Midterms represent big defeat for GOP

November’s midterm elections represented a big defeat for the Republican party. Almost 40 seats lost in the House of Representatives and although they gained in the Senate, they only had to defend nine seats to 24 for the Democrats. In those states, they did take, they resorted to tactics not seen since the days of segregation in the south. Moreover, so called “moderate” Republicans lost in greater numbers than their conservative counterparts. All in all, the GOP appeared healthier than they really are.

Particularly, the moderates whose cowardice exposed them to the dislike of Democrats and the contempt of Tea Party Republicans. Jeff Flake, at the end of his pathetic career, made himself a joke by mumbling about opposing Donald Trump while all the while voting for his initiatives. His fellow partner in incoherence Susan Collins also left observers mystified by her misgivings about Trump all the while doing his bidding. Toward the end of the campaign, even Charles Grassley began to sound more and more like Steve King, the immigrant baiter from Iowa. Criticize conservatives all you like, but at least they know what they are about.

Take George H.W. Bush as an example. Before 1988 he was regarded as an empty suit who believed in little but his ambition. So when he ran he used Lee Atwater’s law tactics emphasizing emotional issues — flag, guns and Willie Horton. As a precedent, he governed as a “moderate” Republican, but it still fails to excuse that he ran a shameful campaign. His own son, George W., saw no moral problem with swiftboating John Kerry in 2004. Remember Jerome Corsi, now under fire for helping Trump, was the architect of the tactics against Kerry. It did not begin with the current president.

Contrast the Bushes with Ronald Reagan, who always ran clean campaigns. Reagan had a conservative message which was clear and concise. He fought openly and laid out his basic philosophy without apologies. Over time, he was able to head to the middle, but within the framework of his philosophy. Moreover, he rarely appealed to emotion and tried to expand his support. Unlike Trump he refused to be locked it to a “base.” Reagan grew in his understanding of the United States — something Trump has not done.

Indeed, Trump behaves more like the “moderates” than he does the conservatives. Being an instinctive politician, he is more a mouthpiece than a tribune of an idea. So being unmoored to any particular philosophy, he moves from issue to issue without thinking about its larger implications. Trump attacks immigrants, uses code words and impugnes the integrity of opponents. Indeed, despite the histrionics, he campaigns more like a Bush than a Reagan. Philosophically, he is a void, eager to do anything to win. No wonder he won over Lindsay Graham’s, Collins’ and Grassley’s — he uses their playbook.

There is a warning for Democrats in all this reshifting. During the campaign, many commentators suggested that they would be better off to imitate John McCain and the Bushes. Nothing could be worse than to travel down that road. McCain played an emotional game, “bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, Iran” –remember that one? McCain, like Graham, made national security their touchstone — narrowly defined. They were old Wilsonians who mourned human rights violations in every other country but their own. McCain, in 2004, left his old ally Kerry in the lurch during the Corsi smears. Unlike Reagan, they had nothing but a reaction to the day-to-day news cycle.