I respect Bill Kristol, Sen. Jeff Flake, and every other conservative who takes a principled anti-Trump stand. I don’t much respect Sen. Bob Corker who supported candidate Trump and reportedly wanted to be his Secretary of State, only later to “discover” what most of us knew all along– Donald Trump is a bad guy.
I don’t disagree with many of the criticisms leveled at President Trump by Kristol, Flake, and others. I part company with them because they seem to overlook or undervalue the fact that the Trump administration is reliably conservative so far; that Trump has put the dangerous left back on its heels; and that Trump rarely acts in accordance with his those of his utterances that are outrageous. I think they also overlook or fail to understand how much worse a Hillary Clinton presidency would have been.
In addition, I think the editors of the Weekly Standard, the magazine Kristol founded and until recently served as editor-in-chief, get it wrong when they claim that the Republican Party has “surrendered” to Trump. The editors don’t point to a single position congressional Republicans have given up in deference to the president.
It seems to be me that a surrender or a “hostile takeover,” as the editors also put it, entails giving significant ground on policy. I see little evidence that Republicans have done so.
The editors are unhappy that “a day after Trump addressed the Heritage Foundation, the think tank’s president, Ed Feulner, “waxed rhapsodic in a pitch to donors.” Feulner told them:
This morning I woke up still in awe of what I heard last night. As you know, President Trump addressed a group of Heritage members. He confirmed, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he is on our side.
“Awe” is overdoing it, even in a pitch to donors. But based on the evidence so far, Feulner is right that Trump is on the side of conservatism. The editors make no argument to the contrary.
Throughout their piece, the editors mention Steve Bannon. But Bannon lost his place in the White House. The main people now advising Trump are folks who, as Victor Davis Hanson says, could work in a Marco Rubio administration
The editors complain that Republicans who dissent from the Party’s alleged new direction risk a Bannon-backed primary challenge. That’s true. But based on the evidence so far, they don’t risk a Trump-backed challenge for taking the substantive positions they typically take. That risk arises only if they lash out Trump, and it’s not even clear that Trump would actively back a challenge in that event.
In any case, a Republican president’s unwillingness to support the reelection of a Republican Senator who attacks him isn’t evidence that the Party has experienced a hostile takeover.
The editors say that Senate Republicans “are accommodating their new masters before serious challengers are even on the horizon.” As noted, however, they don’t tell us what significant policy accommodations they are talking about. Do they detect major accommodations on key issues like Obamacare replacement, tax reform, or immigration policy? So far, I don’t.
It would be more accurate to say that Trump is trying to mediate between his base and traditional Republicans than to say that Trump has demanded and received a surrender from the latter group. Trump tried to sell Luther Strange to the Alabama base. It didn’t go well, but Trump then said he would try to dissuade Bannon from going after several other Republican members. That’s mediation, not a demand for the surrender of Senate Republicans.
Although there has been no surrender or hostile takeover, it’s obvious that Trump influences the Republican Party and that, if things go his way, the Party will evolve. It could not be otherwise. This is part of the reward one gets for becoming president in a democracy.
Bill Clinton took the Democratic Party towards the center, where it didn’t want to go. He got away with it because he remained fairly popular with the electorate.
George W. Bush took the Republican Party in the direction of compassionate conservatism, where it didn’t want to go. It didn’t stay there because he became unpopular with the electorate.
Barack Obama took the Democratic Party to the left. It continues to move leftward because that’s where it wants to go.
Donald Trump will move the Republican Party in some areas — e.g., trade and perhaps certain foreign policy issues. Republicans and conservatives will probably be divided over the particulars. Whether the move sticks will depend on whether Trump wins reelection and, if he does, how popular he remains thereafter.
Either way, influencing the GOP’s direction is not the same thing as a hostile takeover. Nor would some willingness to be influenced constitute surrender.