The intellectual groundwork for Trump’s campaign, and the Republican civil war that he has unleashed, was laid without much notice in an unlikely place. In the summer of 2013, Alabama senator Jeff Sessions noted that passing immigration reform, at least as Washington understood the term, would be an unmitigated disaster. “Now is the time to speak directly to the real and legitimate concerns of millions of hurting Americans whose wages have declined and whose job prospects have grown only bleaker,” he wrote in a memo to his colleagues. “This humble and honest populism...would open the ears of millions who have turned away from our party. Of course, such a clear and honest message would require saying ‘no’ to certain business demands and powerful interests who shaped the immigration bill in the Senate.”
As it turned out, Sessions was right about the audience for his message. What he probably didn’t guess—what nobody guessed—was that the populism would be catalyzed by a member of the 1 percent of the 1 percent of the 1 percent. And that the messenger might not be super concerned about the “humble” bit.
There’s a lot to say about what strains of American political tradition best explain the rise of Trump, and answers will differ. (Don’t miss a learned one from John Judis in National Journal.) Trump is on many fronts less extreme than his competitors, but he is without doubt a radical. And he has irrevocably changed the course of our politics. If Trump wins the primaries, he becomes the new face of the Republican Party. This means a repudiation of a 30-year consensus in support of free trade, generous immigration, and even more generous military intervention. On all of these issues, much of Republican Washington feels far closer to Hillary Clinton than to Donald Trump.
If Trump loses, if he somehow gets destroyed, he takes with him the hopes of a voting bloc many suspected was out there but few, if any, in the professional political class wished to see. The existence of this group is no longer hypothetical, and it can’t be hidden or ignored any longer. With a Trump defeat, the party establishment will most likely have played the role that Peggy Noonan anticipated for Hillary Clinton back in 2008, when Clinton was trying to crush Barack Obama. “No one likes to see the end of a dream, no one likes a dream killer,” Noonan wrote. “But she will pay that price to win, and try to clean up the mess later.”
For now, we are seeing a Republican Party splitting in two. This is obvious yet nevertheless surreal, for such things rarely happen so suddenly in American politics. The establishment views the nomination of Trump as too horrible to contemplate; the Republican base views the establishment as to horrible too contemplate. Meanwhile, many conservatives flat-out welcome the demise of the G.O.P. Just read Breitbart or countless other outlets on the right. “I’m not coming back. I’m done,” wrote blogger Ace of Spades last March. “This party has betrayed me for the last time. You won your battle, GOP establishment.” Last fall, former congressman Tom Tancredo announced he was leaving the party. “By insulting the grassroots, the GOP leadership has set upon a suicide mission,” he wrote. “Well, count me out.” In December, when Republicans worked with Obama to pass a budget, even partisan water carrier Rush Limbaugh suggested leaders disband their party “and let the Democrats run it, because that’s what’s happening anyway,” adding, “And these same Republican leaders doing this can’t, for the life of them, figure out why Donald Trump has all the support that he has?”
This populist, radical mood isn’t confined to the right. (The rise of Bernie Sanders, after all, denotes its presence on the left as well.) But Trump has the upper hand. Since populism is at odds with both parties, a full embrace of it by either the Republicans or the Democrats means knifing close friends. Modern Republicans can’t bear to antagonize the big-money donors, just as modern Democrats can’t bear to antagonize the cultural left. Somebody had to be up for that kind of knifing, and it wound up being Trump. For this, he’ll lose Republican votes, but he might also gain Democratic support. A breakup in one party encourages a breakup in the other. Nate Silver will have to do the math.
Tonight’s Republican confab cannot reverse any of this, any more than a spell can turn ashes back into wood. The only question remaining is if anyone will manage to gather up enough of the non-Trump vote to allow for a pause in the war. We’ll know in a month.
But my bet would be no. I think Trump wins the Republican nomination. Some political observers suspect Trump lacks a ground game in Iowa, but the candidate seems to be doing fine. Some believe Cruz will lock up the evangelical vote in Iowa and throughout the South, but Trump leads in South Carolina, possibly even Texas. Some think Marco Rubio or Chris Christie will rise and consolidate the establishment Republicans, who still make up the majority, but when and where would that happen, if there are Trump victories in the first several primary states? And Trump hasn’t even gotten serious about attacking Cruz or Christie yet.
So, yes, it’s hard to fathom, but I think Trump wins the nomination, despite Ross Douthat’s assurances to the contrary. And then? And then—oh, hang it, most of us have enough to process as it is. I’m trying to watch a debate. Did Trump just say something about Jeb?" via Neil Munro, Breitbart: "From author T.A. Frank, an often-reasonable liberal, in the often-unreasonable pages of Vanity Fair."...
Added, from Angelo Codevilla, 2010 article:
Europeans are accustomed to being ruled. Americans aren't. It has been a great shock to Americans to find they're being ruled as if they were Europeans:
First subhead in article: "The Political Divide"
"While Europeans are accustomed to being ruled by presumed betters whom they distrust,
the American people's realization of being ruled
shocked this country into well nigh revolutionary attitudes.
But only the realization was new. The ruling class had sunk deep roots in America over decades before 2008."... (3rd parag. in subhead)
From: July-August 2010, "America’s Ruling Class — And the Perils of Revolution," Angelo M. Codevilla, The American Spectator
|US Ruling Class|
Image of US Ruling Class from American Spectator