If you’ve followed me long, you know that I am no fan of Donald Trump. I never voted Trump in either primary or general elections, but I do try to be objective. As president, Trump did do some things that I applauded and agreed with and from time to time, he does make sense. As the old Southern saying goes, even a stopped clock is right twice a day (although ironically, a clock that is five minutes slow or fast will never be right).
That was the case recently when The Former Guy spoke to a crowd of Republican elites at the Four Seasons in Nashville (this time it was the hotel rather than the landscaping company that Rudy Giuliani used). The gathering was closed to the public, but Politico did obtain a copy of Trump’s remarks.
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Trump told Republican donors that the “old Republican Party is gone, and it is never coming back.” Sadly, I agree.
As many of you know, I was a lifelong Republican until the spring of 2016 when the party lost its way. I ceased to be a Republican, but I remain a conservative. I think that the lack of partisan blinders helped me to see how the GOP changed around me over the subsequent few years where most people who remained within the party did not sense the transformation. As I’ve said many times, watching my friends get on the Trump Train was like living out “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”
It’s like the parable of the frog in the gradually warming water that eventually boils to death. The story is not true with respect to frogs. They jump out when the water gets too warm. It is true for Republicans who stayed in their party even as it came to represent something very different from what it used to stand for.
What did the old Republican Party use to stand for? According to Trump, “Republicans were a party known for starting wars overseas, cutting Social Security and Medicare at home, and pushing mass amnesty for illegal aliens.”
I can quibble with his phrasing, but I agree that Republicans used to stand for strong international cooperation against aggression, entitlement reform, and fair treatment of immigrants. Potato/po-TAH-to, I guess.
I could add other examples. Republicans used to be for free trade over protectionism. They used to favor the rule of law over cronyism and “common good” judicial philosophies. They used to preach equality of opportunity rather than ethnic nationalism. They used to favor individual freedom over a right-wing nanny state. I could go on. The party even flirted with gun control under Trump and couldn’t find it within themselves to rebuke The Former Guy’s bureaucratic bump-stock ban (but if Obama or Biden did it you’d hear about it!).
For a limited-government conservative (the few of us who are left), the new GOP is not an attractive option. Neither are the Democrats, although I do believe that, liberal as he is, Joe Biden was the conservative choice in 2020 and may be again in 2024. I’m not saying that Biden is a conservative, only that he’s more conservative than Trump, who isn’t conservative in any sense of the word.
Back in 2016, I hoped that the Republican flirtation with Trump would be short-lived. And I think it might have been except that Trump was only the second-worst candidate to ever run for president on a national party ticket. When Trump won and then spent four years telling Republicans what they wanted to hear, that Democrats and RINOs are destroying the country and “I alone can fix it,” he achieved cult status and irrevocably changed the Republican Party. At this point, it’s never going back to the limited government, constitutionalist party that it was.
I’m not going to pretend that the change was all due to Trump though. A large segment of the GOP was already antsy and ripe for populism. If Trump hadn’t grabbed the reins of the party with his demagoguery, Ted Cruz probably would have run the same campaign with different signs.
By 2016, I had been watching and disliking Ted Cruz for years. While much of the base loved him, I saw him for the snake oil salesman that he is. Cruz’s path to prominence in the party was through violating Ronald Reagan’s 11th commandment and attacking his fellow Republicans as RINOs. Cruz and others like him perverted Reagan’s 80-percent rule to say that anyone who deviated from the Republican orthodoxy one iota was a traitor and RINO.
No episode is more illustrative of the damage that Ted Cruz and his minions did to the party than the 2013 government shutdown over Obamacare. Cruz planned to “defund” Obamacare by refusing to pass a funding bill that included money for the Affordable Care Act. The only problem was that Democrats controlled the Senate and could simply not pass Cruz’s preferred budget. Anyone who watched Schoolhouse Rock and understood how a bill becomes a law could understand that Cruz was doomed to lose on a party-line vote unless he got Democrats to cross the aisle.
Or they should have. Cruz and his henchmen attacked their fellow Republicans for refusing to fight and blamed them when Republicans predictably lost the disastrous battle over the shutdown even though they never had the votes to win.
Shutdowns don’t work. They typically hurt the party that forces the issue, which means they generally hurt Republicans. And yet, in 2023 there is a sizeable contingent of Republicans that would not only like to shut down the government again this year but cause it to default.
Republicans lost the 2013 shutdown, but Ted Cruz won the political battle at the expense of the rest of the party. If it wasn’t apparent before that Cruz was dishonest and a political con man, it should have been then.
At that point, it also should have been apparent that the Republican base wasn’t as smart as it thought it was. Not only that, but it seemed ripe for a pied-piper politician to lead the party astray. But people don’t like to see or admit their own flaws, and the pied-piper scenario is exactly what happened.
It was around this time that I, along with some other online friends, got tired of being called RINOs for stating these obvious facts. We coalesced together in a Facebook group dedicated to “Reasonable Republicans” and took a rhino as our mascot. It was the same principle as MAGA embracing the “deplorable” epithet.
At any rate, after 2016, I was only mildly surprised that the GOP didn’t reject Trump as his behavior became more erratic, his lies became more flagrant, and the fact that he was in way over his head became more obvious. After all, Republicans had been training to follow a strong, charismatic leader for years at this point.
So, yes, I agree with Donald Trump that the “old Republican Party is gone, and it is never coming back.” Even if Trump doesn’t win the nomination next year, we won’t see a traditional Republican conservative step to the helm of the party. There really isn’t a traditional conservative in the top tier of candidates, especially one who is untainted by six years of Trumpism. And yes, even after being indicted, Trump is still the heavy favorite to be the 2024 nominee.
Even if the recent ABC News poll that shows Trump’s favorability at 25 percent is a harbinger of things to come, it’s likely that the best Republicans can hope for is Ron DeSantis, a governor who seems just as prone to use the police power of government to restrict personal freedom and crush dissent as Trump ever was. DeSantis is no limited-government constitutionalist.
But I don’t think we’ll have to worry about a DeSantis presidency because Donald Trump is still way out in front in the polling and he’s likely to stay there. The indictment may help him win the nomination.
The Republican Party is irretrievably, irreparably changed from just a few years ago. It’s not going back to the way it was. The genie that emerged from Pandora’s box (to mix metaphors) will not be shoved back in. Maybe yet another drubbing by Democrats will point Republicans in a new direction, but I’m not sure even that will do it.
If you wonder why, just ask the gang in the Reasonable Republicans group. They’re all Trump apologists now.
PROSTATE BLOG: As promised, I posted a new installment to My Prostate Cancer Journey over the weekend. This post discusses the period between diagnosis and choosing a treatment. If you’re a frequent reader here, you know [SPOILER ALERT] that I had the surgery back in February.
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Sarah Longwell had some similar thoughts over at The Bulwark today:
The imperative of the moment is voting for our democratic principles: all else flows from there, thus it is the most conservative thing one can do right now.