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The swift decline and self-inflicted demise of America's once-Grand Old Party has been as disheartening to chronicle as it has been dismayingly obvious to predict.

We remember the way it was when the Republican Party seemed to have everything going its way – and a patriotic command of just what made America great, always. We especially remember the moment, just three decades ago, when the iconic leader of modern Republican conservativism made sure his followers would never forget.

It was 1:22 p.m., on Jan. 19, 1989. President Ronald Reagan stepped before the microphones in the White House Dining Room to deliver the last speech of his presidency. The occasion was a dual ceremony to present the Medal of Freedom to two extraordinary Americans, former Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield, a Democrat, and former Secretary of State George Shultz, a Republican. But Reagan, who twice won the presidency by landslide margins, wanted to reach beyond the greatness gathered in that room to gift us with a far grander message:

"...since this is the last speech that I will give as president, I think it's fitting to leave one final thought, an observation about a country which I love. It was stated best in a letter I received not long ago. A man wrote me and said: 'You can go to live in France, but you cannot become a Frenchman. You can go to live in Germany or Turkey or Japan, but you cannot become a German, a Turk, or a Japanese. But anyone, from any corner of the Earth, can come to live in America and become an American.'

"Yes, the torch of Lady Liberty symbolizes our freedom and represents our heritage, the compact with our parents, our grandparents, and our ancestors. It is that lady who gives us our great and special place in the world....Other countries may seek to compete with us; but in one vital area, as a beacon of freedom and opportunity that draws the people of the world, no country on Earth comes close....

"If we ever closed the door to new Americans, our leadership in the world would soon be lost."

Fast-forward: It is 5:27 a.m., on July 14, 2019. President Donald Trump, somewhere in a predawn White House setting that was surely not ceremonial, wanted to communicate a message that would be memorable, in Trump's own special way – a harsh payback against four very liberal first-term Democratic congresswomen who have sharply criticized him.

The four – Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (Minn.), Ayanna Pressley (Mass.), and Rashida Tlaib (Mich.) – also have complexions of color that surely set them apart from Trump's German-born ancestors. Perhaps Trump's mind's eye was focused on that when he tweeted, for all the world to see, that they should "go back" to the countries they came from. Never mind that three of the four were, like Trump, born in the USA. The fourth, Omar, was born overseas (in Somalia) and, like First Lady Melania Trump, is a naturalized U.S. citizen. Trump tweeted:

"So interesting to see "Progressive" Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly ... . and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run. Why don't they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how it is done."

Decades of patriotic, highly principled Republicans I have covered (and also known as friends) over the years would never have permitted such an outrageously racist comment to go uncriticized. Yet when the Democratic-controlled House approved a resolution censuring Trump for his racist message, only four House Republicans had the courage of their party's former greatness to vote to censure their party's president. Trump, meanwhile, doubled-down on his outrageous conduct, insisting in another Tweet: "Those Tweets were NOT Racist. I don't have a Racist bone in my body!"

Ever since, Trump has weaponized his attacks on the four congresswomen – a lame attempt to con you into believing that the four who are the party's leftist fringe represent all Democrats. Just because the Democratic Party had the patriotism of Ronald Reagan and the courage of their convictions to denounce a Republican president's shockingly blatant racism in 2019.

R.I.P., G.O.P.

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Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. Readers may send him email at martin.schram@gmail.com.

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