Trump Is Trampling Over the GOP’s Corpse
Republican elites who want him to go away don’t realize that he’s already taken over an empty party.By Jacob Heilbrunn, Politico.com
February 16, 2016
The most basic problem for the Republican Party isn’t that Donald Trump is so strong, but that his competitors are so weak. One can find no better illustration of this, perhaps, than the sorry spectacle of Jeb Bush—who only a year ago was seen as heir apparent to the nomination—desperately trying to salvage his terminal candidacy by bringing in the one person who did more than anyone to destroy the modern GOP: his brother, George W. Bush. It was Bush, of course, whose reckless Iraq War and spending and financial policies led the party (and nation) to near-disaster, as Trump himself has been saying in South Carolina since last Saturday’s debate (once again defying the conventional party wisdom, this time when it comes to not criticizing the last Republican president). It was Bush’s rapid abandonment of a bromidic “compassionate conservatism” and foreign-policy restraint that exposed the GOP as a fatally divided party devoid of ideas.
Thus, in debunking the GOP’s hollow men and bringing the Bush-Cheney era to a close, Trump is essentially kicking in a rotten door. Today it would take the political equivalent of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory that just detected the waves predicted by Einstein to discern any fresh ideas in the black hole that constitutes the GOP. Into that void Trump has strode with all the hubris of one who recognizes weakness when he sees it—and is only too happy to call it out. His mockery of everything from GOP financiers—“nothing conservative about the Club for Growth coming into my office and demanding a $1M contribution, which naturally, they did not get”—to his palpable contempt for figures such as Bush indicates that his aim isn’t simply to win the nomination, but to redefine the party in his own image.
That won’t be hard, because it is an empty vessel. What is Trump filling it with? The irony of the new darling of the party’s disenchanted base is that his open divergence from the putative ideology of that base is near-complete. Trump preaches Trumpism; he doesn’t seem to care at all what the official party doctrine is supposed to be. Trump is not only not a neocon; he’s something close to a Robert Taft isolationist, a stance the party has rejected since World War II. He’s not only not a Reaganite small-government guy; he openly says he won’t touch entitlements like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Trump has always sounded a distinctly emollient note: “As Republicans, if you think you are going to change very substantially for the worse Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security in any substantial way, and at the same time you think you are going to win elections, it just really is not going to happen.” And he doesn’t really seem to care all that much about pandering to the anti-abortion or evangelical orthodoxy, which is why conservatives like Sen. Ted Cruz are right to warn that there’s no guarantee that Trump would appoint a movement conservative to the Supreme Court.