Lost in the constant back and forth between President Donald Trump and his critics are the profound changes brought to the Republican party. From being a fringe figure, Trump has emerged without question as the leader of the GOP. Candidates endorsed by the president roll to victory in primary after primary. The latest victim is Tim Pawlenty, a model conservative before Trump, who apparently failed to satisfy Minnesota Republicans.
Perhaps the old critics of RINOs — Republicans In Name Only — were onto something. After Barack Obama won in 2008, the GOP returned to old beliefs that dated even before World War II. F.A. Hayek’s “Road to Serfdom,” published in 1944, extolled the virtues of untrammeled free trade capitalism. When Obama took over, the Tea Party celebrated the orthodoxy of balanced budgets –as espoused by Professor Hayek. Ayn Rand and Robert Welch in the beyond were most assuredly celebrating this libertarian turn of events.
Now fast forward to Trump who has extolled tariffs and big government intervention in favor of soybean farmers that were sacrificing their profits in the inevitable retaliations from China. Moreover, Trump’s continuing resolutions that increase spending go through. Democratic leaders curse him all the way to the bank. Republicans, essentially adrift, have no choice but to accede to the president’s request.
Trump’s muscular nationalism is not easy to define in America’s political lexicon. It is not liberal, it is not conservative. It is one of a kind. For Trump, the key decade was the 1980s, when the acceleration toward free trade, in his view, eroded America’s industrial strength. Enter NAFTA in 1995 and the victory of free trade was considered final. Remember H. Ross Perot’s giant “sucking sound” of American dollars leaving the United States? Indeed, before Bill Clinton, many Democrats saw the necessity of tariffs.
So did some Republicans, but George W. Bush committed the party to free trade. Clinton and Obama heartily applauded the new world order. Now Trump has revisited the issue and has been roundly criticized by GOP free traders, most notably Ben Sasse. Democrats have said little and in some states, such as Ohio, the party has jumped in to support the pro-tariffs position.
But Trump has nothing to fear from his GOP critics. Lindsay Graham is the perfect anti-Trumper who has been easily converted by golf matches and twaddle. For Trump it is relatively easy because deep down the GOP was thin stew — big on tactics, not as much on strategy. Under Paul Ryan they were all hat and no cattle.
It is a grand achievement which could be duplicated against the Democratic party. At present, the party is hitting Russia and placing a lot of faith on Robert Mueller’s investigation. Suddenly Democrats, who should know better, hang on the utterances of the guardians of national security as if they are infallible. Do you remember “weapons of mass destruction?” Democrats should be cautious at allying to closely to the National Security clique.