Writing in Salon, Sean Illing argues "the GOP sold its soul to Fox News and the broader conservative mediascape years ago." Citing Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, and even Sarah Palin, he identifies Donald Trump as only the latest manifestation of this tendency. He maintains
Trump, quite literally, is an actor; he’s delivering the lines his audience (the Republican base) wants to hear. But he’s not the first of his kind. He’s doing what many Republicans have done in recent years: pretend to run for president in order to promote his personal brand.
But Trump is not only the most recent in a long line of blowhards and poseurs. His attack is consistent with mainstream GOP politicians who have demeaned American soldiers. Joe Conason recalls
One of the most poisonous occurred in 2002, when a Georgia Republican named Saxby Chambliss ran ads suggesting that Senator Max Cleland, a Vietnam War hero who had lost both legs and one arm in an accidental grenade explosion, lacked the guts to face down Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. Cleland, a Democrat who had served in the Veterans Administration under President Carter, had cast a vote protecting the rights of civil service workers in the new Department of Homeland Security, thus earning him a smear at the hands of Chambliss — one of those smooth favorite sons who had nimbly avoided the Vietnam draft.
The official citation, according to Conason, reads
When the battalion command post came under a heavy enemy rocket and mortar attack, Capt. Cleland, disregarding his own safety, exposed himself to the rocket barrage as he left his covered position to administer first aid to his wounded comrades. He then assisted in moving the injured personnel to covered positions. Continuing to expose himself, Capt. Cleland organized his men into a work party to repair the battalion communications equipment which had been damaged by enemy fire. His gallant action is in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service, and reflects great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.
That didn't stop Chambliss (ad, above), who won the election, despite Cleland's vote in favor of the Iran war resolution. Georgia Democratic Senator Zell Miller, a conservative who went on to support George W. Bush for re-election, condemned Chambliss because "It's disgraceful for anybody to question Max Cleland's commitment to our national security."
But it evidently wasn't disgraceful to question John Kerry's commitment to country. When Trump recently questioned John McCain's status as a hero, John Ellis Bush responded by tweeting “Enough with the slanderous attacks. @SenJohnMcCain and all our veterans – particularly POWs have earned our respect and admiration.” But Judd Legum of Think Progress notes
In 2004, a group called the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth spent millions of dollars attacking the military service of John Kerry, who was then the Democratic nominee for president. The group claimed that Kerry lied about his service and was awarded military honors he didn’t deserve. The basis for these claims were definitively proven false, but the group carried on with their campaign anyway. (The claims were first published in a book by Jerome Corsi, who would later gain fame for insisting that Obama had a fake birth certificate and was not born in the United States.)
After the campaign Jeb Bush, then Governor of Florida, sent a letter to George Day — a member of the Swift Boat Veterans For Truth who appeared in television advertisements trashing Kerry. Day said Kerry, a recipient of the Silver Star and three Purple Hearts, would “go down in history sometime as the Benedict Arnold of 1971.” In his letter, Bush thanks Day and the “other Swifties” for their “support of my brother in his re-election.” “I simply cannot express in words how much I value their willingness to stand up against John Kerry,”
"Whatever one sows, that he also will reap," Paul wrote to the Galatians. The modern Repub Party, including John Ellis Bush, has sewn the seeds of demagoguery, and out has popped Donald Trump.