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CNN Special, A Radical Rebellion: The Transformation Of The GOP. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired June 18, 2021 - 23:00   ET






FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST (voice-over): Remember that Republican Party? How did the party of Lincoln turn into this?

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Get out. I'd like to punch him in the face, I'll tell you.

ZAKARIA: A radical transformation. Decades in the making. But the roots are old and deep. Then there were the rabid fears of the John Birch Society.

UNKNOWN: These are the communists that are infecting the youth of America.

ZAKARIA: Now the crazy conspiracies of QAnon.

UNKNOWN: Joe Biden is the biggest pedophile.

UNKNOWN: God wins.

UNKNOWN: Father, I pray for him.

ZAKARIA: Exploiting God for votes began a long time ago.

UNKNOWN: This war is for the soul of America.

TRUMP: Two Corinthians. Three 17. That's the whole ball game.

ZAKARIA: Voter suppression.

UNKNOWN: I don't want everybody to vote.

ZAKARIA: Cheating democracy.

CAROL ANDERSON, AUTHOR, ONE PERSON, NO VOTE: Massive voter roll purges. Millions upon millions removed from the voter roll.

ZAKARIA: The ugly history of racism.

DAVID FRUM, AUTHOR, DEAD RIGHT: If you are a black Republican, you would suddenly feel that this party didn't want you there anymore.

ZAKARIA: A party in deep trouble.

JEFF FLAKE, FORMER DIRECTOR, GOLDWATER INSTITUTE: This so-called Trump base is a shrinking base.

FRUM: This isn't working. It's not working for America. It's not working for Republicans.

ANDERSON: It can't even govern.

ZAKARIA: What the hell happened to Republicans?


ZAKARIA: Good evening. I'm Fareed Zakaria. America may never have lived through a political era as troubling as this one. A sitting president, Donald Trump, tried to hold onto his office even after he lost the election. An American president incited an angry mob to attack the U.S. Capitol. Donald Trump is gone but the simple truth is, it may just be for now. Much of the GOP believes that big lie and is busy trying to make it harder for Americans to vote.

What on earth happened to the Republican Party?

The only way to find the answers is to go back to the beginning of this story.


ZAKARIA (voice-over): A hot July 9th, 1964. San Francisco's Cow Palace. An arena built to showcase cattle. It's packed tonight with birds of Republicans. Thousands of rowdy delegates there to choose the GOP candidate for president.

UNKNOWN: I have never seen a convention like I'm seeing at this time.

ZAKARIA: At the podium, stands a strong breed but one on the road to extinction.

SEN. JOHN TOWER (R-TX): Well, I don't believe there really is such a thing as a liberal Republican.

ZAKARIA: Actually, there were many liberals in the GOP. Like Governor Nelson Rockefeller of New York. Tonight, he's demanding that his party denounce segregation and extremism.

GOV. NELSON ROCKEFELLER (R-NY): These extremists feed on fear, hate and terror. They encourage disunity.

ZAKARIA: The crowd quickly turns hostile.

UNKNOWN: He starts being booed in a remarkably vicious way. It's frightening.

UNKNOWN: The governor is entitled to be heard for five minutes. He can't be heard in five minutes if we're going to have these constant interruptions.


ZAKARIA: Conservative Republicans despise the wealthy liberal, Eastern elites like Rockefeller who have long dominated the party.

ROCKEFELLER: These are people who have nothing in common with Americanism.

FRUM: The Republican convention of 1964 turned into this rancorous fight.

UNKNOWN: Now, look, the governor hasn't had a chance to talk. He's been up here for 10 minutes and he hasn't had a chance to talk for about four minutes.

CROWD: (CHANTING) We want Barry. We want Barry.

ZAKARIA: Barry. The Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona. The almost certain nominee. One of the most right-wing politicians in the whole country. But there is one delegate determined to stop the Goldwater juggernaut.

JACKIE ROBINSON, FORMER MLB PLAYER: I think that the mood of the Negro delegate was such that they could not, would not, and will not support the nominee if it's Goldwater.

ZAKARIA: That's not just any Republican.

UNKNOWN: One out, pitches to Jackie Robinson.

ZAKARIA: Jackie Robinson is an American hero. The first black player in the Major League Baseball.

UNKNOWN: There seems to be some concern among some quarters that the former great baseball player Jackie Robinson may lead a Negro walkout of this convention. Dan Rather has reached Jackie Robinson. Now, Dan, come in.

DAN RATHER, REPORTER: Jackie, could you explain to us the walkout over Goldwater candidacy? Is that right?

ROBINSON: That's what it is. They're going to walk out of the candidacy, but not out of the party. This must be emphasized. Nobody is walking out the Republican Party.

ZAKARIA: Robinson deplores the far-right Goldwater. But he remains loyal to the party of Lincoln. The party that had historically been pro-civil rights.

FRUM: If you were a black Republican, you would suddenly feel that this party has been your home since the civil war. This party didn't want you there anymore.

UNKNOWN: Forty thousand people, half of them Negros, demonstrated against Goldwater.

ZAKARIA: Those who felt unwanted took to the streets outside the Cow Palace, including Jackie Robinson. At the heart of their anger, the 1964 Civil Rights Vote. Signed into law just days before the convention began. Barry Goldwater was one only of 27 senators to vote against it.

SEN. BARRY GOLDWATER (R-AZ): We are being asked to destroy the rights of some and will applause banner of promoting the civil rights of others.

ZAKARIA: Historians say Goldwater was not a racist. But most agree, he did not do enough to denounce segregation. At the convention, the racial climate is growing uglier.

UNKNOWN: The Negro race sends a very large --

UNKNOWN: Not you. You see me first as a Negro, and then I'm first a human being.

UNKNOWN: They've got a core demonstrator carrying them up the center aisle.

ZAKARIA: A black man protesting Goldwater is dragged out by security. Others are spat on. Called racist names.

UNKNOWN: It does represent to a lot of people on watching their TV at a Nuremberg rally.

UNKNOWN: Jackie Robinson said he thought he knew what it felt like to be a Jew in Hitler's Germany.

ROBINSON: Any self-respecting Negro must walk out of this convention.

ZAKARIA: America's most famous black Republican had finally seen enough.

UNKNOWN: Mr. Robinson, would you vote for president --

ROBINSON: Yes. I would very strongly vote for President Johnson over Goldwater. There's no question about that.

ZAKARIA: He walked out of the convention and the party for good.

ROBINSON: We will not stand silently for any major party nominating a man who in my opinion is a bigot and a man who will attempt to prevent us from moving forward.

GOLDWATER: I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.


UNKNOWN: He called the supporters to be extremists, to be radicals. Was it a watershed moment in America? Yes, it was.

ZAKARIA: Goldwater's defensive extremism would lose him the election.

[23:10:01] UNKNOWN: Lyndon B. Johnson's landslide of November 3rd, 1964.

ZAKARIA: He received just 5 percent of the black vote, down from 32 percent for Richard Nixon just four years earlier. But Goldwater had changed history for the Republicans.

He created what we now know as the right-wing base.

HEATHER COX RICHARDSON, AUTHOR, TO MAKE MEN FREE: Well, Goldwater just in '64 is he brings together the post-World War II, the Cold War Republicans who were fervently opposed to business regulation and he brings those together with the Southern Democrats, the southern white supremacists who were against the idea of desegregation, and he marries them in a new coalition that is going to take over the party.


ZAKARIA (on camera): The passions that Barry Goldwater inspired were explained perfectly by William F. Buckley, Jr., the founder of modern conservatism. He wrote, a conservative is someone who stands athwart history yelling stop. Indeed, the right would shout stop over and over again in the coming decades.


ZAKARIA (voice-over): Those shouts echoed through the 1960s as America exploded. Cities were wrecked by rioters over civil rights and police shootings.

UNKNOWN: Don't bow down anymore. Hold your heads up.

ZAKARIA: Thousands were dying in the jungles of Vietnam. Anti-war protests filled the streets. Enter presidential candidate, Richard Nixon. He knew exactly how terrifying 1968 was to the right-wing base.

UNKNOWN: The wave of crime is not going to be the wave of the future in America.

ANDERSON: Fear, fear, fear.

ZAKARIA: Nixon used what was called the southern strategy. Build a base by attracting more white support in the South with subtle appeals to racism.

ANDERSON: These code words. These dog whistles. Law and order.

UNKNOWN: Law and order is something that everybody wants.

ZAKARIA: The right loved Nixon until he began to run the country. To their horror, he wanted to make government bigger.

FRUM: He proposed a universal health insurance program, and no president left behind a more ambitious environmental legacy than Richard Nixon.

ZAKARIA: Nixon actually founded the Environmental Protection Agency.

FLAKE: Big government was there to stay. It was disappointing for a lot of conservatives.

UNKNOWN: There is the president waving good-bye.

ZAKARIA: But then the Watergate scandal consumed the Nixon presidency. It would be 1980 before conservatives found a new hero. Ronald Reagan was Goldwater reincarnated, only better looking and smoother talking.

FLAKE: I think George Will put it well that Barry Goldwater actually won, it just took them 16 years to count the votes.

FRUM: Ronald Reagan took the Goldwater message, but he put a sunnier face on it.

REAGAN: Some lights seem eternal. America's is.

FRUM: He had a sense of real triumph. I mean, a breakthrough that American society is going to change in some very fundamental ways.

ZAKARIA: He was and is a Republican icon for defeating the Soviet Union. But once again, a conservative darling shocked the base with his domestic policy.

ROBINSON: He did cut spending, and he ended up, as you know, exploding the debt and the deficit.

UNKNOWN: There he is.

ZAKARIA: The Reagan revolution turned out to be more rhetoric than reality. The great society state, Reagan even expanded Medicaid.

FRUM: When Reagan left office not having radically transformed America, conservatives became more ready for a story of the trail.

ZAKARIA: The right longed for a fighter. And Reagan's successor, the elite, Yale educated George H.W. Bush did not fit the bill. Conservatives felt betrayed one more time.


Now they found a new hero in the man who helped wrecked Bush's presidency. The fiery Congressman, Newt Gingrich.

UNKNOWN: He once control of Congress with a message of rage and resentment and culture war and betrayal.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: We are going to change their world, they will do anything to stop us.

ZAKARIA: Gingrich pioneered the fight club mentality that would eventually consume the GOP. FRUM: Gingrich understood that his voters didn't care about winning.

They didn't care about winning policy fights. What they cared about was fighting.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Mr. Gingrich will whisper in your right ear and I will whisper in your left ear.

FRUM: He kept coming close to doing deals with Bill Clinton, and then he realized at the end, no, no, we care about the fight.

ZAKARIA: Boosting Gingrich were some powerful new allies.

UNKNOWN: Fair and balanced. FOX News Channel.

UNKNOWN: The rise of the FOX News Channel in the mid-1990s really fed the sense of conservative grievance.

BILL O'REILLY, FORMER FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Few broadcasts take any chances these days, and most are very politically correct. Well, we're going to try to be different.

UNKNOWN: The way we report, the way we cover it.

FLAKE: If we couldn't make the voters believe anymore that we could limit the size of government, then we have to fight the cultural wars.

ZAKARIA: By the time George W. Bush became president, a new wave of conservative lawmakers were ready for politics as war. But once again another Bush disappointed them.

UNKNOWN: The president of the United States.

FLAKE: I remember actually sitting in the State of the Union address, the first one with George W. Bush where he was talking about No Child Left Behind and some of this kind of big government programs that Mike Pence and I were kind of aghast at. We felt like minutemen who finally got to the battle and the war was over.

ZAKARIA: That disappointment would turn to rage. During Bush's failed war in Iraq and the financial crisis and the bailouts that Bush supported.

FRUM: It just destroyed and discredited everything he was trying to do and left the way open for different kinds of radicals to struggle for power.

ZAKARIA: It was of course race. The issue that Republicans had happily exploited that would finally push the party to the edge. A black president in the White House triggered a dramatic response.

UNKNOWN: Afro Leninism, coming to you on a silver platter. Barack Hussein Obama.

ZAKARIA: The rise of the Tea Party Movement was supposed to be a response to Obamacare. But in reality, it was mostly a response to Obama's race. ANDERSON: Obama's election was a trigger.

GLENN BECK, CONSERVATIVE POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: This president I think has exposed himself as a guy over and over again who has a deep seeded hatred for white people.

ZAKARIA: The base began not only to hate Obama.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: What is wrong with this president?

ZAKARIA: But to despise GOP leaders for being unable to stop him, they soured on the Bushes, on John McCain, on Mitt Romney. Searching instead for someone who would embody their rage and finally give them their revolution.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Oh, we're going to win, we're going to win so big. Thank you very much, everybody.



ZAKARIA: A bill in Michigan gives poll watchers more power to challenge voters.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): I'm actually going to sign it right here. It's going to take effect.

ZAKARIA: A law in Florida makes mail-in voting much harder.

UNKNOWN: The ayes are 100, the nays are 75.

ZAKARIA: And a law passed in Georgia.

GOV. BRIAN KEMP (R-GA): I will not back down.

ZAKARIA: Strictly limits drop boxes and makes it a crime to give water to voters standing on line.

UNKNOWN: How inhumane can these legislators be?

ZAKARIA: These are all efforts by Republicans to make it harder for Americans to vote.

TRUMP: We will stop the steal.

ZAKARIA: And they have all been triggered by a lie.

TRUMP: We won in a landslide. This was a landslide. This is the most corrupt election in the history, maybe in the world. I've just received a call from Secretary Clinton.

ZAKARIA: Trump won the Electoral College and thus the White House in 2016. But in 2020 --

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: CNN projects Joseph R. Biden Jr. is elected. ZAKARIA: He lost both the Electoral College and the popular vote.



ZAKARIA: That loss highlighted a big problem for Republicans. These days they face a daunting challenge in winning real majorities. In the last eight presidential election, the Republican candidate for president has won the popular vote only once.

In 2004, the Republicans have found a way to lose and yet still win. This has made elements in the party sour on democracy itself.

How else to explain the dozens of efforts across the country?

GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R-TX): Trust and confidence in our elections.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Introduced in at least 45 state legislatures according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

ZAKARIA: All to make it harder for Americans to vote.

PAUL WEYRICH, FOUNDER OF MODERN CONSERVATISM: How many of our Christians, they want everybody to vote? I don't want everybody to vote.

ZAKARIA: It's a reflex on the right that has been building for decades. Preached by one of the founders of modern conservativism, Paul Weyrich.

WEYRICH: As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.

ZAKARIA: And even the right's great hero, Ronald Reagan. During Barry Goldwater's 1964 campaign.

REAGAN: I've known Barry Goldwater for a long time.


ZAKARIA: Reagan was part of Operation Eagle Eye, a nationwide GOP effort that monitored voters of color in the name of preventing voter fraud. William Rehnquist, the future chief justice of the Supreme Court, led part of the effort in Arizona where Hispanic people were forced to read the Constitution before they could vote.

ANDERSON: Its purpose was to challenge people who were trying to cast a ballot and not just people but intimidating and challenging minority voters.

UNKNOWN: Every American citizen must have an equal right to vote.

ZAKARIA: After the Voting Rights Act finally allowed millions of black people to vote.

JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Here's something that can really help our president.

ZAKARIA: President Jimmy Carter wanted to expand voting even more.

CARTER: It's time for universal voter registration.

ZAKARIA: Proposing same-day voter registration nationwide among other reforms.

UNKNOWN: The law which would allow voters in federal elections to register on Election Day.

ZAKARIA: It would have increased the nation's abysmal voter turnout rate by an estimated 20 percent. But Ronald Reagan was dead set against the measures. Warning that election workers would sweep through metropolitan areas scooping up apathetic voters to keep the benefit dispensers in power.

ANDERSON: That is vintage Reagan, vintage Southern strategy.

ZAKARIA: The law would make the GOP as dead as the dodo bird, Reagan said.

RICK PERLSTEIN, AUTHOR, REAGAN LAND: He says, we should really use reverse psychology and make it more difficult to vote.

UNKNOWN: We will take action if we find evidence of voting or election fraud.

ZAKARIA: The Election Day boogey man Republicans have pointed to for years.


ZAKARIA: To justify opposing more voting.

TRUMP: It's going to be fraud all over the place.

ZAKARIA: Has been voter fraud. But study after study by Democrats and Republicans have found that voter fraud is less common than getting struck by lightning.

ANDERSON: From 2000 to 2014, there were one billion votes cast. Out of those one billion, that's with a B, there were 31 cases of voter impersonation fraud. Thirty-one in 15 years out of one billion votes.

UNKNOWN: It is a scene that's played out in states across the country.

ZAKARIA: But Republicans used the myth of widespread voter fraud --

UNKNOWN: Civil rights groups pushing back against voter ID laws.

ZAKARIA: -- to pass dozens of laws, making it disproportionately difficult for black people to vote.

BEN JEALOUS, FORMER NAACP PRESIDENT: Pushing more voters out of the ballot box.

UNKNOWN: Hundreds of thousands of voters may not have necessary ID.

MARTIN LUTHER KING JR., CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: We are ready to march on ballot boxes.

ZAKARIA: It was a shameful echo of the Jim Crow South. One of the most troubling measures.

UNKNOWN: If we ever needed to vote we sure do need to vote now.

ZAKARIA: Was in North Carolina.


ZAKARIA: After Obama flipped the state in '08, thanks to a massive black voter turnout, Republican state legislators gathered meticulous data to see how black people voted, which IDs they used to vote.

UNKNOWN: Ladies, ladies, ladies, we are here to take your early voting.

ZAKARIA: And which days they went to the polls. Including Sunday after church. Then they wrote a new election law that would have made Jim Crow proud.

UNKNOWN: This 57-page of abomination.

ZAKARIA: Severely restricting those very ways that black voters cast their ballots.

UNKNOWN: If the United States awarded medals for voter suppression, this bill would be a candidate for the gold.

ZAKARIA: A federal court wrote that Republicans targeted African- Americans with almost surgical precision.

ANDERSON: One of the things that the Fourth Circuits said was this is as close to a smoking gun as we will ever see.

ZAKARIA: By the 2016 elections, there were more smoking guns. Fueled by a controversial Supreme Court decision that gutted the Voting Rights Act.

ANDERSON: This was the first presidential election in 50 years when black voters face the full assault on their voting rights. The full implementation of voter ID laws.


Almost 1200 polling places closed, millions upon millions removed from the voter rolls.

ZAKARIA: A voter ID law in Wisconsin may have helped swing the state to Trump. Tens of thousands of people did not have the right I.D. to vote and black voter turnout plummeted.

BLITZER: CNN now projects that Donald Trump will carry the state of Wisconsin.

ZAKARIA: Trump won the states by less than 23,000 ballots.

UNKNOWN: Election officials could face felony charges.

ZAKARIA: And today in 2021, Republicans are not merely suppressing the vote, they are trying to pry away power from election officials as GOP state legislatures attempt to seize control over how the votes are counted.


ZAKARIA (voice-over): Let me give you some snap shots of the republican electorate today.

UNKNOWN: Stop watching the media and start getting the facts.

CROWD: Four more years!

ZAKARIA (voice-over): In a CNN poll conducted after January 6th, 70 percent of Republicans said they did not believe that Joe Biden won the election legitimately.

UNKNOWN: There is too much evidence of fraud.

CROWD: Fight for Trump! Fight for Trump!

ZAKARIA (voice-over): Over 40 percent believe Bill Gates is planning to use the COVID-19 vaccine as a pretext to implant microchips in people's brains in order to track them.



ZAKARIA (voice-over): And roughly one in four Republicans agree with the key tenet of the QAnon conspiracy that a group of Satan- worshipping elites who run a child sex ring are trying to control our media and politics.

UNKNOWN: Joe Biden is the biggest pedophile on the face of the planet.

UNKNOWN: It's not conspiracy. It's fact.

CROWD: Fight for America! Fight for America!

ZAKARIA (voice-over): It becomes impossible to deny, the Republican Party today has been infected by a series of crazy conspiracy theories. Why?

(On camera): The paranoid strain in American politics runs deep through the country's history. ZAKARIA (on camera): And this kind of fear and suspicion of power has roots on the right, going back more than half a century. But there is a big difference between then and now.


ZAKARIA (voice-over): In the past, paranoia never went mainstream.


ZAKARIA (voice-over): But today, the Republican Party's leaders have acquiesced and even encouraged --


ZAKARIA (voice-over): -- many of its supporters' worst fears and fantasies. This is the story of how conspiracy theories and theorists moved from the fringe of the Republican Party smack dab to its center.

It begins in the 1950s, the early years of the Cold War. The Soviet Union got the bomb. China went communist. Americans felt the enemy was winning.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): The U.S. troops took their losses.

DAVID FRUM, AUTHOR: America was so strong, so powerful, so rich, and yet many things in the world didn't go America's way.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): Joseph McCarthy electrified the country by explaining that this was happening because of treason at home.

JOSEPH MCCARTHY, FORMER WISCONSIN SENATOR: Even if there is only one communist in the State Department, it is still one communist too many.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): Now, a candy manufacturer named Robert Welch picked up McCarthy's baton.

ROBERT WELCH, BUSINESSMAN: Our first job is to stop the communists.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): In 1958, he founded the John Birch Society, the conspiracy-driven movement that would have a profound impact on the GOP for decades to come.

HEATHER COX RICHARDSON, AUTHOR: For a lot of people in that confusing post-war period, they wanted the easy answers, and people like the John Birch Society gave them easy answers.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): Everywhere they look, the Birchers, as they were known, saw a looming internal communist menace.

RICK PERLSTEIN, AUTHOR: These so-called extremists looked like suburban dads and moms. They looked like War Cleaver and June Cleaver.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): Within a few years, they had built a powerful grassroots organization.

UNKNOWN: We, too, are involved in a contest between freedom-loving human beings everywhere and the forces of communism.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): They stopped at no one. Welch even accused the hero of D-Day, President Dwight David Eisenhower, of being a dedicated, conscious agent of the communist conspiracy. They demanded the impeachment of the chief justice of the Supreme Court, Earl Warren, for supporting desegregation. And they fought tooth and nail against the civil rights movement using anti-communism as a cover for racism.

UNKNOWN: The communists are fomenting civil rights education.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): Those views reached millions of Americans through widely distributed pamphlets, magazines, and books.

UNKNOWN: Treason on the campuses. These horrible communists are infecting the youth of America.


ZAKARIA: The Birchers finally found someone they liked: Barry Goldwater.

BARRY GOLDWATER, FORMER ARIZONA SENATOR: I charge that this administration is soft on communism and you know it.


PERLSTEIN: It is very hard to imagine Barry Goldwater getting the nomination in 1964 without something like the John Birch Society.


ZAKARIA (voice-over): His anti-communist fervor thrilled the Birchers.

GOLDWATER: The only enemy of peace in the world is communism.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): But he had been urged by establishment Republicans to denounce Robert Welch and the deranged conspiracies promulgated by the society. Unlike today, Republican leaders back then felt morally obligated to call out what they knew were lies. Goldwater called out Welch himself, but was careful in his criticism of the society.

GOLDWATER: We've never been attacked as the Birch society has been attacked. I'm far more fearful about the radical members of the left than the Birch society.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): This was the beginning of a calculated two-faced dance by Republican politicians. Not voicing the conspiracies themselves but embracing the conspiracy theorists.

[23:40:05] But now, ever since Donald Trump's election, Republican officials have mostly dispensed with the denials and condemnations of the crazies.

JEFF FLAKE, FORMER ARIZONA SENATOR: You had Donald Trump's name animating vision in his campaign, the birtherism thing, that Barack Obama was not a citizen. That was coming from the candidate.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): They have come to see that openly feeding anger, resentment, and paranoia is good politics on the right.


REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): We won't let this election be stolen by Joe Biden and the Democrats.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): The republican base has been misled by party leaders who for years fed their fears and have now created a Frankenstein's monster.

UNKNOWN: They don't get to steal it from us.


ZAKARIA (voice-over): It was mystifying to watch the courtship between Christians and Donald Trump that began during his 2016 campaign.

UNKNOWN: Father, I just thank you for this man.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): It was hard not to laugh at the absurdity of this political marriage.

UNKNOWN: His history is not a history of a good Christian man.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): Even Trump appeared to be asking himself, how did I get here?

RANDALL BALMER, AUTHOR, BAD FAITH: This is somebody who cannot even really fake religious literacy.

TRUMP: Two Corinthians, 3:17, that's the whole ballgame. Is that the one you like? I think that's the one you like because I loved it.


ZAKARIA (voice-over): Driving this unlikely union between Trump and evangelicals was desperation.

By 2016, white Christian Americans, the core of the Republican base, were a minority in America.

FRUM: The United States is becoming a very secular society very fast. The percentage of Americans who were affiliated with the Christian church has collapsed.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): This is the story of how the Republican Party weaponized Christianity to hold onto political power.

UNKNOWN: What you saw there is the pimping of Jesus.


FALWELL: I'm Jerry Falwell, pastor here.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): Southern Baptist preacher Jerry Falwell made his name in the late 1960s through his sermons broadcast on Sunday mornings across the country.

FALWELL: Isn't it grand to be a Christian?


FALWELL: This is miraculous indeed.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): Falwell was a fundamentalist who believed the bible should be interpreted literally. He delivered apocalyptic warnings through the years about America's moral decay.

FALWELL: If the nation doesn't come back to God, it's all gone.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): But like most white evangelicals at the time, Falwell believed that religion and politics didn't mix.

BALMER: Many evangelicals were not even registered to vote because politics was Satan's realm.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): That changed in the 1970s, especially after the federal government gave private schools an ultimatum.

UNKNOWN: The Internal Revenue Service proposed to make private schools proved they are not practicing racial discrimination.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): Some evangelicals have built their own schools as a response to federal desegregation. But for many evangelicals, there was another important driver, to provide their children with a bible-based education after the Supreme Court banned school prayer in 1962. Evangelicals were furious.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): At last count, the IRS had received 115,000 protest letters.

FALWELL: We've got to raise up an army of men and women in America. We call this nation back to moral sanity and sensibility. I call that the moral majority.


ZAKARIA (voice-over): The moral majority. The mission of Falwell's new political army was to restore America's Christian identity.

FALWELL: A sleeping giant is standing up.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): Falwell's movement became a political force.

CROWD: We want prayer! We want prayer!

ZAKARIA (voice-over): Protesting abortion, homosexuality, and women's liberation.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): He says it is Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.

FALWELL: Number one, get people saved. Number two, get them baptized. Number three, get them registered to vote.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): The moral majority claimed to have registered millions of Christians to vote in the 1980 election, helping Ronald Reagan win the White House in a landslide.

RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): So help you God.

REAGAN: So help me God.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): The former Hollywood actor became the perfect spokesman for Christian values.

REAGAN: I believe that faith and religion play a critical role in the political life of our nation and always have.


ZAKARIA (voice-over): But over time, the religious right grew frustrated because abortion remained the law of the land. Gay rights were advancing.

Christian conservatives finally heard a fiery rallying cry from Pat Buchanan at the 1992 Republican convention.

PAT BUCHANAN, FORMER REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There is a religious going on in this country. It is a cultural war as critical to the kind of nation we shall be as the Cold War itself. This war is for the soul of America.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): By the beginning of the 21st century, the religious right had become the most powerful interest group in the GOP. But at the same time, they could see that they were losing the country. America was becoming less religious, less socially conservative, and less white.

In 2008, Barack Obama's election was to white Christian conservatives a kind of death knell.

FRUM: Christian conservatives have lost. They lost the fight over their ability to define what it means to be an American.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): This desperation on the right was an opportunity for Donald Trump.

TRUMP: I brought my bible. See?

ZAKARIA (voice-over): Trump understood how to tap into the deep anger and sense of grievance that had been building among white Christian conservatives for decades.


TRUMP: Christianity is under siege, folks. It's under siege.

RICHARDSON: The founders were quite clear about the fact that this would not be a nation that was founded on religion because they had recognized just how dangerous those sorts of governments could be.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): Radicalized Christian conservatives believing their country was on the verge of spiritual collapse adopted an apocalyptic politics in which anything is permitted in the struggle for survival, including insurrection.


ZAKARIA (on-camera): The Republican rage that now consumes the party is built on betrayal. It all began when the intellectual godfather of modern conservatism, William F. Buckley, Jr., defined that movement as standing athwart history yelling stop. What Buckley was trying to stop was the new deal, the expansion of government under Franklin Roosevelt.

He was also referring to the growing secularization of society. His first book, "God and Man at Yale," published in 1951, was a diatribe against what he believed were the anti-Christian and anti-capitalist forces at the nation's best universities.

Buckley yelled stop again during the Civil Rights Movement, writing in 1957, that the South must prevail because the more advanced white race had an obligation and right to rule over others.

He changed his mind during the mid-1960s, but many conservatives remained staunchly opposed to the landmark Civil Rights Bills of 1964 and '65.

[23:55:06] In other words, the modern Republican Party has its roots in rebellion, rebellion against the main currents of change in modern American society: the growth of the welfare state, the secularization of life, and the increasing diversity of American society.

The trouble is most Americans don't agree with that protest.

They may express discomfort with the welfare state in theory, but in practice, they love social security, Medicare and the rest. Secularization is a force that is sweeping almost all advanced industrial societies and one government can do little to stop.

ZAKARIA (on camera): And America's growing diversity is inevitable in a country built on immigration and has proved mostly to be strength, not a weakness.

But Republican politicians are now riding the back of a tiger and they can't get off. Reagan, Gingrich, Trump, all the icons on the right, whipped their followers up into a froth of hysteria and promised that they will repeal and reverse most of these terrible trends. But, of course, it never happens, which makes the Republican base get more and more angry. And as their sense of betrayal grows, so does their sense of desperation that American civilization is in imminent danger of collapse.

There is a great and honorable space in America for a party of limited and efficient government that values traditionalism and that believes that social change should take place slowly and organically. But that's different from a ban of ideological warriors with apocalyptic visions that fuel the end of days, see opponents as traitors and devils, and believes that all methods are sanctioned in its battle to save civilization and itself.

In short, the Republican Party needs to have a political exorcism, drive out its demons, and come to terms with the modern world.

I'm Fareed Zakaria. Thanks for watching this special.