Bruce Bartlett wrote an interesting article last week, Will Donald Trump Crack-up the Republican/Tea Party Alliance? He speculated that Trump could cause a rupture between the two parts of the Republican Party: the social conservatives and the business interests. But as usual, the article is filled with Barlett’s cognitive dissonance. There are just some things he really wants to believe like the idea that the Tea Party ever had much support for economic conservatism. It was always overwhelmingly about about social issues. If it cared about mortgage relief, it was only because “those people” were getting it. The libertarian rhetoric to come out of the Tea Party was only the result of what Bartlett admits was astroturfing.
The other thing that he seems to miss is that Donald Trump does not represent a conflict within the party. In fact, he bridges the two sides of the party. He’s a big business guy who will provide just the kind of policies the business community wants, and he provides plenty of red meat to the social conservatives, without offering much in terms of substance on policy. That is pretty much the definition of the traditional Republican Party. So how is it that he represents such a threat?
As far as I can tell, the reason that the “establishment” side of the Republican Party doesn’t like Donald Trump is because they don’t think he will win in a general election. Their outrage concerning his comments about Mexican immigrants is purely political: they think it is bad among swing voters. But when it comes to his policy positions, we hear nothing from the party establishment. Are they against his immigration policy on its own terms (not on how it looks outside the party)? Are they against his ideas on taxes or social programs? The only policy I know of that they seem to have any problem with is his opposition to privatizing or “block granting” Social Security.
The whole thing brings me back to a quote I read from a liberal blogger a long time ago. He had once been a Republican. He said (more or less), “The hardest thing about being a Republican was never being able to say what you actually believe.” Yeah, it’s not pleasant holding views that are repugnant to the vast majority of people. And this is what the Republican “establishment” doesn’t like about Trump: he is explicit about many of the traditional dog whistles. Does anyone really think that Bush’s Willie Horton ad was about furlough programs? Clearly, Trump is too smart to go after African Americans, but he is doing the same thing about more acceptable targets of hate.
So I don’t see Trump causing any harm to the Republican Party. If any harm is done, it will be by the Republican “establishment” and its desire to destroy Trump, even though he is in no way an outlier in the party. The truth is that I don’t see what the big deal is about Trump. If he weren’t running for president, the remaining candidates would still have been all over Planned Parenthood and voodoo economics. The problem isn’t Trump but the party itself. Sure Trump demagogues the Tea Party. But so do the other candidates.