If you think that Donald Trump is trashing the Republican party, think again. He is giving voice to a portion of the electorate who are suffering through extreme economic inequality and who have lost faith in their political parties and do not trust their political leaders. On some accounts, Trump is doing nothing more than pushing the Authoritarian buttons of the voters - what the Republican Establishment has been doing for decades. Ever since the 1970s, the Republican Elites have sown the seeds of Trumpism (Authoritarianism, really). Now they reap - and weep.
Here I offer some thoughts - mine and others' - on Trump's emergence as the leader of the Republican party. We'll look at the why this happened, how it happened, and who let it happen.
Why did the GOP Elites fail to stop Trump?
The answer is short and simple: the Republican Establishment made the party what it is today, a party of hate and obstructionism, and thereby created the circumstances favoring the rise of an Authoritarian leader. Frank Rich expands.
The Republican Elites. The Establishment. The Party Elders. The Donor Class. The Mainstream. The Moderates. Whatever you choose to call them, they, at least, could be counted on to toss the party-crashing bully out.
To say it didn’t turn out that way would be one of the great understatements of American political history. Even now, many Republican elites, hedging their bets and putting any principles in escrow, have yet to meaningfully condemn Trump. McCain says he would support him if he gets his party’s nomination. The Establishment campaign guru who figured the Trump problem would solve itself moved on to anti-Trump advocacy and is now seeking to unify the party behind Trump, waving the same white flag of surrender as Chris Christie. Every major party leader — Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Reince Priebus, Kevin McCarthy — has followed McCain’s example and vowed to line up behind whoever leads the ticket, Trump included. Even after the recurrent violence at Trump rallies boiled over into chaos in Chicago, none of his surviving presidential rivals would disown their own pledges to support him in November. Trump is not Hitler, but those who think he is, from Glenn Beck to Louis C.K., should note that his Vichy regime is already in place in Washington, D.C.
Since last summer, Trump, sometimes in unwitting tandem with Bernie Sanders, has embarrassed almost the entire American political ecosystem — pollsters, pundits, veteran political operatives and the talking heads who parrot their wisdom, focus-group entrepreneurs, super-pac strategists, number-crunching poll analysts at FiveThirtyEight and its imitators. But of all the emperors whom Trump has revealed to have few or no clothes, none have been more conspicuous or consequential than the GOP elites. He has smashed the illusion, one I harbored as much as anyone, that there’s still some center-right GOP Establishment that could restore old-school Republican order if the crazies took over the asylum.
The reverse has happened instead. The Establishment’s feckless effort to derail Trump has, if anything, sparked a pro-Trump backlash among the GOP’s base and, even more perversely, had the unintended consequence of boosting the far-right Ted Cruz, another authoritarian bomb-thrower who is hated by the Establishment as much as, if not more than, Trump is. (Not even Trump has called McConnell “a liar,” which Cruz did on the Senate floor.) The elites now find themselves trapped in a lose-lose cul-de-sac. Should they defeat Trump on a second or third ballot at a contested convention and install a regent more to their liking such as Ryan or John Kasich — or even try to do so — they will sow chaos, not reestablish order. In the Cleveland ’16 replay of Chicago ’68, enraged Trump and Cruz delegates, stoked by Rush Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham, Matt Drudge, et al., will go mano a mano with the party hierarchy inside the hall to the delectation of television viewers while Black Lives Matter demonstrators storm the gates outside.
For all the Republican talk about “personal responsibility,” the party’s leaders have worked overtime to escape any responsibility for fanning the swamp fevers that produced Trump: They instead blame him on the same bogeymen they blame everything on — Obama and the news media. What GOP elites can’t escape is the sinking feeling that a majority of Republican voters are looking for a president who will repudiate them and, implicitly, their class. Trump refuses to kowtow to the Establishment—and it is precisely that defiance, as articulated in his ridicule of Romney and Jeb Bush and Megyn Kelly and Little Marco, that endears him to Republican voters and some Democrats as well. The so-called battle for the “soul” of the Republican Party is a battle over power, not ideology. Trump has convinced millions of Americans that he will take away the power from the pinheads on high and return it to people below who feel (not wrongly) that they’ve gotten a raw deal. It’s the classic populist pitch, and it will not end well for those who invest their faith in Trump. He cares about no one but himself and would reward his own class with extravagant tax cuts like any Republican president. But the elites, who represent the problem, have lost any standing that might allow them to pretend to be part of the solution.
So what is the embattled GOP Establishment to do? On Super Tuesday morning, Ross Douthat, who had long foreseen a Rubio victory and Trump collapse, offered this tweet: “The forces that Trump is pandering to/unleashing will prevent him from ever consolidating elite conservatives. Period.” But I suspect a more accurate prediction of what’s to come could be found in Rupert Murdoch’s tweet the next afternoon, following Trump’s latest multistate victory: “As predicted, Trump reaching out to make peace with Republican ‘establishment.’ If he becomes inevitable party would be mad not to unify.” Murdoch’s use of scare quotes around Establishment is appropriate: It barely functions now, and the pretense of its existence is unlikely to survive Election Day.
The Republican appeasement
The conventional wisdom that Trump is “destroying” the GOP may prove as wrongheaded as the assumption in 1964 that Barry Goldwater had done the same. Win or lose, Trump, like Goldwater, may be further hastening the party’s steady consolidation rightward. For all their blustery threats of third-party campaigns, defections to Hillary, and other acts of rebellion, Republican elites in the political game are more likely to bend to Trump than the other way around, no matter how many conservative op-ed columnists beg them not to do so. They still want to preserve any shred of power they can, and to do that, they must pitch in and try to win. You’ll notice that just about the only Republican politicians or campaign operatives who are vocal in the #NeverTrump claque are either congressmen who are retiring this year, party potentates who have long been out of power (Christine Todd Whitman, Ken Mehlman, J. C. Watts, Mel Martinez), or, as Trump would say, losers (anyone who served in the campaign hierarchies of Romney or Jeb, any neocon who served as a Bush-Cheney architect of the Iraq War). Everyone else will keep on doing what senators and governors like Orrin Hatch and Jeff Sessions and Paul LePage have steadily been doing: They will appease Trump or surrender to him altogether on the most favorable terms they can, for “the good” of the party and the ticket in November. They will make their peace with the art of the deal.
A third party rising from the ashes?
In an earlier post, I predicted that the Trump campaign was headed toward being a third party. We may yet have a 2-party system, but one of those parties, the one led by Trump, will be most unlike what our parents knew. In that sense, Trump is fashioning a third party. And the mainstream media blew it. They continue to cover Trump the candidate and fail to understand Trump the party. Neil Gabler at billmoyers.com explains.
Ah, the crescendo of complaint! The Republican establishment and the mainstream media, working hand in hand in their unprecedented, non-stop assault on the “short-fingered vulgarian” named Donald Trump, would have you believe that Trump augurs the destruction of the Republican Party. Former Reagan speechwriter and now Wall Street Journal/CBS pundit Peggy Noonan expressed the general sentiment of both camps when she said on Super Tuesday that “we’re seeing a great political party shatter before our eyes.”
But here is what no one in the GOP establishment wants you to know, and no one in the media wants to admit: Donald Trump isn’t the destruction of the Republican Party; he is the fulfillment of everything the party has been saying and doing for decades. He is just saying it louder and more plainly than his predecessors and intra-party rivals.
The media have been acting as if the Trump debacle were the biggest political story to come down the pike in some time. But the real story – one the popularity of Trump’s candidacy has revealed and inarguably the biggest political story of the last 50 years — is the decades-long transformation of Republicanism from a business-centered, small town, white Protestant set of beliefs into quite possibly America’s primary institutional force of bigotry, intellectual dishonesty, ignorance, warmongering, intractability and cruelty against the vulnerable and powerless.
In my book, that transformation of the Republican party is the political story of our time. The transformation was not an accident. The GOP leaders pushed all the buttons that activated an Authoritarian base in their pursuit of power and privilege. In so doing, they created a chasm between the Republican Elites and the Republican voters that is now filled by Donald Trump, #OldBeachApple.
Dave Johnson at commondreams.org describes that rift between the Elites and the people in terms of economic inequality.
For some time now most of the people in this country have been under economic pressure. Pay is not going up very much or at all, while living costs keep rising. One recent statistic stands out – 63 percent of Americans would have difficulty raising $500 to cover an emergency, like a sudden need for car repair so they can get to work. Around them the community’s roads and schools and services are in decline.
Most of the public can see this clearly, yet so many elites can’t see at all, and see it or not, they do little or nothing to make things better. This arrogance of our blind, well-fixed elites is helping drive the Donald Trump phenomenon.
Among the “establishment” – the people “in charge” of our “system,” including the news and opinion elites who serve as gatekeepers of information – there is willful blindness to how things have been getting worse for millions of Americans and their communities. They tell the voters they are wrong, that our trade policies are actually good for them.
The voters turn to Trump, who promises he will make it all better, that it will be beautiful.
No one else is offering hope.
Johnson then proceeds to "factcheck" the arrogance of the Elites by challenging these claims.
If [Trump's supporters] would only read more magazines they would understand why moving their jobs out of the country is good for all of us.
... moving the jobs out of the country is good for us because we all get to pay lower prices. [Washington Post columnist Glenn] Kessler also says all those jobs aren’t gone because we moved millions and millions of jobs out of the country so investors could pay lower wages, pollute all they want and pocket all of the savings; no, the jobs are gone because of “increased productivity.”
Kessler also explains to ignorant, laid-off auto workers whose jobs were moved to Mexico why this was good for them. ... (Visit Flint, Detroit, other places where workers were laid off and factories were shut down and moved to Mexico. Look at the devastation that resulted, and tell people why this is good for them.)
Here's my favorites of Johnson's observations.
The American workforce consists of:
1) People whose jobs were moved out of the country, who when took forever to find a new one (if they ever did) and who get paid much less now. In the process, maybe they lost their house or their retirement savings.
2) People who know someone this happened to.
3) People who are afraid this will happen to them. This creates a climate of fear. They don’t take vacations or sick days. They take on extra work at nights or weekends. They work “on call,” never far from the phone and checking work email into the night. They try to make everyone else look bad so they’re not first on the firing line.
4) People who don’t get raises as a result of 1, 2 or 3. Meanwhile the cost of living, rent, health insurance co-pays, etc. keeps going up and up. Pressure builds. (Trump beckons…)
5) People who are doing really well, maybe write op-eds for a living, have a great stock portfolio, don’t believe 1, 2, 3 or 4 exist at all, and believe “everyone is better off because of free trade.” (They also read magazines, apparently.)
The people in categories 1, 2, 3 and 4 are potential Trump voters. People in category 5 just don’t get it. Kessler and similar elites are in category 5.
And the biggest arrogance of all is to blame the people who have been so badly served by the Elites.
Our elite class loves to explain to laid-off workers why their woes are their own fault. They don’t have a college degree. They should have started their own companies. They’re on drugs. They don’t know how to program computers. They’re too fat or lazy or dim to quickly adapt.
Trump beckons ...
Trump voters are “a coalition of the dispossessed.” Government has done nothing for them. Elites: You’re not going to stop Trump by telling his voters how wrong they are about the economy and the effects of our country’s trade policies. They’re not wrong. You are. They’re not stuck in a time warp. You are.
If you have stuck with me this far, I must apologize. I could have saved you some time. Here it is in a nutshell.
Starting around 1970, two things started happening. (1) The rich started getting richer, and poor got poorer, and the middle-class started disappearing. In short, in the ensuing years economic inequality became, in Trump's terms, huge and left the electorate to fall further and further behind. (2) In pursuit of political power, the Republican leaders and strategists employed messaging that activated Authoritarian tendencies among the Republican voters. That left said voters seeking a strong leader who would promise more than the Republican Elite was able to deliver. Economic inequality and aroused Authoritarianism - both spawned by the reckless, feckless, factless Republican Elite - are the conditions that led to the ascendance of Donald Trump and are the reasons why we are now staring into the Awful Abyss of American Authoritarianism.