The GOP’s Nativist Gene


it rose to power in the late 1850s, the Republican Party absorbed the
anti-Catholic populists of the American Party who live in historical
memory as the Know-Nothings. So called because they denied all knowledge
of what their party stood for, the Know-Nothings contributed a nativist
gene to the GOP that it has never managed to knock out.

In the
early days, Catholics and Jews were the principal suspect classes of
outsiders. The problem, especially when it came to Catholics, was that
there were just so darn many of them by the end of the 19th century that
it didn’t pay to indulge (at least publicly) in anti-Catholic bigotry.
At the end of the 1884 presidential campaign, a Presbyterian preacher
introduced GOP nominee James G. Blaine to a crowd of Protestant clergy
with the words, “We are Republicans, and I don’t propose to leave our
party and identify ourselves with the party whose antecedents have been
rum, Romanism, and rebellion”–thereby costing Blaine the election.

recent years, the wise guys in the Republican Party have cottoned to
the fact that the U.S. of A. has become a good deal more Latino than it
used to be, and that it might not be such a good idea for the future of
the GOP if it embraced (at least publicly) such anti-Latino-immigrant
laws as Arizona passed a few months ago. Why not find a less politically
potent body of Americans on which to vent one’s nativist animosity? 

give you: The Muslims. Unlike the Latinos, who are pushing toward 20
percent of the American population, they constitute less than one
percent. And the largest portion of them are African-Americans who would
never vote Republican anyway. But how to change the nativist narrative
in time for November’s mid-term elections?

The Ground Zero
Mosque, of course. Talk about godsends. In May, when the story emerged,
the ratio of newspaper, broadcast, and blog coverage of the Arizona law
to the proposed Islamic Center in Manhattan was 20:1. Last month, it was
10:1. So far this month, it’s been running at 1.3:1. That’s according
to Lexis-Nexis Academic word searches of
Arizona+law+immigration+Brewer and Ground Zero+mosque+protest. Add
coverage of other anti-Muslim protests around the country and the ratio
turns the other way.

Ugly it may be, but you’ve got got to hand it to Palin, Gingrich, and Co. They know what they’re doing.