Worst Thing the GOP Could Do is Decide the Problem with Trump Is That He's Just a Terrible Person
David Frum, former Bush speechwriter, credited with inventing the phrase "axis of evil," lays forth with admirably frightening precision what I'm afraid will be many GOP thought leader and activist's reaction to a big Trump loss in November: that while he may indeed have been an offensive jerk with a scarily volatile personality, Republicans must remember that when it comes to the issues the Party should run on moving forward, Trump was actually totally right.
This is all in an article actually called "How to Rebuild the Republican Party" at The Atlantic.
Even as various GOP solons lately find strange new disrespect for Trump in the face of further exposure of his horrible personal expression and behavior, I fear Frum will prove prescient in setting forth the Official Line moving forward after a Trump loss, should that happen: that he was a terrible guy, sure, but a brilliant policy entrepreneur whose very popularity shows where Republican politics need to go from here.
That is, to almost zero interest in small government at all, except lip service to tax cuts while talking up enormous spending increases, and a very unspecified dislike of regulation, ideas that are not very encouraging in a guy whose economic policy advisers have a very tenuous grasp on any of the economic thought behind free markets.
Otherwise, as Trump exemplifies and Frum cheers:
a majority of Republican voters also want a message that secures health coverage, raises middle-class incomes, and enforces borders and national identity….
Trump saw…that the social-insurance state has arrived to stay. He saw that Americans regard healthcare as a right, not a privilege. He saw that Republican voters had lost their optimism about their personal futures—and the future of their country. He saw that millions of ordinary people who do not deserve to be dismissed as bigots were sick of the happy talk and reality-denial that goes by the too generous label of "political correctness." He saw that the immigration polices that might have worked for the mass-production economy of the 1910s don't make sense in the 2010s. He saw that rank-and-file Republicans had become nearly as disgusted with the power of money in politics as rank-and-file Democrats long have been. He saw that Republican presidents are elected, when they are elected, by employees as well as entrepreneurs. He saw these things, and he was right to see them.
The wiser response to the impending Republican electoral defeat is to learn from Trump's insights—separate them from Trump's volatile personality and noxious attitudes—and use them to develop better, more workable, and more broadly acceptable policies for a 21st-century center-right.
Frum does give lip service to the notion that all that big government and culture war stuff from Trumpland can somehow be wedded meaningfully to: "individual initiative, a free enterprise economy, limited government, lower taxes…."
But once government is handmaiden to the complaints and supposed needs of Trump's constituency for free things, infrastructure spending explosions, economy-freezing protectionism, and making sure their version of undesirables can't get to America or work here, it's hard to see what limited government would mean or how lower taxes could be maintained. (I should note that at least the official version of Trump's health care thought doesn't match Frum's insistence that Trump agrees that "health care is a right," but it is what Frum obviously thinks the GOP needs to believe.)
I linked to Frum's essay yesterday in the context of the curious dog that didn't bark in it: despite Trump's non-interventionist fan club, superinterventionist Frum seems not concerned in the slightest that Trump might not conduct American foreign policy in a way that would please Frum.
For other recent takes on what a Trump loss can or will mean for the Republicans, see this from W. James Antle at Washington Examiner.
Antle's main point is backed up by my own impression of the average Trump fan I encounter online: what the Republicans who waited until pussygate to try to jump ship will gain from Trump's voters—and there will be plenty of them, even if he doesn't win—is a lot of heated and angry contempt. How the angry Trumpkins will see the situation is: various bigwigs in the GOP establishment have proven they would rather kowtow to feminazis and a liberal media than make America great again, that, as Antle notes, the GOP are afraid to really fight for the interests of those who hate liberals more than they love liberty, when Trump was so willing.
Who Lost Trump? will be the battle cry that haunts and likely takes down many Republican leaders in the next four years if he loses.
That will be bitter justice for those Republicans so unconcerned with actual good ideas about shrinking government that they failed to see through both Trump's persona and his policies early. But a Republican Party obsessed with that sort of recrimination won't be likely to support any forces more likely to make the Party more conducive to being any kind of force for smaller and saner government.
Third party options, or politicians willing to use the major parties for what they provide (name recognition, ballot access, money) and not feel obligated to support all the dumb shit they stand for, will remain Americans' only likely political options. Win or lose, the wrecking ball of Trump has done its damage. And while Republicans may find electoral advantage in trying to embrace Trump's crummy mix of authoritarian nativism, they'll just keep hurting America doing so.
Ben Domenech at Federalist has a more cynical realpolitik take on a post-Trump-loss Republican future, concluding more or less that given the unwillingness of actual party leaders to leave the stage or change, that nothing much will actually shift with the GOP as a political entity. Rather, he sees both hardcore Trump fans and anti-Trumpers just walking away wounded from the Party.
That's certainly an option for voters, who can always shift back to the largely ignored 40 percent or more who tend to not vote at all.
And if the Libertarian Party can hold its head proud through the rest of this mess, they will clearly benefit from an election season that has treated them for the most part as legitimate, even if hopeless, players. Pro-liberty Republicans may see the need for that sort of true realignment.
But apparatchiks and politicians gotta do politics, and I do fear that Frum's arguments will make all too much sense to them: hey, that crummy protectionist big-spending mix won the primaries, it's apparently what the people want. God help them.