With the suspension of the Cruz and Kasich campaigns, Donald Trump is the last man standing to represent the Republican Party. Here’s the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly parts of that. Personally I am somewhat conflicted as to how to move forward, but I think it best to lay out what’s happening and work from there.
- Donald Trump did not win this easily.
- Trump is focused entirely on November now.
- The intra-party fight between different segments of it has mostly cooled off.
- Every part of the party needs to re-evaluate its perspective in light of Trump’s victory.
- Anything Trump has said up until now is still fair game and will be brought up endlessly.
- Deep fissures now exist between many activists within their own spheres of influence.
- Party Officials who have no valid excuse remain obstinate in opposition to the Party’s nominee.
- Many formerly respectable pundits have traded their credibility and reputation for angry, childish irrelevance.
- The self-proclaimed ascendancy of the “Alt-Right.”
2016’s Good Field
Starting with the good, this primary season has not lacked for excitement. With 17 candidates to start, at least eight of which were in serious hypothetical contention, every combination of Washington outsider and experienced hand was made available. Trump started outside the bounds of that hypothetical contention, but he persistently worked at it, used every means of leverage available, and when actual voting started to happen swiftly picked up the pace and put in the requisite effort.
I’ve heard a lot of ridiculous things in the aftermath of Indiana but one of the most foolish was that the field was somehow weak or too divided. If you had told me in May of last year that Donald Trump would have beaten the combined campaign organizations of Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz I’d have laughed at you. Those campaigns were not defeated by mere celebrity or name recognition alone, but by actual people showing up and organizing for the Trump campaign. I think this humbling experience was ultimately necessary for each of us who lives in the political bubble world.
Most of the fight between segments of the party is concluded. The #NeverTrump elements of each of the different segments of the party appear to be commiserating with each other more than fighting each other, while everyone who supports the nominee has been more focused on beating Hillary Clinton.
As for Trump himself, he is not resting easy on his victory but instead increasing his push and pressing towards victory. He has been personally magnanimous to the campaigns he defeated in his victory speeches and the fact he had to work so hard at it has made him a stronger candidate with a better organization. This is the exact purpose of a contested primary contest and by comparison the only reason Clinton is struggling against Sanders is that she is a horrible, uninspiring candidate whose chief argument for running is that it’s time for a president that has two X chromosomes, and that candidate must specifically be her.
Reflection and Growing Pains
Trump’s victory did not come without lessons for every part of the party. I categorize this re-evaluation as a bad thing, but ultimately it will make us stronger. The question is, will everyone realize this is a time for reflection or not. It should be obvious by now that, however so defined, “the establishment” was thoroughly defeated. Huge numbers of people are tired of promises made that are not kept, and endless excuses for why an attempt was not even made. It is one thing to promise and try, and another to promise and then revert to the status quo.
The response will be “but we held 41 votes on repealing Obamacare!” Yes, and you knew it was a fruitless effort. So did the average person. Ted Cruz lasted so long in this primary because he was willing to exact an actual price from the government for their policy. If you disagreed with his tactics then that’s all well and good, but it would have been simple enough to needle away at each bad provision piece by piece, and that was never done.
Speaking as an adherent of the more conservative segment of the party (though just one voice within it), we need to come to terms with the fact that while ours was the last movement standing against a populist, liberal candidate, we were not able to defeat him in and of ourselves. Every segment that has ever dreamed of kicking out the others and
“running the party” got a hard lesson this year. That said, I don’t think any other outcome was possible. Both the establishment and the libertarians consistently whine that it’s the churchgoers who are dragging their movements down. In reality, both Rand Paul and Jeb Bush got annihilated without winning a single delegate. Marco Rubio had among his policy team the brilliant Ryan T. Anderson whose pro-marriage activism has earned him national attention. Do you know what Trump has never done this cycle? Trump has never, ever attacked social conservatives. Not once. He’s not our guy, he hasn’t lived all his life that way, but he also hasn’t declared us a categorical hindrance. Trump actively praises his family and his pictures with his granddaughter are adorable. Trump seems to prefer showing us he’s cleaned up his life rather than preaching about it.
So yes, his books and comments from 10, 20, and 40 years ago have some pretty seedy stuff in them. God help him if he hasn’t changed in that time like pretty much everyone has. By all available measures he’s become a better husband, father, and grandfather over time. You can’t ask much more of him than that.
Let’s stick with Trump a little longer. It is undoubtedly the case Trump has said many controversial things and all of them will be used against him. Some of them are defensible, some of them are massive overreaches – but we’re stuck with both. There’s no need to throw your principles out in criticizing them, consider it an opportunity for voter education. Trump has brought a lot of new people into the Republican Party and welcoming them is a good first step. The best way to do that is to criticize Trump as policy not Trump as man, and to be level-headed about it. Trump is very good at getting under people’s skin. Witness what he just did to Goofy Elizabeth Warren. Don’t let that aspect get to you, just stick to the right path.
The Final Ugliness
Which brings me to the low point of this cycle, which is mainly the shame so many people in the center-right to libertarian movements have brought upon themselves. There are scores of pundits and political prognosticators who have staked everything on opposing Trump only to see him succeed, and succeed convincingly (but not easily). Kevin Williamson used to be a regular read for me but he has been a childish buffoon for about a year. Victor Davis Hanson has fortunately maintained his composure and been able to approach the driving concerns concisely and brilliantly.
It was a rare sight to see figures like Glenn Beck invest fully in a particular candidate (Coulter does this as a matter of course for shock value, I’m not including her.) When Beck’s candidate (who was also my preference) lost he essentially declared surrender and has been whining incessantly. A lot of conservatives are doing that too and should stop. The establishment lost, and our guy was the last man standing among figures who think the system can be resolved from within. The post-mortems on Cruz are already, hilariously, calling him a “niche candidate” even though he outlasted Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. We should have no shame in what we accomplished, and we should keep working at it and correct Trump’s excesses where appropriate.
A few Pro-Trump voices haven’t been any better. Sarah Palin for example seems to just be using the “Trump Train” as a way to re-insert herself into the political power conversation. While Paul Ryan lost me a long time ago all I smell in her most recent attacks on him is opportunism. Not that Paul Ryan isn’t one of the key contributors to the ugliness of this primary environment. Paul Ryan sits there as the new Speaker of the House after his party had been in control there for six years and declares there’s nothing he can do about a bad budget deal. He shreds his fiscal conservative cred day in and day out, but he’s super duper upset about party unity because Donald Trump has a different agenda than he does. A pox on both Palin’s and Ryan’s houses.
A pox on our Governor’s office too. The most recent story I read from State House News Service is the MassGOP only intends to challenge about 80 legislative seats this year. So basically they intend to challenge fewer Democrats in the state legislature than they did Republicans on the State Committee. Given the amount raised and spent for that effort, I fully expect every State Legislative candidate to be guaranteed $16,250 each by the Republican Party. After all, that’s roughly the amount they spent on each State Committee race at 1.3 million raised and about 4 district-wide mailers and multiple election week robocalls a piece.
They’re going to need that money too because the Governor has stated he’s adamantly anti-Trump, which is going to dissuade pro-Trump presidential voters from supporting any candidate the governor supports further down the ballot. Here’s another relevant point: The entire party was unified behind the Governor in 2014 – with many conservatives expending significant political capital on his behalf – and his response since was to actively betray those people. So it is absolutely shameful that Governor Baker is declaring the nominee of the party is someone he can’t vote for. The Boston Globe calls this “smart politics.” The Boston Globe is going to endorse his opponent in 2018 (and Hillary Clinton this year).
Finally, I suspect the reluctance for some to get fully behind the nominee comes from one I share, which is that a group being described as the “Alt-Right” is crowing about how they support Donald Trump. Put succinctly the “Alt-Right” is tribalist, fascistic, and white supremacist. Which means there’s a lot of “Alt” and not a lot of “Right.” I share a movement with the most conservative Republicans in the Commonwealth. Not a single one of us has any animosity to anyone. We simply want our rights and freedoms preserved and for the government to stop bullying everyone out of their livelihood even if their justification is the saintly “diversity,” “inclusion,” or “fairness” hogwash. In the real political right we positively affirm the value and dignity of all human life, believe natural marriage is the pillar of society and should be strengthened, support the right to keep and bear arms, believe in local and personal education, believe criminal justice should care for the needs of victims over the needs of offenders, and we believe all these fundamental rights and institutions should be available for every citizen.
The Alt-Right isn’t us. They will never be us, and they have no claim on real conservative (political-right) politics. If anything they should be called the Alt-Left because they’re rooting for the same authoritarian racial spoils system but with different beneficiaries.
This primary presented us with a lot of challenges and reflection points. Let’s get the necessary work done, rally ourselves, and beat the Democrats in the fall. Donald Trump was not the candidate I wanted. Neither was Mitt Romney or John McCain, but I can sleep soundly knowing that when it came time to choose a vehicle for changing the course America was on, voters once again looked to the Republican Party for an answer, just like they did at our party’s birth and when Communism was choking the world. Donald Trump may not be Lincolnesque or Reaganesque, but he got where he was through real effort and we should respect that. Give credit where it is due, and live justly. And for goodness sake keep the woman who already has an international body count to her name outside the White House.