BALTIMORE– The last time we had a Republican mayor in my home town, his name was Theodore McKeldin, and the last time I saw him, he was delivering my high school graduation speech. That was 56 years ago.
Think about that distance in time. John F. Kennedy was in the White House back then, and “Leave it to Beaver” on the tube, and a ticket to see the new James Bond movie at the Senator Theater cost 75 cents.
And we haven’t had a single Republican mayor of Baltimore since that bygone era, and none likely to come along any time soon. McKeldin’s the end of it. And the crazy thing is, he’d be completely out of step in today’s Republican Party.
And he wouldn’t be alone. There’s a new book by a respected veteran pollster that says the same thing’s happening all over America.
For sure, McKeldin would look at today’s GOP and ask, “What happened to my party?” He’d have raised holy hell if any president said people in Baltimore were “living in hell” or dared call his city “disgusting…a rat and rodent-infested mess,” the way Donald Trump did.
Unlike the current president, McKeldin saw problems but put money where his mouth was – a series of urban renewal projects he started in a city that was already showing its age and its civil strain. He was a strong proponent of racial equality, at a time when such a position wasn’t easy. He exalted the American melting pot instead of demeaning immigrants.
Are you listening, Donald Trump?
Oh, and something else. At the Republican National Convention, in 1952, McKeldin gave the principal presidential nominating speech for Dwight D. Eisenhower – another guy who wouldn’t get near today’s Republican Party.
Nor would millions of Americans, according to this new book, “R.I.P., GOP: How the New America is Dooming the Republicans,” by Stanley Greenberg.
Greenberg foresees “the death of the Republican Party as we’ve known it.”
The book’s more than a philosophical treatise. Greenberg’s a Democrat who’s worked for Bill Clinton and Al Gore (and British Prime Minister Tony Blair and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder). But his credibility here comes from focus groups and polling.
Fundamentally, he’s saying the Republicans are on the wrong side of too many issues ever since the dawning of the far-right Tea Party, and they slip further out of touch as the country’s demographics keep shifting.
Much of that is tied to race – and, by extension, immigration. From the moment he announced his candidacy for president, Trump has played on those issues repeatedly, in the toxic belief that they appeal to his base.
That’s Trump’s whole history, going back to his real estate days, the Central Park five, the Obama birtherism, Mexican rapists, Charlottesville, African “s—hole” countries…ah, you know the list by now.
The thing is, when it comes to Republicans and race, the list far pre-dates Trump himself.
Go back to McKeldin’s time. In the same spring McKeldin delivered that high school graduation speech, in 1963, John Kennedy was launching the first of a series of civil rights bills he and his successor, Lyndon Johnson, championed.
The Republicans spent the Sixties fighting every one of those bills – even the most basic gestures of racial fairness, such as voting rights and open housing.
Then came Richard Nixon and his so-called Southern Strategy – specifically designed to divide the country along racial lines. And Ronald Reagan and his talk of “welfare queens” and George Bush with his Willie Horton ads.
Trump’s just part of a pattern. Around here, it goes back at least as far as McKeldin’s era. It’s a big reason why this city, which is more than 60 percent African-American, votes repeatedly, and overwhelmingly, for Democratic presidential candidates – and for mayoral candidates, as well.
As part of the national modern demographic shift, it’s why “R.I.P., GOP” reads powerfully.
Michael Olesker, columnist for the News American, Baltimore Sun, and Baltimore Examiner has spent a quarter of a century writing about the city he loves.He is the author of several books, including Michael Olesker’s Baltimore: If You Live Here, You’re Home, Journeys to the Heart of Baltimore, and The Colts’ Baltimore: A City and Its Love Affair in the 1950s, all published by Johns Hopkins Press.