George H.W. Bush, the anti-Trump

Bush was so self-effacing that he hated to use the personal pronoun — “don’t be talking about yourself,” his mother instructed him. Trump, by contrast, hardly talks about anything other than himself.

.. The marriage of convenience between Bush and the right broke apart in 1990. The president was determined to reduce the growing deficits that he had inherited from Ronald Reagan — and that had grown larger still because of the need to bail out failing savings and loan associations. With the nation headed to war in Kuwait, he wanted to put America’s finances in order. The problem was that in 1988 he had foolishly promised, “Read my lips: No new taxes.” Bush knew he would pay a price for breaking his pledge, but he was determined to do so for the good of the country.

.. The No. 2 Republican in the House, Newt Gingrich of Georgia, initially appeared supportive of a spending deal that would have limited tax increases to levies on gasoline, alcohol and other products, avoiding income tax hikes. But when it came time to announce the agreement in the Rose Garden, Gingrich stalked out.

.. Bush went back to the table, agreeing to a small increase in the top income tax rate, from 28 percent to 31 percent. (It had been 50 percent as recently as 1986.) House Republicans still rejected the deal, but this time there were enough Democratic votes to pass the compromise.

.. From a fiscal conservative’s perspective, the 1990 deal was a raging success. As Bruce Bartlett notes, “The final deal cut spending by $324 billion over five years and raised revenues by $159 billion.” It also put into place stringent rules mandating that any future tax cuts or spending increases would have to be offset by spending cuts or revenue increases. Within eight years, a $376 billion deficit had become a $113 billion surplus. Yet conservatives never forgave Bush for his apostasy.

.. Gingrich’s opposition to the budget deal — and his general disdain for bipartisan compromise — helped him in 1994 to become the first Republican speaker of the House in 40 years.

.. Bush’s tax hike was also part of the rationale for Patrick J. Buchanan’s 1992 primary challenge, which proved more damaging than anyone had expected. The syndicated columnist won enough votes in New Hampshire (37.5 percent) to embarrass the incumbent and earn a prime-time slot at the Republican convention, where he gave his fiery “culture war” speech that repulsed moderates and independents.

.. As Jeff Greenfield has noted, many of the themes Buchanan hit in 1992 were similar to Trump’s in 2016:

  • He denounced threats to U.S. sovereignty,
  • railed against globalization and multiculturalism, and
  • called for “a new patriotism, where Americans begin to put the needs of Americans first.”

.. George F. Will once remarked, after Reagan’s ascendancy, that Barry Goldwater won in 1964; “it just took 16 years to count the votes.” Likewise, Buchanan won in 1992; it just took 24 years to count the votes.

.. Jon Meacham quotes from Bush’s diary in 1988 after meeting a supporter of televangelist Pat Robertson who refused to shake his hand: “They’re scary. They’re there for spooky, extraordinary right-winged reasons. They don’t care about Party. They don’t care about anything. . . . They could be Nazis, they could be Communists, they could be whatever. . . . They will destroy this party if they’re permitted to take over.”

.. Well, now they have taken over, and it is impossible to imagine the Republican Party again nominating a man who put loyalty to country above loyalty to right-wing dogma.

How the G.O.P. Built Donald Trump’s Cages

Republicans who spoke up this time should be asking themselves why a president of their party felt he was enforcing its principles by breaking apart families and caging children.

.. But many, many other party leaders have been venturing ever deeper into the dank jungles of nativist populism for quite some time, exploiting the politics of fear and resentment. Mr. Trump did not invent Republican demonization of “the other” — it came about in two ways: gradually, and then all at once.

.. From the early 1990s to 2000, the conservative firebrand Pat Buchanan kept the Republican Party on its toes, running for president three times with an explicitly isolationist message.

.. But it was during the George W. Bush years that anti-immigrant sentiment started to become more central to the party’s identity.

.. Mr. Bush made comprehensive immigration reform a priority of his second term.

.. Conservative talk radio took up the cause, smacking Mr. Bush as squishy on immigration. The very concept of comprehensive reform became anathema to many on the right.

.. The Great Recession that Mr. Obama inherited did nothing to quell nativist resentment among working-class whites, and the rise of the Tea Party pulled the Republican Party further to the right

.. Just ask Senator Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican, who saw his fledgling political career almost snuffed out by his flirtation with comprehensive reform

.. in the wake of Mitt Romney’s presidential loss in 2012, after which the Republican Party briefly decided that one of its principal goals was to improve its image with Hispanic voters.

.. The resulting plan would have done everything from beefing up border security to overhauling visa categories to promoting a merit-based immigration system.

It also provided for the legalization of undocumented immigrants, which meant conservatives hated it.

..  the bill cleared the Senate by an impressive 68-to-32 vote. But John Boehner, then the House speaker, refused to bring it up for a vote in the Republican-controlled lower chamber.

.. Mr. Rubio became a pariah to the Tea Party voters who had propelled him to office three years earlier. Soon, he was denying that he had ever really supported the bill.

.. Party leaders fanned those flames, accusing Mr. Obama of being imperious and “lawless.” In one bit of twisted logic, Mr. Boehner argued that the House couldn’t possibly take up reform legislation because it couldn’t trust Mr. Obama to carry out said legislation.

.. Along the way, Republican candidates continued to play to their base’s darker impulses. On the whole, the rhetoric was subtler than that of the current president

.. Steve King, Republican of Iowa, painting Dreamers as drug mules with “calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”

.. Mo Brooks, Republican of Alabama: “I’ll do anything short of shooting them”

.. Nor was Mr. Trump the first Republican to promote the idea that within every immigrant lurks a murderer or terrorist.

.. Louie Gohmert, Republican of Texas, ran around warning of what came to be mocked as the great “terror baby” plot. As Mr. Gohmert told it, radical Islamists were plotting to impregnate droves of young women, who would infiltrate the United States to give birth here. The babies would be shipped back home for terrorist training, then return as adults to wreak havoc on an unsuspecting America.

.. Time and again, given the choice between soothing and stoking nativist animus, Republican lawmakers chose the low road.

.. And he has even less interest in addressing the root causes of migrant families flocking to the border.

.. In 2016, the Department of Homeland Security reported, “More individuals sought affirmative asylum from the Northern Triangle Countries (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras) in the last three years than in the prior 15 years combined.”

.. Helping these nations stabilize themselves is key to reducing the flow of asylum seekers. But Mr.

Trump does not like complexity or long-term strategizing.

He prefers casting blame and making threats. 

.. In the administration’s budget proposals, it has sought deep cuts in aid to these countries — something Congress has wisely ignored. Removing a financial lifeline from nations already in chaos is hardly a recipe for progress.

.. Mr. Trump’s move to kick out as many people who are from these countries as possible threatens to overwhelm nations ill equipped for such an influx. And without the money that many of the immigrants living here regularly send back to their families, the economies of these countries would further crumble.

.. In 2016, 17 percent of El Salvador’s gross domestic product came from remittances from abroad.

.. America’s immigration mess is not going to be cleaned up anytime soon.

.. conservatives are terrified that the base will punish them if they concede even an inch. Speaker Paul Ryan, with one foot out the door, has no juice. And pretty much everyone assumes that nothing will move through the Senate anyway.

.. Trump is planning fresh crackdowns in the run-up to the midterms, to reassure his base that he has not lost his resolve. If anything, given the fragility of his ego, last week’s flip-flop will make him all the more desperate to prove his strength.

.. Mr. Trump is more a breaker than a fixer.

.. The question now is whether the conference will learn anything useful from this episode.

.. There is also his

  • politicization of law enforcement, his
  • attempts to undermine public faith in the democratic process, his
  • attacks on the press, his
  • family’s suspect business dealings and his
  • habitual lying

.. this is unlikely to be the last time the president puts members of his party in an uncomfortable, and perhaps untenable, position.

.. The weight of this moment should be recognized. Mr. Trump’s capitulation was not a given. With a little less media scrutiny, fewer heartbreaking photos and fewer calls from angry voters, tent cities could have kept on filling with traumatized children.

.. Having done so much to pave the way for Mr. Trump and his immigration policies, they now owe it to the American people to help keep him in check.

The Man Who Discovered ‘Culture Wars’

James Davison Hunter coined the phrase in 1991, a year ahead of Pat Buchanan. Now he reflects on how the struggle has evolved over three decades.

For much of American history, the most salient cultural fault lines were between religious groups. Hostility between Protestants and Catholics prompted bitter battles over school curricula in the mid-19th century, and the fight over Prohibition pitted mostly Protestant “drys” against mostly Catholic “wets.” But by the 1960s cross-denominational conflicts had begun to fade. As America became more culturally diverse, the Protestant consensus gave way to a Christian consensus, and later a “Judeo-Christian” one.

Yet social peace did not arrive. Quite the opposite. A new set of issues emerged out of the sexual revolution and identity politics: not merely abortion, Mr. Hunter says, but everything from “condoms in schools” to “ Christopher Columbus, is he a villain or a hero?” These questions didn’t track with traditional left-right economic debates, he continues; nor did they seem to put believers of different denominations in opposition. Instead, the new divide was within religious groups

.. The two sides, he explains, had “fundamentally different understandings of national identity.”

.. “The state is the institution that holds the reins of legitimate violence,” Mr. Hunter says, “and this is one of the reasons why our disputes tend to be litigated more than they are actually debated.” When your cultural adversaries are in power, it can feel as if you are under hostile occupation. “The state becomes the patron of a certain vision of the world,” he adds.

.. On one side is a traditionalist vision that holds truth to be “rooted in an authority outside of the self,” Mr. Hunter says, be it Nature or “the Bible, the Magisteria, the Torah.” Thus this view’s emphasis on maintaining “continuities with the truths of the past.” On the other side is a “post-Enlightenment” vision that rejects “transcendent and authoritative traditions.” In the progressive view, “freedom is predominant”—especially freedom for groups seen as oppressed by tradition.

.. Many of the cultural skirmishes Mr. Hunter started writing about in the 1990s remain at the center of politics, including abortion, campus speech codes, multiculturalism, and religion’s place in public life

.. the disputes have grown more vituperative

..  culture is “about systems of meaning that help make sense of the world

.. why things are good, true and beautiful, or why things are not. Why things are right and wrong.” Culture “provides the moral foundation of a political order.”

.. Mr. Buchanan was on to something, Mr. Hunter suggests, when he tied the culture wars to the end of the Cold War: “Identity is formed not only by our affirmations but by our negations. The Soviet Union—communism generally—was an enemy against which we could define ourselves.” When the Berlin Wall fell, “that need for an enemy became internal to the United States.

..  America’s culture war is “the kind of conflict that societies can go through when nothing else is at stake.”

.. The traditionalists “chose to fight the culture wars politically,” Mr. Hunter says. “They are going after the Supreme Court; they are going after the White House.”

.. But outside government, progressives have a clear cultural advantage in major institutions, from universities to movie studios to publishing houses to advertising agencies. Such institutions matter because “culture is not only a system of meaning” but also an “economy,”

.. conservatism’s “cultural production is mainly operating on the periphery.”

.. “For people to remain in the middle class or achieve an upper-middle-class life,” Mr. Hunter says, “they have to go through the credentialing institutions of our society.”

.. “There is now a consolidation of wealth and power and influence, within that top 18% to 20% of the population,” Mr. Hunter says. “They have largely different values, different speech codes, different ways of talking.”

.. As elite institutions increasingly repudiated the values of the masses, the culture wars took on what Mr. Hunter calls a “Nietzschean” quality: The stakes began to seem so high that coalitions would “abandon their values and ideals in order to sustain power.

.. the Harvard Law School prides itself on its diversity, but it’s a diversity in which basically everyone views the world the exact same way.”
.. If “there is a hope that the state can secure the world, even by someone as imperfect as Trump, ” then “religious people, are willing to make all sorts of accommodations”—willing “to justify pretty much anything.”
.. Enlightenment thinkers attempted to “retain Jewish and Christian values, understandings of the world, but without any of the creedal foundations
.. This is one way of thinking about the project of today’s culture-war progressives: expanding universal equality and dignity, but without a foundational source of authority outside reason and science.
..  “A metal detector cannot tell you everything about what’s buried at the beach, but it can tell you about the buried metal things. Similarly, science may not be able to tell us how to live, but it can tell us about physical reality and its laws.”

Why the GOP needs someone — anyone — to challenge Trump in 2020

But just because Trump seems dominant today doesn’t mean that anti-Trump principles — family values, for instance, or suspicion toward Russia, or deficit reduction, or simple decorum — can’t find an audience in a 2020 primary.

.. Most Republicans like the state of Trump’s GOP just fine; there is no groundswell for a #NeverTrump-er to rescue the party. In the most recent CNN/SSRS poll, the president’s approval rating among Republicans was 86 percent.

.. The GOP may or may not face danger at the ballot box in 2018 and 2020, but it is doomed in the long run if no Republican stands for the principles that the party has for so long said it defends: governmental restraint and individual liberty.

.. since 1968, serious primary challengers to incumbent presidents have been one of the more effective vehicles to push a party to change its ideas, rethink its core constituencies and remake its platform.

.. Eugene McCarthy, Ronald Reagan, Edward Kennedy and Pat Buchanan helped sink the incumbent’s reelection chances and alter their parties’ direction over the long term.

.. Reagan’s spirited 1976 challenge to President Gerald Ford pivoted the GOP toward the former California governor’s anti-big-government, hawkish views.

.. Kennedy ran on the idea that Carter had abandoned Democratic principles of using government to lessen income inequality and fight for the underdog. “It’s time to have a real Democrat in the White House again,” he declared in 1979.

.. By defeating Carter in New York and Connecticut, Kennedy shifted the party template to one that fit with Northeastern liberalism and further weakened the Democrats in the South.

.. In the long run, Kennedy’s campaign cemented Democrats as the party of traditionally disenfranchised minorities, helped give it an electoral advantage among women and sought (with mixed success) to put economic inequality at the center of its platform.

.. Buchanan used his 1992 race against President George H.W. Bush to keep an alternate tradition alive within the GOP. Buchanan’s bid, in retrospect, was a marker on the road to Trumpism.

.. should someone like Kasich mount a third-party bid, he could split the anti-Trump general-election vote and hand Trump another term.