Oh, David Frum. He’s the slightly smarter stupid conservative’s idea of what a smart guy is. Last week, The Atlantic paid him way more than he’s worth to write, The Great Republican Revolt. You see, Frum has noticed that there is a divide in the Republican Party. The fact that this was apparent back in 1976 when Ronald Reagan first ran for president or even earlier when Barry Goldwater lost the presidency in catastrophic fashion back in 1964, doesn’t much seem to matter. The Republican base is crazy for Donald Trump and so this is supposed to be something new.
David Frum’s overall narrative is basically correct, however. There is the business side of the Republican Party. All it cares about is tax cuts for the rich and deregulation, because they don’t have to worry about being poisoned by lead. And then there are the fools that we call the Republican base. These are mostly quasi-religious people who don’t think much of the darkies and think that all their problems (which are very real) are due to those poor undeserving people. And it has been a testament to the brilliance of the Republican Party establishment that they’ve been able to get the base to vote for them year after year even as the party makes their lives worse and worse.
But what happens if Donald Trump becomes the Republican nominee or even the president? Contrary to Frum, nothing much is going to change. For a brief period of time, I too thought that Donald Trump might be something different — a real populist. But then he came out with his tax “reform” plan and it was even worse than the establishment plans. It is just huge tax cuts for the wealthy, and a few crumbs for the rest. So he’s not going to cut Social Security (or at least that’s what he says). The truth is, none of the others would be able to get that done. So who cares? Certainly not the Republican elite.
Donald Trump is not an outlier. He’s pushing the same old giveaways to the rich and getting the base to vote for him by any means necessary. In his case, it is through racism. Gee, I wonder where I’ve seen that used before? I think it was every other Republican candidate in my lifetime. It’s just that Donald Trump is more explicit about that. This doesn’t make Donald Trump “Republican Outsider V 1.0” or even “Republican Establishment Candidate V 2.0”; it makes him “Republican Establishment Candidate V 1.01.”
So if Trump gets the nomination, the Republican establishment will line up right behind him. As far as I can tell, they already have. It is just that he makes their other extremist candidates look moderate because they don’t talk about Mexicans being rapists (except for a few who he assumes are nice people). But David Frum — like a typical clueless insider — can’t see this. He thinks that the Republican establishment has four options:
- Double Down
- Maybe the problem isn’t the message of tax breaks for the rich and cheap immigrant labor; maybe it’s just that Jeb Bush sucks as a candidate. But if that’s true, so does Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, John Kasich, Carly Fiorina, Bobby Jindel, oh hell, all of them. But Frum is right about this, “The ‘change nothing but immigration’ advice was a self-flattering fantasy from the start.” I’ve been making that argument longer than Frum has.
- Tactical Concession
- Here Frum really goes off the rails. He claims that the GOP establishment could just go on with business as usual, but become anti-immigrant. I don’t know where Frum has been for the past four years, but this is what the Republican establishment believes in. They might think it was okay to try to win a couple of Latino votes, but they’ve never thought it was important enough to fight for. This is the position that every Republican candidate is pursuing — and that includes Jeb Bush.
- True Reform
- This one is a hoot! David Frum claims “party elites could try to open more ideological space for the economic interests of the middle class.” Oh yeah! And then they would be — Oh, what do they call it? — the Democratic Party. If the party did this, the Republican donor class would have no reason to support it. In fact, given the donor class tends to be socially liberal, they would just shift to the Democratic Party. There is no point for the Republican Party to become economically populist.
- Change the Rules of the Game
- Here, Frum suggests that the Republican Party is highly successful with its use of gerrymandering, filibustering, and voter disenfranchisement. It doesn’t need to win the presidency. Fair enough.
The big problem with David Frum’s article is that he thinks that Donald Trump is something new in the Republican Party. There is nothing new about him. He’s just a different paint job on the same old clunker. So we don’t see the Republican Party at a crossroads. We just see the party continuing its decades long slip out of the mainstream, ever more dependent upon angry white people willing to vote for the very people who make their lives hard.