By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index
A funny thing happened on the way to the 2020 election (actually a LOT of funny things happened, but I’ll leave that to the historians and water-cooler conversations of the future to sort out).
If you happened to notice your August voter’s pamphlet for the primary leading up to the full-scale election in November, you may have picked up on a subtle, but immensely revealing point – how Republicans defined themselves.
These are conflicted, hazardous and confusing times for all of us. Defining ourselves politically, when our intention is to attract voters and supporters without offending or alienating potential or undecided supporters can be a tricky business.
Every word, every nuance, every action is analyzed, dissected and interpreted, re-interpreted and misinterpreted into “red-meat” for an audience that only seems to want to be “energized”.
Republicans in the primary chose to define themselves in one of two ways; as either a “pre-2016 Republican” or as a “Trump Republican”.
That was the distinction virtually every GOP candidate made.
So what is that difference?
Here are the basics that virtually every Republican, for generations, have upheld, and what is a fair summary of what a “pre-2016 Republican” looks like:
• Freedom: The original and most foundational GOP value. The Party and its leaders have stood for, and advocated for, freedom for people all over the world, which has almost always extended to welcoming them to America. The GOP traditionally has believed that individuals should be free as possible from government interference in our individual or family lives.
• Limited government: The GOP traditionally has stood for limitations on what the government can and should do. Government should not try to do everything or replace individual initiative to do for ourselves. It should leave most decisions on personal matters, like how we live, reproduce, love and worship, to individuals without government interference.
• Government close to the people: Republicans traditionally have believed that if government has to do things, it should do them at the level closest to the people being governed, so those people will have maximum input and the ability to try different approaches, either at the local or state level.
• Strong national defense: The GOP has stood for strong defense and preparedness. It also has stood for cautious use of that power. Strong defense does not mean wasting money on weapons systems which provide jobs in some powerful congressman or senator’s district, but intelligent investment that provides a military which can deter others from dangerous actions.
• Quality public education: Most people forget that public education was a Republican idea in the 1800s, to provide a common understanding for citizens of all backgrounds, so they would have common values and preparation to be good citizens. Regardless of class or wealth, this is a system to bind us together and not split us apart.
• Limited taxes and balanced budgets: Traditionally, Republicans have believed that taxes must be sufficient to pay for the things we together decide to do. This means balanced budgets, reduced national debt and prudent fiscal policies.
• Conserving the environment: President Theodore Roosevelt was among the original environmentalists, and Republicans supported conserving the environment as good business and good policy. It was President Nixon, after all, who authorized the EPA and over saw the first Earth Day on 1970.
• Encouraging capitalism: Republicans traditionally have believed in policies and programs that encourage capitalism as the best method to create wealth, a higher standard of living, competition and individual and group success. They also have believed in sensible limits that keep capitalism fair and controlled. The original anti-trust acts were enforced by Republicans like Teddy Roosevelt to create more, not less, capitalistic activity. Minimizing governmental regulations controls have encouraged responsible business activity and a strong economy. Support of capitalism also has traditionally included support for maximum global free trade – as few tariffs and restrictions as possible.
• Realistic foreign policy based on American leadership: Republicans traditionally have believed in facing the facts as they are and leading in the world because a belief in freedom and justice deserved respect based on how we acted. This has included proper alliances, forging common ground and moral, principled leadership.
• Stable and productive immigration policies: Republicans traditionally have supported immigration policies which worked to the advantage of Americans and the American economy. For decades the United States gained from a global “brain drain” where the best educated and most productive citizens of other countries saw their best opportunities within our borders.
• Modeling their values in their own lives: It’s not a punchline to a joke. There was a time when Republicans supported marriage, and stayed married. Supported federal budget restraints while practicing frugality at home. Expected honesty and good work, and gave it.
These principles served the GOP well, and if embraced by candidates today, would certainly get the support they desire from younger generations.
But, for some reason that will baffle political scientists for years, they left those core assumptions far behind.
The second category, as highlighted in the voter’s pamphlet, was a “Trump Republican”.
As any of us should know, since Mr. Trump has been in our cultural headlights for decades, he has held a variety of political affiliations from Democratic (until 1987, and again from 2001-2009) to Reform Party (1999-2001) to Republican (1987-1999, 2009-2011, and then finally 2012 – present) with a brief flirtation as an Independent (2011-2012).
Besides actually being a Democrat, Mr. Trump supported (before he opposed) Hillary Clinton –https://time.com/3962799/donald-trump-hillary-clinton/.
Mr. Trump (who once described himself as “The king of debt”), with his emphasis on tariffs, withdrawal from international bodies (from NATO to the UN) and cavalier attitude toward national debt, among many other things, from threats to Social Security, the US Postal Service and our national parks, would, in a normal world of Republican/Democratic polarities, be anathema to both parties.
A “Trump Republican” then, is someone who ties their political identity and destiny, to Mr. Trump instead of any prevailing political philosophy.
Wherever that takes them, only time will tell.
Mr. Trump’s political allegiances have been about as firm as a cell-phone contract. For a comprehensive – if not overwhelming – historical analysis of Mr. Trump in the context of political philosophy from Lincoln to Aristotle, look here https://lawliberty.org/donald-trump-and-the-political-philosophers/.
But the bottom line is very simple, Mr. Trump appeals to his base in an almost magnetic sense – they (for the most part) love his tweets, his insults and his rants against “the deep state”.
Most people I know who support Mr. Trump do so, not because of any grand belief system, or even any set political program, but because he embodies – and advocates – their deepest impulses.
Where Mr. Trump prevails, is in what is called the “enthusiasm gap”. Mr. Trump is a lightning rod, a litmus test, and for better or worse, a bellwether for who our nation is and where we are going.
Any other candidate, or even issue, pales in comparison to the spectacle that Mr. Trump offers.
Whether our fascination continues or sours will be the pivot on which our national destiny proceeds.
Much more than the career of local politicians is at stake.