“THE DEMOCRATS ARE TRYING TO DESTROY THE REPUBICAN PARTY AND ALL THAT IT STANDS FOR,” tweeted President Trump on Thursday. Not surprisingly, he quickly deleted the post. What the GOP stands for is not a conversation he wants to encourage. It will, however, be on many minds as members of Congress head home for a two-week recess.
The conventional view among Democrats is that Trump has pretty completely taken possession of the Republican Party. Reviewing American Carnage: On the Front Lines of the Republican Civil War and the Rise of President Trump, by Tim Alberta, (Harper, 2019), in the current issue of The New York Review of Books, Princeton historian Sean Wilentz dismisses Alberta for his “ingenuousness and lack of historical depth.”
The pioneer of Trump-style Republicanism — isolationist, protectionist, xenophobic, anti-immigrant – was former Nixon speechwriter Pat Buchanan, Wilentz writes. Buchanan’s speech opposing the nomination of George H.W. Bush at the Republican convention of 1992 anticipated Trump almost word for word, he says. The positions each took descended directly from the views of Ohio Senator Robert Taft, whose candidacy the GOP swept aside in 1952 in favor of nominating Dwight Eisenhower.
Much of the wreckage Trump has caused is simply the expression of his willingness to pursue long-standing Republican policies while coarsening the polarizing politics practiced by the George W. Bush White House. Any number of historians, political scientists, and journalists have chronicled the long history of the Republican Party’s decay, but you won’t find it in Alberta. He would prefer that Trumpism be something other than Republicanism, not its culmination.
As a life-long Democratic voter, I. too, prefer that Trump turns out to be the exception, not the rule. It seems important to remember – Wilentz doesn’t – that two of the finest American achievements of the last thirty-five years were engineered by Republican administrations operating in the Eisenhower tradition: the end of the Cold War, “and the escape from the Panic of 2008. Recognize, too, that senior veterans of those GOP administrations have taken the lead in proposing revenue-neutral carbon taxation as a response to the crisis of global warming.
Yes, the Republicans have also given us plenty to regret: the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, wholesale budget irresponsibility, health care intransigence. But the campaign that John McCain led in 2008 was much in line with mainstream post-war Republican traditions,
What are the chances that the Eisenhower-Nixon-Ford-Reagan-Bush wing of the party will reassert itself and take the reins away from Donald Trump? During the next two weeks, Republican Congressional leaders will sample opinion in their districts and search their own souls while Democratic counterparts prepare hearings that are expected to lead to a bill of impeachment. The mainstream press will continue to ferret out details.
What are the chances significant numbers of Republicans will return to Washington prepared to vote against the president? What will happen if they do – or if they don’t? Washington Post columnist Meghan McArdle was right when she wrote last week that “a clear majority of public opinion” must back impeachment if it is to succeed – not a mere plurality or even a slim margin.
But opinion doesn’t move just autonomously, in response to what voters read or see or hear on the news. It must also be galvanized or rallied by political leaders. The Democrats have ventured the opening gambit. South Carolina Sen. Lindsay Graham, a stout Trump defender, sought to stiffen the backs of House Republicans as they left left town. How will they feel when they return?The first skirmishes of a battle for control of the future of the Republican party begin next month..
Trump famously said, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and I wouldn’t lose any voters.” We’ll see if that hyperbolic self-confidence will apply to his latest act of self-sabotage.