For decades, the GOP has built its identity on what I call the Four Pillars of Conservatism: small government, low taxes, strong defense, and traditional social values. They provide an easy-to-understand template for every Republican running for any office from dog catcher to president, they bind Republicans with different agendas in common cause, and their constant repetition cements the party’s image in voters’ minds. But Donald Trump, now the leader of this party, has shown only sporadic interest in any of them, with the possible exception of a strong defense. Instead, he has built his candidacy on ethno-nationalist appeals, scapegoating immigrants and Muslims and making it absolutely clear that he is leading a movement of, by, and for white people.
It isn’t that this is foreign to the GOP, just that it’s so blatant as to remove all plausible deniability. Trump takes the ugly appeals they used to make with dog whistles and euphemisms, and puts them right out in the open. It’s the difference between a guy in a trench coat saying “Psst, buddy, want to buy some racism and xenophobia? Follow me into this alley…”, and a guy standing on a soapbox in the middle of Times Square shouting “Get yer racism and xenophobia here!”