homophobia is the stock and trade of establishment Republicans. There’s the Federal Marriage Amendment that Bush advocated and most Republicans Senators and Representatives voted for. When Florida had one of the worst anti-gay adoption laws in America, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio favored it. McCain favored Prop 8 and helped lead the fight to keep “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Romney repeatedly expressed support for the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2004 and in both of his presidential runs. Most Republicans in Congress have voted against ENDA. Paul Ryan not only voted for the Federal Marriage Amendment but just earlier this year defended the right of institutions to discriminate against LGBT people while receiving government money. The “Let Institutions Discriminate Against LGBT People While Taking Their Tax Dollars” is a standard GOP policy, not something Trump injected into the party. And what about Lindsey Graham? Graham voted for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage nationwide twice, reiterated his support for such an amendment in 2008, and voted against both ENDA and the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Once again, there is some element of influence from Ronald Reagan here. In 1975, he criticized the legalization of homosexuality in California, and as president, he allowed the military ban on gay soldiers to continue. And despite offering a liberal position on the issue in 1978, he implied in 1986 that openly gay people should not be allowed to teach in public schools. Establishment Republicans cannot criticize Trump for his homophobia, because by and large, they agree with him or are even more homophobic than he is. This is a crucial difference between now and 1964. The Republican Establishment was clearly well to the Left of Goldwater on civil rights and had concrete policy differences that they could point to in order to illustrate this. Trump, however, is relatively normal for a modern Republican candidate. Furthermore, in 1964, there were a significant number of Republican politicians who equalled most liberal Democrats on civil rights and outperformed them in certain areas of civil rights. There are very few Republican politicians today who fit such a description. Mark Kirk is probably the most progressive Republican Senator on LGBT rights issues, and his record on this issue is probably less liberal than that of Hillary Clinton, a moderate Democrat.
There is another great comparison that illustrates this difference. Consider National Review, a magazine that has been one of the key anti-Trump outlets on the Right. Founded by William F. Buckley, the magazine opposed the Civil Rights Movement during the 1950s. National Review‘s civil rights attitudes are now more complex, moderate, and varied, but it still has a lot of the same flavor as it did sixty years ago. For one thing, although some of its writers support gay marriage, the magazine has repeatedly run anti-gay marriage articles in recent years, as well as articles opposing other aspects of LGBT rights. They run a recurring column by Maggie Gallagher, a former leader in the National Organization for Marriage. Feminism is practically a dirty word for some of their writers. David French, a writer for National Review who was floated as a possible establishment Republican alternative to Trump, opposes marriage equality and criticizes Trump for being too moderate on transgender bathroom use. In fact, while he and his family have undergone disgusting, racist, sexist, threatening attacks from Trump supporters, French’s own writing on race walks a fine line. Last year, he said that the Confederate Flag should remain at the South Carolina Capitol regardless of whether it offended people. This year, he said that Colin Kaepernick needed to stand for the National Anthem, because, apparently, not offending people is very important after all. Contrast this with the New York Herald Tribune, a prominent Republican newspaper that refused to endorse Goldwater in 1964 and blasted him for race baiting. The paper was a combination of two older papers, the New York Herald and the New York Tribune. The New York Tribune had been founded by Horace Greeley, a moderate abolitionist but an abolitionist nonetheless, who asserted in 1864 that it was none of the government’s business if a person married someone of a different race. During the 1950s, the New York Herald Tribune favored civil rights and even allowed NAACP Executive Secretary Walter White to publish an article in the paper blasting neighborhood racism in Chicago. One of the paper’s presidents, Ogden Reid, was elected to the House of Representatives in the 1960s, where he was one of the chamber’s strongest advocates of civil rights and eventually left the GOP after it became too conservative for him.
The bottom line is this: in 1964, Dixiecrats and Buckley-style Republicans had not yet completed their mission of remaking the Republican Party in their image. Thus, mainstream Republicans were in a good position to criticize Goldwater on substance rather than simply style, without coming across as hypocritical to the degree that many modern (but not all) Republicans do when they criticize Trump. Even in the 1970s, Nixon mixed his racist Southern Strategy with some moderate policies on civil rights. His Administration sued both Bob Jones University and the Trump family’s real estate business for racial discrimination. Of course, within a decade, the Republican Establishment was blatantly catering to Bob Jones, and now, Trump is the party nominee for president. In this election, by contrast, Trump did not have to remake the Republican Party, because it had already been remade. He didn’t make it the party of bigotry, fear-mongering, big government social authoritarianism, or white identity politics, because it had already become that party. Back in January, former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson wrote a column entitled, “The Party of Lincoln is Dying.” Truth be told, it was already dead before Trump ever ran for president. And if it wasn’t dead when Gerson’s old boss took office, it sure was when he left. Trump is living in the house that folks like Barry Goldwater, William F. Buckley, James Kilpatrick, Robert Bork, Strom Thurmond, Jesse Helms, Trent Lott, Ronald Reagan, Lindsey Graham, George W. Bush, Mitt Romney, and plenty of others built. And if he somehow wins next month, he’ll owe them a thank you.