Donald Trump, billionaire extraordinaire, has in 12 months done what progressives dreamed about for the past three decades: destroy the Reagan coalition once and for all.
The party that stood for (but didn’t always fight for) fiscal and social conservatism, limited government, and a strong but rational foreign policy is no more.
And may be that is the way it should be.
I weep for the demise of the party that I fought for so long. But, on the other hand, we have clearly lost our way.
Little by little, both with the assistance of Democrats as well as the undermining of core values by Republicans, the party dissolved under the weight of its own hypocrisy and in-fighting. Donald Trump was apparently the chosen form of our Destructor…but the party was dying long before he arrived.
And so, we are now left with a party that is broken, battered, and frankly, no longer stands for anything other than the whims of a progressive billionaire. The fissure lines of the party were apparent throughout the Cleveland convention, despite the efforts of the Trump campaign to cover them up.
However, give Trump credit. He has pulled off possibly the most remarkable political story in modern American times. A dark horse with no political background whatsoever (other than his extensive connections to lobbyist and donations to both political parties, in any case). He then used his universal name recognition, and surprisingly little money, to take over one of the two major political parties in America. It is a remarkable achievement.
Donald Trump finally accepted (humbly) the nomination of the Republican Party last night. In the process, he gave one of (if not the) longest convention speech in modern history. Parts of the speech were quite effective. Trump was his usual overbearing self, seeing dangerous from every aspect of American life, to which the only solution was a larger Federal government-run by Trump himself.
He painted a dark, dismal picture of the American landscape. Trump, in little over an hour, promised to rid the country of worsening crime, even though crime has been steadily decreasing since 1980. He promised to bring back the steel and coal industries, using some Federally governed magic wand. He said he would quickly and at no cost to the American people destroy ISIS and Islamic terrorism, without providing any roadmap on how he would do that. He then, remarkably, argued for government-funded stimulus to fix the country’s infrastructure, and promised that such a plan would bring millions of jobs and stimulate the economy; if you feel like you’ve heard that one before, go back and listen to Barack Obama talk about his stimulus plan in 2009.
This is now a party led by Trump; wholly owned by Trump; and a party base whose faith does not rely on conservative ideology, but simply on their belief that Trump can solve the problems of the country, unilaterally and without any plan or policy in place. It is ‘Trust me” government at its worst.
Newt Gingrich compared Trump’s speech to Ronald Reagan’s acceptance speech in 1980. Reagan, ironically enough, warned the nation of exactly this type of mistaken faith in one man to solve their problems:
This, in short, leaves the conservative movement as a movement in exile. The various branches of traditional conservativism, whether it be Paul Ryan’s wing in Congress; the Reformicons led by various intellectual elites; or the hard-core conservative wing led by the likes of Ted Cruz and Mike Lee; all these groups are left wondering where they failed so miserably, and went so wrong. They are left with a marginalized elitist movement without a party to speak for them.
Where we go from here is beyond me. Trump is incompetent at many things, but he is utterly, wholly competent as a nationalist, populist demagogue who can rally particular portions of the Republican base at a moment’s notice. That demographic of the Republican Party is not going away any time soon, no matter how much conservatives try to wish it away.
So the Conservative Movement in Exile is left wandering the political wastelands, hoping that Trump’s incompetence will lead to a loss in November, at which point his base will wake up from this dream. Leaders like Speaker of the House Paul Ryan are making the wager that if Trump loses in November, the fever will break and the base will realize its mistakes. I find that scenario less than likely. More likely, they will wake up one Wednesday in November, realize they have lost, and then blame those very conservatives for their own failures. When has Trump and his followers every believed they are at fault for their own errors in judgment?
More over, why do we believe Trump will fade quietly into the night? I could envision Trump running again in 2020. Or, how about a Trump funded campaign backing his daughter Ivanka? (Notably, Ivanka was likely the one true new star to arise from this Convention. possibly along with son Donald, Jr.). I do not believe, for a second, that Trumpism is going away any time soon, either with victory or defeat.
The most likely plan for a conservative revival to succeed is also the most arduous and difficult to carry out, and the most unlikely to occur: to start a third party that focuses on fiscal conservatism. It doesn’t appear that those leaders who could potentially drive such an effort are ready to abandon the Republican Party. Even Ted Cruz and Ben Sasse seem very reluctant to do anything of the sort at this point.
So where we go from here, other than a generation of dominance by liberals and progressives, is beyond me.