Last week, Rush Limbaugh discussed the Trump phenomenon through the lens of a 20-year-old Sam Francis article:
"Imagine giving this advice to a Republican presidential candidate: What if you stopped calling yourself a conservative and instead just promised to make America great again?" What do you think might happen in the current climate, where the middle class in the country feels totally left out of everything going on?
They feel like they've been targeted by every liberal Democrat policy that has not been stopped by the Republican Party. What if you dropped [talking] about the free market," stop all of that, "and promised to fight the elites who were selling out American jobs? What if you just stopped talking about reforming Medicare and Social Security and instead said that the elites were failing to deliver better health care at a reasonable price? What if, instead of vainly talking about restoring the place of religion in society ... you simply promised to restore the Middle American core," and everything it stands for?
Rush's view is that "nationalism and populism have overtaken conservatism in terms of appeal" - ie, that there are insufficient takers for conservatism. It comes to something when the nation's Number One conservative talk-show host is putting it that way, but you can see what he's getting at.
In contrast to the ebb and flow of eternally shifting multiparty systems, America has a rigid, inflexible two-party choice:
One party is supposed to be the party of big government, the other the party of small government. When the Big Government Party is in power, the government gets bigger, and, when the Small Government Party is in power, the government gets bigger.
One party is supposed to be the party of social liberalism, the other the party of social conservatism. When the Socially Liberal Party is in power, the country gets more liberal, and, when the Socially Conservative Party is in power, the country gets more liberal.
One party is supposed to be the party of foreign-policy doves, the other the party of foreign-policy hawks. When the doves are in power, America loses wars, and, when the hawks are in power, America loses wars.
So much for American conservatism's three-legged stool. "Mainstream" Republican candidates are essentially reduced to the argument: This time it'll be different, I promise.
Democrats' principal appeal isn't to philosophical coherence: They tell their coalition that they'll take care of their own - the gays, the blacks, the feminists, the transitioning, the environmentalists, the Hispanics, the educators... This time round, a big chunk of the Republican base has figured it'd like someone who's looking out for them, too.
If the present polls hold up through Iowa and New Hampshire, it'd be the reconfiguration of Mr and Mrs Main Street America as just another interest group. So a philosophical commitment to free trade means less to them than the degeneration of mill and factory towns into wastelands of fast-food service jobs and heroin addiction. An abstract respect for religious pluralism means less to them than reducing the number of crazies running around whose last words before opening fire are "Allahu akbar!" A theoretical belief in private-sector health care means less to them than not getting stiffed by crappy five-figure health "insurance" that can be yanked out from under you at any moment under Byzantine rules and regulations that change 30 times a day. And bipartisan myth-making about "a nation of immigrants" means a whole lot less than another decade of Press One For English, flatlined wages, sanctuary cities and remorseless cultural transformation...
Seven years ago I wrote about the new nationalist parties emerging on the Continent:
Europe has taken a worse hit than North America in the first crisis of economic globalization: unemployment in Spain, for example, is over 17 per cent. To the Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm, this "crisis of capitalism" is the biggest event since the fall of the Soviet Union. But, if it's a "crisis of capitalism," why did the mainstream Euro-left take the electoral hit rather than the mainstream Euro-right? Instead of turning to socialist parties promising more state booty, voters boosted the fortunes of the neo-nationalists. Many of these groups are economically protectionist (and in some cases more "left wing" than, say, the British Labour Party) but they're also culturally protectionist in a way the polytechnic left most certainly isn't.
In Europe they launch new parties every week, but you can't do that in America. So yesterday former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson penned a column headlined:
For The Sake Of The Republican Party, Both Trump And Cruz Must Lose
But what is "the Republican Party" in 2015? To a businessman, it looks like an unsellable product and an incompetent management ...but with a useful mailing list and a functioning network of branch offices. Why not mount a hostile takeover and relaunch it as something else?
As I always say, if the GOP establishment doesn't like the way this election season is going, it's their fault - the fault of Gerson and all the other fellows now running around wondering how this happened. Two years ago, I wrote:
Mrs Clinton would be insane not to run if there's any truth to this Washington Post story:
'Influential Republicans Working To Draft Jeb Bush Into 2016 Presidential Race'
Really? Why would they do such a thing?
Fluent in Spanish, Bush has credibility within the Hispanic community that could help broaden his coalition. He also has the gravitas many Republicans say is required to compete with former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Democrats' leading potential contender... One bundler estimated that the "vast majority" of Romney's top 100 donors would back Bush in a competitive nomination fight.
"He's the most desired candidate out there," said another bundler, Brian Ballard, who sat on the national finance committees for Romney in 2012 and John McCain in 2008. "Everybody that I know is excited about it."
The guys who picked last season's loser are already excited about next season's loser. How exciting is that?
As I said, I wrote that two years ago - March 2014. All the Chumpy McDonorpants had to do was sit on their hands and not give 100 million bucks to another hereditary-class rich-boy stiff with no flair for retail politics who thinks that illegal immigration is "an act of love". But they couldn't help themselves. The Donor Class decided it would take its contempt for the rubes to the next level ...and now they're surprised that the rubes have decided to take it to the next level, too. They don't care when the insiders say that Trump isn't a "real Republican". To them, that's not a bug, it's a feature. But Rush posits that disenchantment with the only electoral alternative to the Democrats is now so great that they don't even care that Trump isn't a "real conservative". My old colleague Jonah Goldberg is pointing out today, yet again, that Trump is "not a conservative".
That's true. But he's not campaigning like one, is he? Cruz is running proudly under the conservative banner. Trump is running like a guy who got Frank Luntz to do one of his "words that work" focus groups and "conservative" came back with net unfavorables.
So this is the world Michael Gerson and Brian Ballard and the rest of the smart guys have made: a primary season rapidly coming down to a hardcore base-shoring conservative vs a hardcore post-ideological neo-nationalist - leaving Gerson, Pete Wehner, George Will and the donor-bankrolled GOP establishment to mutter that it may be time for the Republican Party to go third-party.
LBJ said it was better to have Robert F Kennedy inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in. The GOP drove so many outside the tent to start pissing in that the the whole sodden canvas is floating off and out to sea. Final thought:
After this election, Big Money men may have to spend big to restore the name of Big Money.