Well, the election’s over, and now we know who’s the clear and indisputable loser: Clinton, and the country dodged a major bullet.
But I’m more interested in considering what dynamic was in play that propelled a candidate like Trump to win the GOP nomination at all, and ultimately the election.
For about twenty-five years, since the administration of Papa Bush, the Establishment GOP has continually drifted leftward, all the while trying subtly to redefine “conservatism” while claiming to support the traditional principles represented by the official party planks (or positions). This manifests itself each election season when the candidates on the stump promise to aggressively fight for those principles, but once elected fail to follow through on those campaign promises, instead offering tepid resistance to Dem/socialist programs, and half-hearted efforts to further a conservative agenda, when they’re not offering their own “progressive” programs, such as Bush 2’s “No Child Left Behind”, Scrips for Seniors, and amnesty for illegal aliens; McCain’s amnesty support and lack of Second Amendment support; the despised Common Core; as well as other examples.
This is also illustrated by considering their presidential candidates post-Bush 1: Dole, Bush 2, McCain, and Romney. Not one of them is a bona fide conservative. It’s also underscored by their congressional leadership: Boehner (until recently) in the House and McConnell in the Senate.
Predictably, as this drift has become more and more obvious, the traditional “base” of the GOP has become ever more disenchanted and disaffected. We saw this manifest itself with the rise of the Tea Party, a phenomenon to which the Establishment GOP reacted badly, with scorn and disdain instead of contemplating it as a symptom of organic and systemic problems. The Establishment elites simply knew better; the Tea Party was a disorganized bunch of uneducated yahoos who didn’t know what was good for them; and they could be minimized and ignored with impunity. All the while the percentage of the electorate registered as Republicans continued to fall while the percentage registered as Independent continued to rise in virtually direct proportion, a crystal clear bellwether to anyone actually paying attention.
Unfortunately for the Establishment GOP, they weren’t paying attention.
And this time around, the pressure in the boiler had built up so much that it exploded. One man put himself forward as the anti-everything: anti-Establishment GOP; anti-liberal; anti-illegal alien; anti-mainstream media; anti-gun control; anti-Big Government… all those hot-button issues that the “uneducated yahoos” the Establishment GOP so despised found so important. Further, he didn’t talk down to those “yahoos”. He COURTED them! He catered to them. He spoke THEIR language!
And how did the Establishment GOP react to that? By trying to rally around and promote more of their same, tired old offerings: Jebbie!!! and Kasich, “moderate” drones. What about the actual conservatives in the race, Cruz and Rubio? Well the Establishment hated them almost as much as Trump, and didn’t have any qualms about making that clear.
So when the dust finally settled, and Trump was the official nominee, did the party regulars and the rest of the Establishment GOP rally around their candidate and do all they could to help him succeed? Far from it. In acts of astonishing perfidy, not only did they abandon supporting him, but many of them – yes, I’m looking at you, Bushes – actually made a point of supporting his opponent, the despicable Clinton, an act of betrayal that will be long remembered.
That perfidy actually goes to the heart of the problem: that the Establishment GOP, at least at the national level, suffers from an elitism – “Beltway-itis” – that’s made them blind to the reality of what they need to do to regain and maintain their viability as a truly “national” party. They inherently disdain the Joe Sixpacks that make up their natural base. They apparently prefer acceptance at K Street social functions over getting down in the mud with the people they absolutely need if they want to succeed.
Trump was the natural result of that disease. He was the revolt the GOP has long had coming, and to which it was willfully blind. And his success, and ultimate election to the office of President, IN SPITE of the Establishment GOP, should make them step back and take a long and hard look at how they want to approach the political arena as the country moves into the future.
The question now is: will they actually learn something from this?
©Brian Baker 2016
(Also published today in The Signal)