Pundits describe a fractured Republican party: the cult of Trump versus policy conservatives. This narrative compounds wishful thinking with ignorance of life outside the beltway, but has some truth. Trump, some say, is considering nurturing a third party.
The Republican establishment thinks they are more Republican than the Trumpists and have decades of battle scars to prove it. But they need him – whether he runs again or campaigns for others or is a strong voice. But for him the structural support of a party with a century and a half’s institutional memory can be helpful; most voted consistently with him. When Biden swears in 1000 appointees before his first full day in office, I worry that any Republican splits weaken a future Republican president’s hand. It is true that some of Trump’s best bets were ones the establishment would never have considered, but it is also true minor posts took a long time to fill.
The Trumpists need to accept that all of the people pulling back are not the sorry excuses for Republicans of the Lincoln Project, though they may not want to share a foxhole with them. Trump could have handled the last two months better and in not doing so, he irritated some, like McConnell, left to pick up the pieces. McConnell may be a Rino but he got those appointments through because he knew what he was doing. However, the establishment needs to remember, Trump nominated and backed them, their strengths came from their abilities rather than political resumes.
The establishment needs to be honest with itself. For decades the party promised and didn’t deliver, risks weren’t taken. They must acknowledge where Trump’s strength lay – at least in terms of the people I read, the people I know. It was policies. His actions – and boy did he act – in a Republican tradition. A good many people first voted for Trump as the better of two bad choices and came to see him as a transformative president. Some that hadn’t in 2016 said they’d crawl over broken glass to vote for him in 2020. Sure, some found him offensive, some had buyer’s remorse. He engendered turmoil and tension, though often in response to the wolves that circled him. (A baying that hasn’t stilled as he leaves the White House.) A resonant fact, however, is that many more voted for him in 2020 than in 2016. And the reason for most was, I suspect, what he’d done. Whether or why he lost, with 74 million votes he’s a force.
He was volatile and transparent. He wounded and was wounded. We winced at ad hominem attacks on his staff. He entertained. We were used to laconic heroes, but here was a man of action but also of emotional responses. But the four years – how and what he accomplished, the assumptions that made of his tenure a coherent whole – embodied instincts true to human nature and its potential. And that whole was conservative, American conservative.
He seemed to possess endless energy to push back while striding forward, he persevered. And his focus was on what counted: internationally, improving the United States’ ability to respond quickly and forcefully, to expand its frontiers; domestically, reducing the government’s (especially the national government’s) impositions and cleansing the unAmerican doctrines of tribalism parading as political correctness. In doing so, he implicitly respected his constituents. Are these not what they wanted, had wanted?
Whether it was his new space program or leveraging America’s oil abundance to reduce Russia’s already weak economy as well as diminish our Middle Eastern obligation or moving the embassy to Jerusalem or the Abraham Accords or bringing treaties to the Balkans or imposing sanctions or needling the Chinese or approaching North Korea, his choices were those of American president as advocate for America, for its people, its values, and its long-term success. No new wars, but he used the tools he had– mainly economic ones – strategically. He met resistance in the State Department, the most dangerous of his opponents. But both K. T. McFarland and Ric Grenell came out of early meetings energized, describing the give and take of debate as exhilarating after decades of bureaucratic obfuscation, dead ends. Of course, as anyone from Adam Smith to the local hot dog vendor knows, the free market requires a win/win experience. The economies in the Middle East saw little profit in the recalcitrance of the Palestinians nor did Mexico as one long highway for caravans of lawless immigrants. Isolating Iran and stopping migrants a country away were our reward – but what was good for us was good for others as well. Trump listened and acted.
Deregulation, lower taxes, advocating for parental choice in schools and for traditional rather than Kafkaesque trials in colleges – all these increased independence. These four years have defined the role of government in traditional terms: to provide a structure where business and families can grow. Strengthening small business was a Republican priority. And with that strength new business could thrive. Wealth grew disproportionately in the homes of the working class. Clearly those aren’t Democratic goals (if they were why would they come up with the $15 minimum wage?) He limited the state’s imposition, the limits of the Bill of Rights. Few thought he’d be a proponent of religious freedom, but he was. Policies like these drew minorities to the Republican party. Transparency, cutting red tape, limiting the regulations that stifle new businesses – all help the country grow. Diss Trump and you are dissing the outreach he did. That is no way to build the party. The Trumpian way is to trust constituents. Ensuring freedom unlocks progress, productivity, and the pursuit of happiness.
Trump intuitively accepted what leaders should know: his first responsibility was his own country. Personally, for each citizen, the family has that role. So, Trump’s instincts were not first to nationalize but rather last, when it was the only solution. Governors in his mold did not micromanage when their counties or even their citizens could make choices. Biden’s instincts are different: he intends to nationalize much. I suspect he (or his clique) would like to nationalize the police and that explains the policies of both the summer and the inauguration.
And so, this ends. And the final note – well that’s where we are today, the day of Biden’s Inaugural, bleak and dark.