PoliticsNation with Al Sharpton, 2/28/13, 7:00 PM ET

How the GOP has gone from Lincoln to Limbaugh

The Republican Party was founded 159 years ago. But a lot has changed since the party’s early days. Rev. Al Sharpton, Abby Huntsman, and Krystal Ball take us...

159 years later, where did the ‘party of Lincoln’ go wrong?

Updated

On February 28, 1854, a small group of abolitionists met in a tiny church in Ripon, Wisconsin, to discuss their efforts to oppose slavery. After hours of discussion, the group dubbed themselves Republicans, and the party of Lincoln was formed. Their main cause? Abolishing slavery, and establishing that all men could truly be equal.

On the party’s 159th birthday, the fight for racial equality no longer seems important to the Republican party, especially when a law protecting voting rights is dismissed (by a Republican-backed Supreme Court Justice) as a  “racial entitlement.”

Somewhere along the way, the party of Lincoln has become the party of Limbaugh, but how did it happen?

Ironically, the civil rights era of the 1960’s may have been the turning point: as Democrats embraced the movement, Southern white Democrats fled the party. Only a few years later, Richard Nixon used his Southern strategy to swoop them up, and in the elections since then, many of those states crystallized into red states, especially in the deep south. Krystal Ball says “fear-mongering” and racial code words have been a key part of the party’s strategy to win.

Of course, that strategy hasn’t been winning so much anymore.

Abby Huntsman, a proud Republican and the daughter of former Republican Governor Jon Huntsman, blames the extremist and Tea Party elements of the GOP, saying that she wishes more people would remember the fight for equality that was at the heart of the Republican ideal. “The number one word that comes to mind is tolerance,” she said. “They need to invite people into their tent.”

“If I could imagine Lincoln living today, he would probably be pushing for a debate on immigration, he’d be pushing for a debate on gay marriage, he’d probably be pushing for a debate on equal rights. That’s not being done as much as I would like, as much as many Republicans would like to see.”

Huntsman believes the party needs to embrace tolerance if it’s to get back to its Lincolnian roots. Bringing more people into that tent may be more than just a moral imperative for the GOP. With recent demographic changes in the country, the voting block that makes up the GOP base is shrinking. Perhaps a return to the party of Lincoln is in order.

159 years later, where did the 'party of Lincoln' go wrong?

Updated