Where did Donald Trump come from? Where is the GOP going? Should the whole thing be burned down? A lot had to go wrong before we got a President Trump. This fact, once broadly acknowledged, has gotten lost, as if a lot of people want it forgotten.
Mr. Trump’s election came from two unwon wars, which constituted a historic foreign-policy catastrophe, and the Great Recession, which those in power, distracted by their mighty missions, didn’t see coming until it arrived with all its wreckage. He came from the decadeslong refusal of both parties’ leadership to respect and respond to Americans’ anxieties, from left and right, about illegal immigration. He came from bad policy and bad stands on crucial issues.
He came from the growing realization of on-the-ground Americans that neither party seemed to feel any particular affiliation with or loyalty to them, that both considered them lumpen bases to be managed and manipulated. He came from the great and increasing social and cultural distance between the movers and talkers of the national GOP, its strategists, operatives, thinkers, pundits and party professionals, and the party’s base. He came from algorithms that deliberately excite, divide and addict, and from lawmakers who came to see that all they had to do to endure was talk, not legislate, because legislating involves compromise and, in an era grown polar and primitive, compromise is for quislings.
He came from a spirit of frustration among a sizable segment of the electorate that, in time, became something like a spirit of nihilism. It will be a long time repairing that, and no one is sure how to.
And here, in that perfect storm, was Mr. Trump’s simple, momentary genius. He declared for president as a branding exercise and went out and said applause lines, and when the crowd cheered, he decided “This is my program,” and when it didn’t cheer, he thought, “Huh, that is not my program.” Some of it was from his gut, but most of it was that casual. After the election a former high official told me he observed it all from the side of the stage. This week the official said that after a rally, on the plane home, all Mr. Trump and Jared Kushner would talk about was the reaction. “Did you see how they responded to that?”
The base, with its cheers, said they weren’t for cutting entitlement benefits. They were still suffering from the effects of 2008, and other things. They weren’t for open borders or for more foreign fighting. They were for the guy who said he hated the elites as much as they did.
The past four years have produced a different kind of disaster, one often described in this space. The past six months Mr. Trump came up against his own perfect storm, one he could neither exploit nor talk his way past: a pandemic, an economic contraction that will likely produce a lengthy recession, and prolonged, sometimes violent national street protests. If the polls can be trusted, he is on the verge of losing the presidency.
Now various of his foes, in or formerly of his party, want to burn the whole thing down—level the party, salt the earth where it stood, remove Republican senators, replace them with Democrats.
This strikes me as another form of nihilism. It’s bloody-minded and not fully responsible for three reasons.
First, it’s true that the two-party system is a mess and a great daily frustration. But in the end, together and in spite of themselves, both parties still function as a force for unity in that when an election comes, whatever your disparate stands, you have to choose whether you align more with Party A or Party B. This encourages coalitions and compromise. It won’t work if there are four parties or six; things will splinter, the system buckle. The Democratic Party needs the Republican Party, needs it to restrain its excesses and repair what it does that proves injurious. The Republicans need the Democrats, too, for the same reasons.
Second, if the Republicans lose the presidency, the House and the Senate in November, the rising progressives of the Democratic Party will be emboldened and present a bill for collection. They’ll push hard for what they want. This will create a runaway train that will encourage bad policy that will damage the nation. Republicans and conservatives used to worry about that kind of thing.
Third, Donald Trump is burning himself down. Has no one noticed?
When the Trump experience is over, the Republican Party will have to be rebuilt. It will have to begin with tens of millions of voters who previously supported Mr. Trump. It will have to decide where it stands, its reason for being. It won’t be enough to repeat old mantras or formulations from 1970 to 2000. It’s 2020. We’re a different country.
A lot is going to have to be rethought. Simple human persuasion will be key.
Rebuilding doesn’t start with fires, purges and lists of those you want ejected from the party.
Many if not most of those calling for burning the whole thing down are labeled “Never Trump,” and a lot of them are characterologically quick to point the finger of blame. They’re aiming at Trump supporters in Congress. Some of those lawmakers have abandoned long-held principles to show obeisance to the president and his supporters. Some, as you know if you watched the supposed grilling of tech titans this week, are just idiots.
But Never Trumpers never seem to judge themselves. Many of them, when they were profiting through past identities as Republicans or conservatives, supported or gave strategic cover to the wars that were such a calamity, and attacked those who dissented. Many showed no respect to those anxious about illegal immigration and privately, sometimes publicly, denounced them as bigots. Never Trumpers eloquently decry the vulgarization of politics and say the presidency is lowered by a man like Mr. Trump, and it is. But they invented Sarah Palin and unrelentingly attacked her critics. They often did it in the name of party loyalty.
Some Never Trumpers helped create the conditions that created President Trump. What would be helpful from them now is not pyromaniac fantasies but constructive modesty, even humility.
The party’s national leaders and strategists don’t have a lot to be proud of the past few decades. The future of the party will probably bubble up from the states.
But it matters that the past six months Mr. Trump has been very publicly doing himself in, mismanaging his crises—setting himself on fire. As long as that’s clear, his supporters won’t be able to say, if he loses, that he was a champion of the people who was betrayed by the party elites, the Never Trumpers and the deep state: “He didn’t lose, he was the victim of treachery.”
Both parties have weaknesses. Liberals enjoy claiming progress that can somehow never quite be quantified. Conservatives like the theme of betrayal.
It will be unhelpful for Republicans, and bad for the country, if that’s the background music of the party the next 10 years.
Keeping track of the Jacksonians, Reformicons, Paleos, and Post-liberals.
I like to start my classes on conservative intellectual history by distinguishing between three groups. There is the Republican party, with its millions of adherents and spectrum of opinion from very conservative, somewhat conservative, moderate, and yes, liberal. There is the conservative movement, the constellation of single-issue nonprofits that sprung up in the 1970s —
- gun rights,
- right to work
— and continue to influence elected officials. Finally, there is the conservative intellectual movement: writers, scholars, and wonks whose journalistic and political work deals mainly with ideas and, if we’re lucky, their translation into public policy.
I am not so sure. Indeed, the more I see of Ms. Ocasio-Cortez (I refuse to do the AOC thing, which I thought was a designation used in French wine labeling), the more I think she is building a claim to be one of the most important political figures of our age.
Let’s stipulate that, for the most part, she has received, and continues to get, epically favorable treatment in the news. Consider the derision and abuse with which Sarah Palin was greeted when she burst on the scene in 2008, and now consider Ms. Ocasio-Cortez. Mrs. Darth Vader versus the Second Coming.
The most powerful example of the swoon that the Bronx congresswoman has induced among her friends in the media is the story of how conservatives supposedly demonstrated their fear and loathing by mocking the famous video of her dancing while a college student. This is absurd. As far as I can tell, no one has been able to point to a single conservative who actually objected to the video or somehow suggested it was unbecoming. Indeed, most conservatives seemed to think, along with everybody else, that it was just rather charming.
But that’s part of her remarkable talent. She has an uncommon, dare I say Trump-like, ability to exploit deliberate misrepresentation for her own benefit. Note how she quickly seized on the fake dancing “controversy” to shoot another video of herself dancing outside her new congressional office. Twenty million views. Exquisitely done. Or contrast her passionate response to President Trump’s Oval Office address on The Wall with the official Chuck and Nancy American Gothic presentation.
She’s as natural a politician as anyone on the Democratic side. But she is more than that. She’s a symbol—and an exponent—of the radically altered nature of American politics in 2019. The country is in very unfamiliar territory. Assumptions about ideological verities and what the public will or won’t accept from politicians have been battered in the last three years.
Faith in the American model of capitalism has been crumbling for a decade—and not just on the left. Both wings of the partisan divide are challenging the existing order. Donald Trump has brilliantly ridden dissatisfaction with it among conservatives. His more thoughtful advocates are articulating something much deeper than “drain the swamp” populism. They’ve grasped that the old nostrums of free-market, growth-maximizing economic efficiencies no longer appeal to many disadvantaged Americans. Watch Tucker Carlson’s monologue from his Fox News show this week about (among other things) the failures of the market.
Conservatives once warned that Obamacare would produce the Democratic Waterloo. Their inability to accept the principle of universal coverage has, instead, led to their own defeat.
.. At precisely the moment we were urging the GOP to march in one direction, the great mass of conservatives and Republicans had turned on the double in the other, toward an ever more wild and even paranoid extremism. Those were the days of Glenn Beck’s 5 o’clock Fox News conspiracy rants, of Sarah Palin’s “death panels,” of Orly Taitz and her fellow Birthers, of Tea Party rallies at which men openly brandished assault rifles.
.. AEI would provide a home for the emerging “reform conservative” tendency. Its president, Arthur Brooks, would speak eloquently of the need for conservatives to show concern for the poor and the hard-pressed working class.
.. The mood then was that supporters and opponents of the Obama administration were engaged in a furious battle over whether the United States would remain a capitalist economy at all... it was precisely because I appreciated its unwelcomeness where I worked that I had launched an independent blog in the first place... I fruitlessly argued through 2009 and 2010 that Republicans should do business with President Obama on health-care reform... It seemed to me that Obama’s adoption of ideas developed at the Heritage Foundation in the early 1990s—and then enacted into state law in Massachusetts by Governor Mitt Romney—offered the best near-term hope to control the federal health-care spending that would otherwise devour the defense budget and force taxes upward... I suggested that universal coverage was a worthy goal, and one that would hugely relieve the anxieties of working-class and middle-class Americans who had suffered so much in the Great Recession... They had the votes this time to pass something. They surely would do so—and so the practical question facing Republicans was whether it would not be better to negotiate to shape that “something” in ways that would be less expensive, less regulatory, and less redistributive... Increasingly isolated and frustrated, I watched with dismay as people I’d known for years and decades incited each other to jump together over the same cliff.
.. There were leaders who knew better, who would have liked to deal. But they were trapped. Conservative talkers on Fox and talk radio had whipped the Republican voting base into such a frenzy that deal-making was rendered impossible. How do you negotiate with somebody who wants to murder your grandmother? Or—more exactly—with somebody whom your voters have been persuaded to believe wants to murder their grandmother?I’ve been on a soapbox for months now about the harm that our overheated talk is doing to us. Yes it mobilizes supporters—but by mobilizing them with hysterical accusations and pseudo-information, overheated talk has made it impossible for representatives to represent and elected leaders to lead. The real leaders are on TV and radio, and they have very different imperatives from people in government. Talk radio thrives on confrontation and recrimination. When Rush Limbaugh said that he wanted President Obama to fail, he was intelligently explaining his own interests. What he omitted to say—but what is equally true—is that he also wants Republicans to fail. If Republicans succeed—if they govern successfully in office and negotiate attractive compromises out of office—Rush’s listeners get less angry. And if they are less angry, they listen to the radio less, and hear fewer ads for Sleepnumber beds.
So today’s defeat for free-market economics and Republican values is a huge win for the conservative entertainment industry. Their listeners and viewers will now be even more enraged, even more frustrated, even more disappointed in everybody except the responsibility-free talkers on television and radio. For them, it’s mission accomplished. For the cause they purport to represent, it’s Waterloo all right: ours.
.. Over the next seven years, Republicans would vote again and again to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Total and permanent opposition to the law would become the absolute touchstone of Republican loyalty. Even Donald Trump, who dissented from so much of the old orthodoxy, retained this piece of the doxology.
.. Some of the conservatives who voted “no” to the House leadership’s version of repeal may yet imagine that they will have some other opportunity to void the law. They are again deluding themselves.
.. Too many people benefit from the law—and the Republican alternatives thus far offer too little to compensate for the loss of those benefits.
.. America committed itself for the first time to the principle of universal (or near universal) health-care coverage. That principle has had seven years to work its way into American life and into the public sense of right and wrong. It’s not yet unanimously accepted. But it’s accepted by enough voters—and especially by enough Republican voters—to render impossible the seven-year Republican vision of removing that coverage from those who have gained it under the Affordable Care Act.
.. Paul Ryan still upholds the right of Americans to “choose” to go uninsured if they cannot afford to pay the cost of their insurance on their own. His country no longer agrees.
.. Health care may not be a human right, but the lack of universal health coverage in a wealthy democracy is a severe, unjustifiable, and unnecessary human wrong.
.. As Americans lift this worry from their fellow citizens, they’ll discover that they have addressed some other important problems too. They’ll find that they have removed one of the most important barriers to entrepreneurship, because people with bright ideas will fear less to quit the jobs through which they get their health care.
.. They’ll find they have improved the troubled lives of the white working class succumbing at earlier ages from preventable deaths of despair.
.. What I would urge is that those conservatives and Republicans who were wrong about the evolution of this debate please consider why they were wrong: Consider the destructive effect of ideological conformity, of ignorance of the experience of comparable countries, and of a conservative political culture that incentivizes
- radicalism, and
- anger over
- moderation, and
Mr. Lewis charged Mr. McCain and Sarah Palin with “sowing the seeds of hatred and division” in their fervently red-meat rallies, not unlike “a governor of the State of Alabama named George Wallace” whose race-bating rhetoric
.. Mr. Lewis’s authority to chastise Mr. McCain comes not from his Bloody Sunday stand on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., in 1965, but rather from his subsequent record on the hustings. His mettle was tested not only in Selma but also in three tough campaigns, characterized by tactics of personal destruction.
.. Peaceful marchers found themselves shadowed by a volunteer bodyguard of shotgun-wielding black militants, and a group known as the Atlanta Separatists was demanding that all whites be expelled from the civil rights leadership.
.. Things came to a head at SNCC’s convention in May that year, when late-night, back-room maneuvering elevated Stokely Carmichael to the chairmanship, ousting Mr. Lewis. Whites were purged from the organization, and its longtime white supporters were vilified. Carmichael’s successor, H. Rap Brown, changed the group’s name to Student National Coordinating Committee and directly advocated violence.
.. In 1982, Mr. Lewis, along with other newly elected black Atlanta city councilmen, faced sound trucks rolling through their neighborhoods accusing them of race treason for not supporting a major road project favored by Mayor Andrew Young. Mr. Lewis stood his ground.
..In his first bid for Congress, in 1986 .. .. He fought his way into office by outworking his opponent and — eloquently enough — outdebating him. He brought to Congress not only a visceral understanding of what it’s like to be clubbed into unconsciousness, but also a deep familiarity with the damage inflicted by take-no-prisoners political campaigning.
.. As a circuit court judge in the 1950s, Wallace was respectful toward blacks, and as a legislator from 1947 to 1953, he was a moderate. In 1948, when Strom Thurmond led the Southern delegations out of the Democratic convention to protest the party’s pioneer civil rights plank, Wallace stayed in his seat. Though no fan of the plank, he was yet more Democrat than demagogue, and was instrumental in rallying the other Southern alternate delegates to save the convention’s quorum, and pass its platform.
.. He might have carried a tolerant message into the Alabama governor’s mansion in 1958, but he lost the race after spurning the support of the Ku Klux Klan (which then backed his primary opponent, John Patterson)
.. Sadly for Wallace’s state, his region, his nation and himself, he did not respond as John Lewis did after his defeat by Carmichael. Mr. Lewis, whenever confronted with calls to divisiveness, chose to redouble his commitment to reason and tolerance. After his loss to Mr. Patterson, Wallace is said to have turned to an aide and declared, “I was out-niggered … and I’ll never be out-niggered again.”
.. In the final debate of this presidential campaign, faced with John McCain’s demand that he repudiate Mr. Lewis’s analogy, Barack Obama said he didn’t think his opponent was another George Wallace, and that sounds reasonable if you assume Mr. Lewis was referring to Wallace the vile racist, not the more tragic Wallace, the one-time straight campaigner who bartered conviction for expedience when he thought a raw appeal to division could gain him crucial votes... Mr. Lewis might be deemed generous in wishing on no other member of his profession the harrowed look I witnessed in George Wallace’s eyes as he struggled up off the floor in Boston and beheld what a hell he’d wrought.
Support for her cooled due to antic statements, intellectual thinness and general strangeness.
The president has been understandably confident in his supporters. They appreciate his efforts, admire his accomplishments (Justice Neil Gorsuch, ISIS’ setbacks), claim bragging rights for possibly related occurrences (the stock market’s rise), and feel sympathy for him as an outsider up against the swamp. They see his roughness as evidence of his authenticity, so he doesn’t freak them out every day. In this they are like Sarah Palin’s supporters, who saw her lack of intellectual polish as proof of sincerity. At her height, in 2008, she had almost the entire Republican Party behind her, and was pushed forward most forcefully by those who went on to lead Never Trump. But in time she lost her place through antic statements, intellectual thinness and general strangeness.
The same may well happen—or be happening—with Donald Trump.
One reason is that there is no hard constituency in America for political incompetence, and that is what he continues to demonstrate.
He proceeds each day with the confidence of one who thinks his foundation firm when it’s not—it’s shaky. His job is to build support, win people over through persuasion, and score some legislative victories that will encourage a public sense that he is competent, even talented. The story of this presidency so far is his inability to do this. He thwarts himself daily with his dramas. In the thwarting he does something unusual: He gives his own supporters no cover. They back him at some personal cost, in workplace conversations and at family gatherings.
.. He acts as if he takes them for granted. He does not dance with the ones that brung him.
.. Soon after, Mr. Trump called Myeshia Johnson, widow of Army sergeant La David T. Johnson, and reached her in the car on the way to receive her husband’s casket. Someone put the call on speakerphone. A Democratic congresswoman in the car later charged that Trump had been disrespectful. In fairness, if the congresswoman quoted him accurately, it is quite possible that “He knew what he was signing up for” meant, in the president’s mind, “He heroically signed up to put his life on the line for his country,”
.. Mr. Kelly, in a remarkable White House briefing Thursday, recounted what Gen. Joseph Dunford, now chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had told then-Gen. Kelly in 2010, when Robert died: “He was doing exactly what he wanted to do. . . . He knew what he was getting into by joining that 1%. He knew what the possibilities were, because we were at war.”
.. It was unfortunate that when the controversy erupted, the president defaulted to anger, and tweets. News stories were illustrated everywhere by the picture of the beautiful young widow sobbing as she leaned on her husband’s flag-draped casket. Those are the real stakes and that is the real story, not some jerky sideshow about which presidents called which grieving families more often.
.. This week Sen. John McCain famously gave a speech in Philadelphia slamming the administration’s foreign-policy philosophy as a “half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems.”
.. There are many ways presidents can respond to such criticism—thoughtfully, with wit or an incisive rejoinder.Mr. Trump went on Chris Plante’s radio show to tell Sen. McCain he’d better watch it. “People have to be careful because at some point I fight back,” he said. “I’m being very nice. I’m being very, very nice. But at some point I fight back, and it won’t be pretty.”
.. FDR, Teddy Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan were pretty tough hombres, but they always managed to sound like presidents and not, say, John Gotti.
.. Mr. McCain, suffering from cancer, evoked in his reply his experience as a prisoner of war: “I’ve faced far greater challenges than this.”
That, actually, is how presidents talk.
.. I get a lot of mail saying this is all about style—people pick on Mr. Trump because he isn’t smooth, doesn’t say the right words. “But we understand him.” “Get over these antiquated ideas of public dignity, we’re long past that.” But the problem is not style. A gruff, awkward, inelegant style wedded to maturity and seriousness of purpose would be powerful in America. Mr. Trump’s problem has to do with something deeper—showing forbearance, patience, sympathy; revealing the human qualities people appreciate seeing in a political leader because they suggest a reliable inner stature.
.. the president absolutely has to win on tax reform after his embarrassing loss on ObamaCare. He shouldn’t be in this position, with his back to the wall.
Trump “knew [endorsing Strange] was a mistake but one he was willing to make because Luther was loyal,” a senior White House official told CNN. A person familiar with his mindset said the President went to bed “embarrassed and pissed.”
.. Bannon pulled out all the stops to rally pro-Moore forces in the closing days of the campaign, making multiple TV appearances, and working to bring a team of populist-nationalist all-stars to the Yellowhammer state for Moore, including former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, ex-UKIP leader Nigel “Mr. Brexit” Farage, Duck Commander founder Phil Robertson, and fellow ex-White House adviser Dr. Sebastian Gorka.
.. “The president complained about Bannon’s aggressive moves on Moore’s behalf, as well as about the political advice he got from aides inside the White House,”
.. Palin exhorted the crowd at Thursday’s post-debate train-yard rally that, “A vote for Judge Moore isn’t a vote against the president. It’s a vote for the people’s agenda that elected the president,” as she warned against the political class “hijacking” the Trump election victory.
.. Gorka also emphasized that supporting Moore was a loyal move for Trump supporters like him. He told Fox News’s Brett Baier on Friday:
The president has gone with the forces of the establishment on this one candidate. But guess what happens – when Judge Moore wins on Tuesday, it will strengthen the president, because now he’ll be able to go to the establishment GOP – to the swamp dwellers and say, ‘Hey guys, we are back on my agenda. This wasn’t worth it.’
.. In retrospect, the decision appears to have made on advice from anti-populist elements both outside the administration, like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and within the White House, like senior adviser and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner.