The Right Resistance: Would a kinder, gentler Trump -- and more GOPers -- work in a second term?
“I think he’s better served to spend 10 percent on the past and 90 percent on the future” -- said legendary Republican Speaker Newt Gingrich, presenting a possible strategy for former president Donald Trump going forward as we crawl ever closer to the 2022 midterm elections.
You’d probably agree, Gingrich offered Trump solid advice. An old saying holds that elections are always about the future, but in Trump’s particular case, remembering the past isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Trump’s nearly 75 million voters aren’t wild about the way the last election was handled, and no doubt a high percentage of them are counting on the 2016 and 2020 Republican candidate to carry the elections integrity banner forward in the same way widows and orphans keep their loved one’s memory alive after having given the last full measure of devotion in a war. But solely dwelling on what happened in 2020 won’t deliver the needed corrections in 2022 or 2024, either. The investigations, audits and recounts are ongoing in certain locations, but by and large, at this point, the American public is much more focused on what’s happening today in what was once known as the “Land of the Free.” Current president senile Joe Biden has caused a huge mess in practically every aspect of public policy. The malaise is so widespread it’s hard to ignore. The economic numbers emerging every month are staggering. Inflation increased by seven percent over the past year. What does it mean? The dollar you earned in 2021 was only worth 93 cents compared to the same piece of paper from 2020. Meanwhile, the southern border remains a leaky sieve where border patrol agents wage a losing battle of attrition against waves of invaders bent on entering and then remaining in our nation illegally. The hordes come from all parts of the world in the third decade of the twenty-first century, often carrying with them contagious diseases, and, in some cases, the intention to milk the welfare system or join crime syndicates. Memories of the botched Afghanistan withdrawal are fresh in everyone’s mind. COVID is raging more out of control than ever and hapless and clueless Democrat public officials are unable or unwilling to take a realistic approach to living and dealing with the now endemic virus. Job openings remain plentiful and unfilled as the population can’t get past being terrified of getting sick while also being spoiled into complacency by Biden’s “relief” bill. Then, last week, the president all-but said if you are against his federal takeover of elections that you are a racist who favors vote suppression due to skin color (again, he never explained exactly how requiring ID to cast a vote translates to hating minorities). With all this taking place, Trump is definitely concentrating on the future. He wants a say in who will govern with him if he runs for and wins the presidency again. In a piece titled “Trump is eyeing the White House and wants a more compliant Senate for when he gets there”, Meredith McGraw reported at Politico:
“As Donald Trump charts out his midterm elections strategy, his focus has turned to the contest for the Senate, not just in hopes of getting it back under GOP control but of having more compliant lawmakers there should he become president again.
“Trump’s interest in the chamber stems in part from a lingering aggrievement he had over how his term in office went. Major agenda items were stymied there. And aides say Trump is determined to ensure that, should he end up back in the White House, that doesn’t happen again.
“’If Trump is planning to run for president — which all signs point to, he is — the most important thing should be to elect more people to the Senate who share his worldview,’ one Trumpworld adviser said. ‘I think the biggest problem Trump had in the first four years was the lack of ideological supporters in the Senate.’”
This unnamed Trump advisor quoted above reminded me of one anonymous football fan’s recommendation for teams searching for ways to win more games next year after the conclusion of a poorly played and disappointing season. “If you want to win more games, get more good football players.”
It's true. Getting a terrific X’s and O’s coach is one ingredient to every successful football operation, but if you don’t have the hands, legs and brains to execute the plays, your team isn’t going to go far. Just like in politics, if you don’t have the support to pass legislation, any proposal is destined to die on the floor of either the House or Senate without enough votes. With partisan gridlock at its full ebb, the urgent need to win elections is greater than ever.
Trump needs more cooperative senators and fewer RINOs. It’s difficult to state it more plainly than that.
McGraw’s Politico article discusses the 45th president’s evolved philosophy when it comes to issuing endorsements in the upcoming primaries. It’s safe to say Trump has been fairly keen about dishing out his backing in the past and enjoyed many more wins than losses. But still, those victories at the ballot box haven’t always translated to gains in Congress, and some of those choices have actually worked against him.
For that reason, Trump is taking a more cautious approach to selecting who receives his stamp of approval now. These days, if you’re a candidate and want to feature Trump’s name on your campaign material, you’d better have more than just a stellar resume. You should gear up and be prepared to demonstrate how your dedication to the MAGA agenda is solid and unflappable. And you must get along personally with the big guy, too.
It’s hard to overstate how important the last element has become. Trump came to symbolize the never-ending struggle to wrest control of the American government away from the status quo loving establishment. The 2016 candidate did a terrific job of bringing in true conservatives like Kellyanne Conway and Steve Bannon to run his campaign, but once in office, listened to too many elitist Republicans and placed the wrong people in the wrong positions.
Lest we forget, Trump’s fondness for the military and undying respect for retired officers led to disaster in policy. Some of the individuals he put in place actively worked against him, then once jettisoned, wrote tell-all books about him. They called him unstable, said he was only in it for himself and for personal profit. Or a grand ego trip. They considered him dangerous. The leaks they gave to the media sabotaged many parts of Trump’s agenda from the inside.
Trump didn’t care about the way it had always been done in Washington. He wanted new ways of doing things, and he wanted to keep his campaign promises. Foremost among them, to slash outdated and anti-business regulations, renegotiate old and unfavorable trade deals, cut taxes, repeal Obamacare and build a wall along the line with Mexico, not only to get ahold of immigration but also prevent all the social problems the uninvited newcomers bring with them.
The stodgy old Chamber of Commerce controlled GOP establishment wouldn’t go with the new direction. There were party majorities in both the House and Senate yet the intractable leadership (Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell) couldn’t deliver the votes for these simple concepts to pass. They allowed many members and senators’ personal vendettas against Trump to stall what the president was trying to accomplish.
It’s no wonder Trump demands a stronger supporting cast and a say in who would come to Washington to help Make America Great Again. To get good legislative results, Republicans need good legislators. It’s not that hard to figure out, is it?
More conservative senators will help in that endeavor, but Trump will still encounter many of the same institutional barriers that are plaguing senile Joe Biden’s presidency. The filibuster will (hopefully) remain in place, but if 60 is still the magic number for “regular” legislation in 2025, don’t count on much getting through Congress. Obstructionist Democrats will be surlier and more vengeful than ever. I’d be surprised if Trump’s nominees get any liberal party votes at all other than an occasional nod from Joe Manchin.
Therefore, if Trump is to enjoy greater success the second time around, the GOP must win elections. It doesn’t mean caving to the establishment to choose perceived “compromise” candidates, but it will require some sort of cooperation between the president and congressional leaders.
Conservatives will likely find themselves frustrated in the near future because Mitch McConnell will still lead Republican senators in the next Congress. Several more principled conservatives will help push the Kentuckian towards better conservative outcomes, but the same problems will still exist. Perhaps rather than singling out McConnell in the media (even if he deserves it), Trump should pass the stuffy establishmentarian an olive branch.
Just a suggestion.
Trump is who he is and always will be, which is enough for most Republicans and conservatives. But to truly make headway in his second term (if he gets one), Trump will need to tone down the personal assaults and concentrate on pressuring the establishment to bend. He’ll have to sell his ideas to the public instead of pushing them through sheer force of personality. A tall task, indeed.
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