Election 2020

How Trump Defeated the GOP Establishment

How Trump Defeated the GOP Establishment
(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

If you want to see a racket in action, pay a visit to the nation’s capital. The Imperial City is awash in money — and why shouldn’t it be? — hotel prices are out of sight, expensive restaurants abound and folks on both sides of the Permanent Bipartisan Fusion Party line are just as happy as they can be. For decades, “lawmakers,” lobbyists and the D.C. press corps have been living high on the hog at the rubes’ expense and nobody wants the good times to end.

Then along comes Donald Trump, smashing things up all over the place in the most boorish way possible, refusing to play by the PBFP’s rules (Rule No. 1 — don’t derail the gravy train) and generally raising hell. A Republican electorate heartily sick of the likes of Mitch McConnell and the recently defenestrated John Boehner and Eric Cantor, have had it up to their red royal American keisters. And Trump is payback:

Trump’s victories are not due his personal qualities (which are seldom overrated by his supporters) so much as to the extraordinary weakness of what establishment conservatism has stood for and promises. For some tens of millions of American voters, it matters less that Trump is clearly not well versed in policy nuances than that he has somehow identified and targeted the weakest points of establishment conservatism.

For what has the establishment GOP accomplished for its voters—excepting those in its well-nurtured class of consultants and lobbyists? In early 2015, the veteran pollster and Democratic consultant Pat Caddell analyzed a poll of Republican and independent voters, and was shocked by the widespread of animosity respondents expressed towards their own leaders. “The GOP leadership, the lawyers, the lobbyists, the consultant class of the Republican party don’t understand that these people are angry” Caddell said, continuing “I’ve never seen anything like this at the base of a party. And that is why the analogy to the Whigs is not so far-fetched.” This was six months before Trump walked down the escalator at Trump Tower.

Examined neutrally (something apparently impossible for the ranks of the kiddie kommentariat forever banging on about “Reagan Republicanism” without having the slightest idea what it entailed at the time), Trump’s rise, while surprising, is eminently understandable.

In any case, whether it wins, loses, or something in between, what Trump represents will now continue to find a political outlet. Trump was underestimated by the establishment press, because “populism” always loses. A different sort of politician, not able to self-fund through the primaries, less self-confident, less, if you will, bombastic, could never have broken through informal establishment cordon which separates serious candidates from fringe ones.

But Trump did break through, and the GOP won’t be same any time soon. It wasn’t the same after Barry Goldwater, even if the Arizona Republican (a completely different type of ideological figure than Trump) went down to inglorious defeat, shunned by establishment figures of his own party. Trump, whose victory reflects deeper historical forces than Goldwater’s did, will make a greater impact.

As Lincoln said, you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.