Trump Is a “Normal” Republican
Is Donald Trump a pirate who hijacked the Republican party? Or is his zany, odious candidacy the logical culmination of where the GOP has long been headed? These are hotly contested questions as we (gratefully) begin to ponder a post-Trump Republican party.
To hear the Republican establishment tell it, Trump is a regrettable one-off. Certainly, his style, which mixes the snark and filth of an insult-comic with the ruthless cunning and improvisation of a reality-TV-villain, is sui generis. Recall that the last two nominees were Mitt Romney, a squeaky clean family man who literally never swears, and John McCain, who once showed his decency by seizing a microphone from a wingnut who was attempting to question Obama’s Americanness.
Nor is Trump a typical Republican on the issues. His deviations from Republican orthodoxy include his lack of interest in cutting Social Security and Medicare, his contempt for free trade, and his hostility to immigration. And on foreign policy, his America First, isolationist stances puts him at odds with both the George W. Bush/Dick Cheney neo-cons and the realist/internationalist types, like Colin Powell, who understand the importance of international institutions and alliances.
And yet, I’ve become convinced that the Republican elite are fooling themselves if they think that Trump’s rise doesn’t reflect some very real, very disturbing strains within the GOP.
The truth is that the Republican party stopped being normal more than two decades ago. Consider these facts:
-The Republican party is the only major political party in the advanced world that denies global warming.
-Republican fiscal and tax policy, since at least George W. Bush’s campaign, has relied on distortions, lies and magical thinking. This is as true of their so-called intelligentsia, like Paul Ryan, as it is of their obvious cranks, like Michele Bachman, who calls the IRS “the enemy.”
-Not a single one of Trump’s opponents for the nomination was willing to say that evolution should be taught in public schools. Not one.
-Trump’s supposedly more grounded VP pick, Mike Pence, once wrote an op-ed claiming that “smoking doesn’t kill.”
-The Republican party has for two decades consistently tried to delegitimize Democrats when they’ve held power. Recall that Republicans impeached Bill Clinton, the previous Democratic president, and that a majority of Republican voters believe that the current president wasn’t born in the US and has purposely misled us about his religion. And of course, “Lock her up,” has become a regular chant at GOP events this year, including their convention. And now, facing defeat in November, Republicans have already started to make noises about this election being “rigged,” and Democrats “cheating,” to win.
-In the last few years, the Republican party has come frighteningly close, on more than one occasion, to repudiating our national debt obligations, which would lead to a massive, self-inflicted recession.
-Herman Cain, who, more than once, quoted Pokemon the Movie in a speech, at one point led the polls in 2012.
-In a move of obstructionism without precedent, the Republican led Senate has refused to give Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court, a hearing or a vote.
-19 red states have decided not to expand Medicaid, even though the federal government offered to pick up almost the entire tab. This stubborn refusal to embrace anything connected with Obamacare is a moral outrage. Millions of people have been unable to get basic health care services, including preventative care, because of Republican political ambitions. Put starkly, people have died because of this.
-Republican opposition to higher taxes has become a point of theology, not politics. The last time any single Republican member of Congress voted to raise income taxes was 1990. You read that right. 1990.
-Republicans in numerous states have waged a consistent — and I’m choosing my words carefully here — disgusting, reactionary and all too successful campaign to limit voting by putting in restrictions that disproportionately and intentionally suppress the vote of minorities, students and the elderly. Their justifications for these restrictions — that these measures are necessary to stop voter fraud — are cynical and false; the truth is voter fraud simply doesn’t exist in America.
-Republican media outlets like Fox News and right-wing talk radio routinely traffic in conspiracy theories and apocalyptic rhetoric that lies in the borderlands somewhere between bizarre and paranoid.
In light of these facts, I believe that the Republican elites are foolish and naive if they think that the roots of Trumpism aren’t hard-wired into the party’s base. If elite Republicans are truly as appalled by the rise of Trump as many of them say, a major reckoning lies ahead.