We’ve heard a lot about how the GOP Establishment is making elaborate plans to steal the nomination from Donald Trump (and Ted Cruz) at the Republican National Convention. (See, for example, Ned Ryun and Pat Caddell’s interviews with Breitbart News Daily last week.)
But what we never hear about is the Establishment making the slightest move to understand Trump’s voters or address their issues.
It’s another reason to lay blame for this chaotic primary season squarely at the feet of the Republican Party hierarchy, which was blindsided by a populist surge it should have seen coming long ago, and should have absorbed instead of rejecting it. Alas, the Party bosses and GOP donor class were too busy smashing the Tea Party movement to learn anything from it.
The many complaints that Trump is erratic on his core issues, or is too easily distracted from them, only highlight how thoroughly the rest of the Party has neglected those issues.
It was absurdly easy for Trump to breeze into the Republican Primary, pick up the immigration issue, and become the instant front-runner, while the Establishment’s open-borders evangelist Jeb Bush spent millions and went nowhere.
To cite another Breitbart News Daily interview from last week, Trump senior policy advisor Stephen Miller was pretty hot under the collar about Ted Cruz trying to steal Trump’s trade issue (insincerely, in Miller’s view), but Cruz at least deserves credit from the Trump faithful for trying. He understands them well enough to make the appeals Miller denounced. That’s far more respect than Republican base voters usually get from their own Party establishment, which prides itself on refusing to acknowledge voter anxiety about border security, visa abuse, or the damage done to the American workforce by sloppy trade deals.
The fact that only the other outsider-candidate in the race — Cruz — has made a serious effort to appeal to Trump supporters, even at a moment when a good number of them are having second thoughts, highlights just how wide the gulf between the Party base and the Establishment has become. Republican voters made it clear they were furious with the leadership on a number of issues; the leadership responded not by reaching out to them, but by hatching plans to pilfer the nomination at the convention, and if that doesn’t work, blow up the Party.
Thus we have the Wall Street Journal wondering why everyone is so peeved at House Speaker Paul Ryan, including #NeverTrump warriors who think Ryan isn’t hitting Trump hard enough. The WSJ thinks Ryan has already done enough on that score, and (wisely) advises him to worry about maintaining the GOP House majority:
Mr. Ryan has already spoken up three times about Mr. Trump’s rhetorical excesses, and this week he offered a broader defense of a better politics. He spoke of his hope for a more “confident America” where “we don’t shut people down. If someone has a bad idea, we tell them why our idea is better. We don’t insult them into agreeing with us. We try to persuade them. . . . We shouldn’t accept ugliness as the norm. We should demand better from ourselves and one another.”
The problem is that Ryan’s adversaries in the Democrat Party are all about ugliness, insults, thug tactics, dirty negative campaigning, and even trashing the First Amendment, taking their tone from eight years of Barack Obama’s smash-mouth style of de-legitimizing his opponents. We keep hearing calls for more high-minded politics from Republicans who have been kicked in the groin so often they can barely stand, as Ryan should well know, having been on the Romney ticket in 2012.
Later the Journal sings Ryan’s praises as (with a hat tip to Gilbert and Sullivan) the very model of a modern major-party leader:
Mr. Ryan has shown he can elevate the GOP’s vision and ambitions before. He once was a backbencher pushing reform budgets into the void of the late Tom-DeLay-George W. Bush era. He has gone on to do more than any other Republican during the Obama Presidency to promote constructive alternatives, especially on health care. Since 2012 Mitt Romney’s running mate has tried to build a bipartisan consensus to solve the failures of U.S. antipoverty programs. This year he’s convened an “agenda project” to detail what the GOP would try to achieve in 2017.
That sounds lovely… but where has it been getting us? Quick, someone in the audience name a constructive Ryan alternative on health care. The only person in Congress who really dug in and tried to stop ObamaCare was Ted Cruz, and the rest of the Republican Party hates him for it, even though predictions of party doom in the 2014 midterms turned out to be the exact opposite of what actually happened.
If there’s one thing Republican voters are fed up with, it’s ineffectual leaders who talk about all their great ideas, but never actually do anything. In Ryan’s case, what he’s actually done is deliver an omnibus bill so obscene Democrats were actually cackling with glee, with a side order of the job-killing open-borders insanity GOP voters hate.
The Wall Street Journal also took a shot at “reform conservatives” for going too hard on Ryan:
On the other side are a cast of conservative intellectuals who don’t like Mr. Ryan because he continues to believe in the Ronald Reagan-Jack Kemp vision of a tax-reforming, free-market GOP that focuses on economic growth. They think the GOP needs a policy mix to address income inequality and promote redistribution—albeit to the middle class—rather than aiming for faster growth.
This raised the ire of Ross Douthat at the New York Times, who thinks the Journal pushing Ryan into battle against both Trumpism and the reformicons is “some ripely delusional stuff”:
Ryan has to appear neutral because Trump is threatening riots? I’m old enough to remember when the Journal editorial page opposed appeasement! Ryan shouldn’t risk any kind of rupture because if Trump is the nominee a Republican civil war might cost the G.O.P. the House? Trump as the nominee is itself the thing that might cost the GOP the House! Ryan should stand ready to “steer” a President Trump away from “his worst instincts”? I mean, there isn’t going to be a President Trump … but if there were, what does it say about the Journal’s editorial page, allegedly a bastion of liberty and cosmopolitan conservatism, that it wants the heir of Kemp and Reagan to keep his options open and his hands undirtied with #neverTrumpism, just in case he might get the chance to help an illiberal race-baiting violence-abetting war crimes-endorsing demagogue pass, I dunno, the biggest supply-side tax cut in the history of the Laffer Curve?
Douthat sums up the Journal’s strategy as: “Do nothing, change nothing, and hope Trump simply does his destructive work and passes on. And if the party is reduced to actual rubble in the process, well, the important thing is that the purity of a policy vision from thirty-five years ago has been preserved in its pristine, handed-down-from-heaven form.”
Clearly Douthat doesn’t have much use for Trump, but Trump supporters would agree with his analysis of the Establishment’s folly. They’re sticking to a supply-side gospel that is difficult to sell to people nervous about the future of the American middle class after years of Obama’s policies, and lingering anxiety over the 2008 financial crisis. At this point, when a lot of people hear talk about pro-growth tax cuts, they recoil from either liberal caricatures of cigar-chomping robber barons lining their pockets while the Little Guy suffers… or they recoil from the memory of Obama’s cronies getting rich off their political connections while the rest of the U.S. economy was stuck in a quagmire.
Both “reform conservatism” and Trumpism aim to rewire parts of the Leviathan State to directly benefit middle-class constituencies, rather than cutting that bloated government down to size and kick-starting the engines of capitalism to grow us out of malaise and impending government fiscal crisis. Adherents of both philosophies can fairly complain that the Republican Establishment hasn’t been listening to their concerns, and has grown remote from both GOP base voters and the working class.
The Establishment seems to have contingency plans for everything except listening to its base voters and addressing their needs.
Not even a primary utterly dominated by outsider candidates, in which one blue-chip Party man after another got thrown off the debate stage, has been able to get their attention.