Over two months after Donald Trump quietly (for him, at least) left the White House and
Washington, DC, there appears to be no letup in the eternal struggle between conservatives and the establishment for control over the hearts and minds of the Republican Party faithful.
It’s not a real battle, however, as most grassroots conservatives have about as much regard for the stodgy GOP old guard and protectors of the swampy status quo as they do for the leftist opposition Democrats. When Trump launched himself on the political scene almost six years ago, he did so because he recognized there was an enormous untapped niche of American voters in both parties who were fed up with the way things were done in the nation’s capital. To these people, the prospect of another Bush candidacy was about as enticing as serving liver and tofu at a four-year-old’s birthday party.
Still, the establishment was slow to recognize the coming of a new era in American politics, and even less willing to acknowledge that the movement Trump initiated would have staying power. Yet both factors have taken place. Despite the pretty obvious new order, some still cling to the notion that Trump was a flash-in-the-pan force of personality and without himself as the centerpiece of his following, that “Trumpism” would certainly wither.
Longtime establishment commentator Fred Barnes wrote recently at The Washington Examiner:
“Trumpism has not expanded the Republican Party. Neither does it have a bright political future in the absence of Donald Trump himself. Trumpism as a political phenomenon is not ‘bigger’ than Trump himself, as one scribe said. Trumpism consisted of only one successful issue, a clampdown on illegal immigration. And Trumpism did zilch for conservatives. [emphasis added]
“Trumpism has twin boosters, the Democratic Left and the media. For them, Trump was the perfect enemy to blame on conservatives and Republicans. He was the perfect poison to spread around. But once he lost the White House, and especially after the Jan. 6 uproar at the Capitol, he was less useful. So, they turned to Trumpism as Trump’s legacy as the main weapon for zinging Republicans…
“[The issues Trump described as ‘Trumpism’ at CPAC] doesn’t stamp him as unique or out of the ordinary for a president. But alas, his personality does. As president, Trump was fanatical about being the center of attention, all day, every day. His aides concentrated on creating opportunities for him to get attention and praise. Neither is he capable of admitting a mistake or a failure.”
Wow; such commentary is surprising in today’s day and age, simply from the fact that hardly anyone claims that Trump didn’t change the Republican Party through and through. Granted I haven’t read many of Barnes’ opinion columns in recent years, but he was the executive editor of the now defunct neoconservative publication, The Weekly Standard, so he’s likely on the outs with most conservatives.
This status alone would place him dead center in the #NeverTrump universe and brings to mind images of himself, Bill Kristol and the guys and gals at TWS gritting and gnashing their teeth as they witnessed Trump’s rise from tabloid celebrity status to the leader of the free world.
While it’s true (as Barnes claims) that Trump based his 2016 campaign on immigration and trade, it’ a gross exaggeration to stop at those two topics. Trump represented a noticeable and welcome departure from the Bush-era GOP policy of sending the U.S. military to all corners of the globe to combat every conceivable threat to ourselves and our allies, overextending the country in the process. Trump wasn’t shy about directly criticizing the neoconservatives’ love for aggressive democracy-spreading adventurism, either.
I believe the term he used was “No more stupid wars.” John McCain and Mitt Romney could hardly withdraw their support from Trump fast enough. When coupled with Trump’s unabashed promises to build a border wall and send every single illegal alien back to where they came from (which he didn’t do, fortunately or unfortunately), the balance of the blue bloods held their noses and tepidly backed Trump because it was him or… Crooked Hillary Clinton.
You could see the contempt on Paul Ryan’s and Mitch McConnell’s faces as they swallowed hard and occasionally uttered nice things about their party nominee and then president. But each time Trump said something labelled “controversial” by the media, conservatives could expect the establishment leaders to run and hide like barking prairie dogs at the approach of a predator.
In addition, Trump won over cultural conservatives by first promising to appoint conservative, constitutionalist judges, and then produced a list of names from which he would select. This offer eased the minds of many who were on the fence about supporting the “bombastic” twice-divorced outsider who used to be a Democrat and at one time or another voiced support for much of the liberal cultural agenda (most notably abortion, which he later retracted).
Once in office, Trump delivered on the promise, placing Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett on the high court and hundreds of similarly conservative jurists in lower federal courts. Surveys showed it was the issue that won Trump the election and it continued to benefit him throughout his four years in office.
Fair enough. But is Barnes correct? Will so-called “Trumpism” die when its namesake is removed from the equation?
Here’s thinking “Trumpism” is here to stay, for several reasons. First, those who predicted Joe Biden and his agenda would serve to unite the party were correct, but only partially so. The unity Republicans are experiencing now was fostered by the truth Trump spoke during last year’s campaign. If you don’t believe it, just look back to Vice President Mike Pence’s “In Joe Biden’s America” Republican National Convention speech at Baltimore’s Fort McHenry and Trump’s own address from the White House the next evening. Predictions are sometimes hard to make, but forecasting what would happen if Joe Biden won the election was simple. Not hard at all.
It’s largely come true.
Second, Trump did govern as a conservative. He didn’t always talk like one, but when the rubber hit the road, he invariably took the more conservative position. It’s the reason why conservatives gave him (and continue to do so) such high approval ratings, and why liberals hated him so much. Trump didn’t bend; he didn’t equivocate; he didn’t backtrack; he didn’t apologize. That’s what leadership looks like.
Three, Trump did bring new voters to the GOP. Not only did he secure the support from so-called “Reagan Democrats,” he got higher percentages of African-American, Hispanic and Asian voters than any of his Republican predecessors. Numbers don’t lie. And the trend will continue, as long as “Trumpism” highlights his issue agenda.
Lastly, as far as Barnes’ claim that Trump would never “admit a mistake or a failure” -- no president would concede such weaknesses. If you’re in the highest elected office in the world and you go around saying you’re sorry and giving an inch, you appear puny. Name me a politician who does so and I’ll show you a loser. Seriously, who does this… Jimmy Carter?
Does Barnes see what’s going on at the border today -- and the Biden administration’s refusal to call it a “crisis”? Or did Barack Obama and his cohorts come right out and admit the Benghazi tragedy was a terrorist attack? Heck no. The big “O” needed presidential debate moderator Candy Crowley to jump out of her “neutral” shoes and say it for him.
Trump understood that his agenda was correct, and conservatives backed him up on it. To the extent that MAGA means “Trumpism” will endure long past his personal stake in it, he was a phenomenal success. See how far Republican candidates get these days by touting a Bush/McCain/Romney-type set of wishy-washy, warmonger policies.