On Monday, the right-leaning Washington Examiner ran an piece entitled “Don’t become the party of Trump,” in which the publication’s editorial board called on the Republican Party not to “pledge unquestioning allegiance” to the president.
It was a well-written, thoughtful column that pointed out recent examples the GOP’s growing obedience toward Trump. This included the primary loss of conservative congressman Mark Sanford (attributed to his criticisms of the president) and the subsequent call (some would say threat) from Republican National Committee Chairman Ronna McDaniel that directed Republicans to fall in line behind the Trump agenda:
Complacency is our enemy. Anyone that does not embrace the @realDonaldTrump agenda of making America great again will be making a mistake.
— Ronna McDaniel (@GOPChairwoman) June 14, 2018
The Examiner called McDaniel’s argument “wrongheaded” and claimed that — if followed — it would deeply damage the GOP:
Neither Republican lawmakers, nor the Right more broadly — the conservative movement, the free-market cause, the pro-life movement, and the right-of-center media — ought to pledge unquestioning allegiance to Trump just because he is powerful. Might does not make right. To the contrary, the best thing about Trump’s presidency has been the degree to which these other forces have harnessed Trump and pulled him in line behind their ideas and arguments.
It was a very good point. Trump’s greatest achievements as president have not come from his populist/protectionist agenda, or the battles he chooses to wage on cultural issues and our national institutions. They’ve come from his selective deference (perhaps compelled by disinterest) to traditional Republican positions and the much-maligned Republican “establishment” — led by people like Mitch McConnell, whose efforts arguably deserve more credit for these successes than Trump.
As the Examiner put it:
Trump flipped from considering his liberal sister for a federal judicial vacancy to adopting a list of highly qualified conservative jurists from which to draw Supreme Court nominees and appointees to lower courts. He went from supporting abortion rights and the country’s leading abortionist, Planned Parenthood, to being the most aggressive advocate of the unborn. His biggest legislative achievement is a tax cut.
Still, it’s these very individuals (and their ideals) — the ones that have steered (and in some cases carried) Trump in the right direction — that are in danger of being booted from the Republican Party. Why? Because they don’t necessarily bow to the altar of Trump. And while the Examiner does make the point that the GOP can learn some things from Trump in regard to messaging, the publication is adamant that the party not abandon its principles:
… the party should not be defined by the man. It should be a party of ideas, not personality.
The problem, of course, is that such advice has been shouted from the hilltops by conservatives for the past three years, and those warnings have fallen on deaf ears. The GOP and even the conservative movement have become more Trump-centric and more Trump-sycophantic — not less.
The result has been more and more righties defending and embracing notions they would have laughed at or even excoriated in the pre-Trump era, like the lavishing of praise on brutal dictators, or the imposition of tariffs on foreign allies (in the name of a made-up problem like trade deficits).
A number of prominent voices on the Right even got behind the U.S. Senate candidacy of credibly-accused child molester, Roy Moore. You might recall that President Trump endorsed Moore after multiple accusers came forward, and that endorsement prompted the RNC to restore funding to the candidate’s campaign.
Remember how, just a few years ago, there was a Tea Party movement (with enough power to flip control of branches of congress) that demanded that Washington deal with runaway government spending, the crushing weight of our national debt, and our impending entitlement crisis? Where are those same people now, as Trump presides over the normalization of trillion-dollar deficits while refusing to touch entitlements? Most are silent, and the remaining vocal dissenters are quickly discarded as “NeverTrumpers” or “RINOs.”
Heck, the one guy who had the guts to lead a legislative effort to reform our entitlements (actually getting bills passed through the House a few years ago) — Paul Ryan — is now seen as villain by most within the Republican Party, with many celebrating his upcoming retirement from politics. Previously, Republicans’ conservative-media-fueled anger at Ryan had stemmed from his failure, as Speaker of the House, to effectively reduce spending. Most of the hostility over the past couple of years, however, has come from Ryan’s occasional rhetorical push-backs against Trump (who has demonstrated no semblance of fiscal discipline, but somehow gets a pass).
Another conservative leader who will be gone soon is Congressman Trey Gowdy of South Carolina. A man of principle and integrity, the Right viewed Gowdy as a rock-star back when he led the House Benghazi Committee. These days, he’s portrayed as a “swamp creature” or — you guessed it — a “RINO” by the Trump-Right whenever he speaks to the legitimacy of the Mueller investigation:
— Lou Dobbs (@LouDobbs) May 30, 2018
And if you don’t think political tribalism, in the era of Trump, is a major factor behind Gowdy’s decision to leave Congress, you should read some of his statements on the topic.
As we’ve seen in recent Republican primaries, the new blood vying for seats in Washington isn’t cut from the same political thread as Ryan, Sanford, or Gowdy. Instead, the key issue they’ve been running on appears to be… well, Trump (who remains very popular with Republican voters) — as in who is the most eager to, as McDaniel puts it, “embrace” his agenda (whatever that happens to be).
This sometimes turns into a contest of who can talk the Trumpiest, or who can express the most personal affection for Trump. Case in point, here’s a campaign email I received today from a Republican primary candidate running to be my state’s Treasurer. The subject of the email was simply “#MAGA”.
Not exactly the display of rugged individualism that we once associated with the Right, is it?
Of course, this Trump-conformity theme has been promoted to the high heavens by big names in the conservative media, who’ve enjoyed the increased ratings and listenership it has spawned. Some of these folks recognized the monetary benefits of going in this direction as early as 2015, with others catching up after the election.
Conservative commentator Jay Caruso pointed out the hopeless absurdity of Trump’s media-sycophants in his latest Monday Notice newsletter (which is worth subscribing to), and how it’s difficult for them to break free from the act:
The problem for these people is that they are in neck-deep so they do not dare to criticize Trump for fear of having the Trump mob turn on them. One of the more blatant examples is when Stephen Hayes of The Weekly Standard asked Mollie Hemingway of The Federalist while on a Fox News panel if Trump was right when he said North Korea was no longer a nuclear threat. It was a simple yes or no question. A yes or no question with an obvious answer and she would not answer him. That’s how afraid they are of being seen as disloyal to Trump.
Believe me, I would love for Republicans to heed the Washington Examiner’s advice, but it’s not going to happen. That ship has sailed.
The reality is that Trump (and what is perceived to be best for Trump) transcends the party and its stated principles. The GOP has already been re-shaped in his image and defined by his personality, and it will be a long time (perhaps years after he leaves office) before conservatism even has a shot at becoming the party’s identity again.
That doesn’t mean that the conservatives who are still in the mix of things can’t make policy gains and nudge Trump in the right direction. They can. But Trumpism is wearing down conservatism and individualism through attrition. True believers in tenets of small government, personal responsibility, and individual freedom are falling by the wayside in the GOP, and too many of the Republicans who used to care about such things are now far more concerned with chasing off Trump-Train stragglers.
Face it folks, this is Trump’s party and it’s here to stay.