“We’re far from the shallow now.”
With apologies to Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, who co-wrote and sang the now famous (at least in my household) and Academy Award winning song “Shallow” from the 2018 film “A Star is Born” (which was itself a reengineered, contemporary and more effective remake of the 1976 version with the same title starring Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson as well as the 1937 and 1954 versions), the “shallow” we’re referring to here has to do with the Republican Party’s policy depth -- or to some, complete lack thereof.
(Note: I was not a big fan of Lady Gaga prior to watching “A Star is Born” and only did so at my kids’ insistence. I still believe she’s bizarre and a bit strange, but her amazing talent is undeniable.)
Most of the criticism surrounding the “shallow” GOP converges on the party’s recent conversion to Donald Trump’s Make America Great Again agenda. There’s a sizeable contingent of conservatives who still believe Trump’s rise was 99 percent personality and pizzazz and 1% alacrity and substance. To these people, Trump blew the 2020 election by making it all about himself and the lack of credit he was receiving rather than his relentless hammering on the danger and certain destruction of then-candidate Joe Biden’s proposals.
Without completely rehashing the ups and downs of last year’s campaign, we’re called, once again, to assess whether our objections to Biden and the Democrats’ new enormous spending and cultural boondoggle ideas are principled and detailed -- or simply personality-based and “shallow.”
In a piece titled, “GOP's shallow attacks on Biden and Dems will only lead to more losing,” Michael McKenna wrote at The Washington Times:
“One consequence of the emphasis on adolescent, emotional gratification is that the 2020 presidential campaign devolved into an extended therapy session in which the Republican candidate successfully made it about himself by complaining that he wasn’t getting the love he deserved, rather than what it should have been about — a moment to draw distinctions between the president and his rival.
“The inability or unwillingness of some to engage on substance resulted first in President Biden’s election and now his string of policy victories. Our new president’s policies are terrible, but few are willing to make that case directly, because it is boring and takes time and might require reading or even having command of a fact or two…
“In the last 12 months, the Republican Party has taken a hard pass on writing a platform or assessing what went wrong in the 2020 presidential and congressional elections. That suggests a team that is having trouble finding and explaining policies around which to coalesce.”
McKenna’s is a pretty standard critical observation of the GOP, particularly in the past six or so years since Trump rode down the escalator at Trump Tower and began his all-out assault on the Washington establishment. No one’s forgotten that day, of course, particularly because the longtime real estate developer and realty TV celebrity had the gall to say Mexico wasn’t sending us (meaning America) her best, and that the illegal aliens who did come were rapists and murderers (and some decent, hardworking people too).
It was an in-your-face bare naked assessment of the border situation more akin to something you’d hear from conservative shock radio host Michael Savage, or in the alternative, from the anonymous drunk guy perched at the end of the bar who couldn’t extricate himself from a diatribe on what’s wrong with this country today.
In other words, Trump said what a lot of people were thinking but wouldn’t dare announce in the presence of polite company or without a boost of liquid confidence. Thus was the beginning of the coincidental #NeverTrump movement, members of which took Trump’s subsequent overly-candid statements and morphed them into an intra-party opposition faction. These disgruntled defenders of the status quo swore they could “never” support a rude, boorish, orange-tinged oaf who seemed to glory in stepping on the stodgy ruling elites and their unwritten decorum rules.
How dare he be so uncouth! In fairness, I was one of Trump’s loudest critics at the beginning of his political run, feeling at the time that the conservative cause would be much better served through the principled “outsider” leadership of senator Ted Cruz. The Texan was sufficiently loathed by the bluebloods that he could shake up the system while not offending the sensitive deportment enforcers like Trump was so polished at doing.
Conservative Republican voters felt otherwise, and eventually myself and those with a similar mindset came around to Trump’s candidacy and style. It was him or Hillary Clinton, after all. But the pleasant surprise was the New Yorker’s platform, which was quite deep if you took the time to study it and listen to his prepared policy speeches. His rallies were good fun, and Trump proved more than a match to the Democrats’ arrogant condescension towards normal people, referred to by Crooked Hillary as “the deplorables.”
Far from being “shallow”, the MAGA agenda was detailed and precise, a mixture of traditional Republican planks such as low taxes, minimal regulation, an emphasis on a healthy business climate to foster economic growth and provide jobs, a strong military (but no more “stupid wars”) and a solemn promise to protect religious liberty, advocate for the pro-life cause and to appoint judges who would honor the constitution in an originalist fashion.
In addition to this, Trump added a populist “America First” plea, reminiscent of Patrick J. Buchanan and traditional conservatives. Trump further angered the Republican ruling elites by questioning the U.S.’s continuing adherence to the NATO alliance without demanding that its members cease relying on America alone to foot the bill for European security vis-à-vis Russia. And trade? There would be a new line of thinking here, too, including renegotiated pacts with our trading partners rather than blind adherence to NAFTA and perpetuating the perfunctory free trade myth with China.
Shallow? Heck no. With Trump, we were “far from the shallow now.” If his naysayers were too obtuse or stubborn to see and admit it, what can we say? Nearly 75 million Americans viewed Trump’s 2020 campaign as a summation of those good things he’d accomplished and a down payment on four more years to complete the unfinished mission.
The southern border wall was like a metaphor for finishing the job. It now sits only partially completed. A shame, isn’t it?
Despite this, McKenna’s assertion that the GOP now lacks substance rings somewhat true. And many conservatives are guilty of making daily sport of senile Joe’s deteriorating mental faculties and bumbling nature, as well as continuing to comment on his crooked family and the personal failings of most Democrats. But it only goes to highlight the utter bankruptcy of the man himself and the shifting nature of political beliefs in his rapidly left-moving party.
It's all part of the same package and can’t be separated into neat policy bites like McKenna appears to advocate for. The Republican Party can certainly use more specifics to offer voters, but the greater emphasis, right now at least, must be on defeating Biden’s and Nancy Pelosi’s and Chucky Schumer’s disastrous bill line-up.
We can’t do anything about senile Joe’s executive order pen except to file legal challenges wherever feasible and hope to beat him in court. Then Republicans must work to win back control of Washington in the 2022 and 2024 elections.
The MAGA agenda offers all the policy we’ll require to convince reasonable people that Republicans are better for the country than Democrats. Will the #NeverTrump crowd join in the effort or settle for blasting Trump’s personality some more? Time will tell.
It's not to say the GOP can’t improve on explaining and selling its policies to the general public. With Trump no longer at center stage, the party congressional leaders lag way behind in marketing skills. But there’s policy vigor if you look for it -- and are open to it. “We’re far from the shallow now.”
2016 primary field MAGA Agenda