The easy rejoinder to Romney is to say he’s accurate but his timing is too late to matter. Indeed, as Trump’s march to the Republican nomination proceeds, this is fast becoming the conventional wisdom among GOP activists, whether they are part of the #NeverTrump crew or are coming to terms with having the guy at the top of their ticket. As longtime Republican consultant, no in-the-tank Trump loyalist Alex Castellanos recently wrote
Donald Trump whipped the establishment and it is too late for the limp GOP establishment to ask their mommy to step in and rewrite the rules because they were humiliated for their impotence.
If Trump is going to be our nominee, as I believe he is, it is our mission to support Trump and make him the best nominee and president possible.
What both sides—conservatives who say they will NEVER vote for Trump under any circumstances and conservatives who will grudgingly fall in line—misunderstand is that Trump isn’t a fraud perpetrated on the Republican Party, nor on the throngs of Republican primary voters who have propelled him to victory all over the place.
Put simply, Trump is the distillation of conservative Republican politics for all of the 21st century. He’s not the cause of a GOP implosion, but the final effect of an intellectual and political hollowing-out of any semblance of commitment to limited government, individual rights, and free markets. He is what happens when you fail to live up to your rhetoric and aspirations again and again.
Yes, as Romney stated, The Donald has shifted positions on all sorts of issues over the years (immigration, outsourcing, abortion, whatever). As if that isn’t a clearer indictment of the Republican Party when it ran both houses of Congress and the White House in the early part of this century. Winning the most-contested election in the history of the United States, George W. Bush campaigned on reducing the size, scope, and spending of government—and then proceeded to kick out the jams on constraints on government outlays.
Leave aside massive increases in defense spending and the scope of foreign policy ambitions for the moment (we’ll get to them). With help of “conservative” and “establishment” legislators (it’s far from clear what either of these terms really means, except to the GOP Mensheviks and Bolsheviks tossing them at each other like Molotov Cocktails), the Republicans pushed No Child Left Behind, the single-biggest expansion of the federal government into education in decades, and the creation of a budget-busting prescription-drug entitlement for seniors. They signed off on Sarbanes-Oxley, a dumb regulatory response to the Enron scandal and bursting of the tech bubble, which helped push IPOs to London and foreign capitals. Bush and the GOP signed off on protectionist measures against foreign steel and timber when it suited them while completely bungling federal responses to natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina.
Then there was the Republican response to the 9/11 attacks. The Republican Congress signed off on The Patriot Act, which vies with Hillary Clinton’s latest memoir for the title of least-read (even by the authors) doorstop of this century. They created not just the demonstrably useless Transportation Security Administration but an entirely new and sclerotic cabinet agency, The Department of Homeland Security (DHS). And now as conservatives and Republicans whine about Donald Trump’s authoritarian desire to “open up the libel laws,” recall what Republican Attorney General John Ashcroft said to anyone who dast dissent from Total Information Awareness:
“Those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty,” he inveighed before Congress, “your tactics only aid terrorists.”
When it came to actually prosecuting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the GOP was anything but fiscally responsible or part of what used to be called the “reality-based community.” Rather, Republicans deliberately funded (still) ongoing activites via “emergency supplemental” spending procedures, so they didn’t really have to fully explain to the public how much loot they were spending. That underhanded process only stopped once Barack Obama took office, in the brief moment when he and the Democrats deigned to actually produce and write budgets. Having succeeded with passing tax cuts, the Republicans—despite constantly bashing the Democrats as big spenders and deficit whores—never bothered to discuss how to pay for massive increases in military spending. Or Medicare spending. Or any other sort of outlay that ballooned under Bush and the Republican Congress. But don’t you see? It’s Obama and the Democrats who are to blame for everything—even when the GOP controls Congress?
Who created TARP and which party’s 2008 candidate suspended his campaign so that he could race back to Washington to bail out the big banks and, eventually Chrysler and GM? On his way out the door (and after a last-ditch $100 million stimulus plan that is largely forgotten to all but the nation’s debtors), George W. Bush actually said, “I’ve abandoned free-market principles to save the free-market system.” Like much of what Donald Trump says today, of course, this is a lie, or at least an exaggeration, to the extent it pretends that George W. Bush, whose greatest business deal involved family connections and eminent domain, ever embodied free-market principles.
But what’s past is past, right? And today’s conservatives all hated Bush and the GOP Congress, right, even if they did endorse them George W. and company (except when he tried to privatize Social Security or, even worse, pass immigration reform).
In 2008 and 2012, the Republican Party ran such paragons of principle and consistency as John McCain and Mitt Romney for president. What was notable about McCain, besides his reflexive war-mongering, was that he ultimately flipped from being actually kind of open-bordersy to cutting TV commercials demanding that we “complete the danged fence.” As for Romney, who now sits in smug judgement of Donald Trump, he was that GOP guy who “evolved” on abortion and gay rights (even though Republicans don’t believe in evolution) and, oh yeah, created the program that became the model for Obamacare.
But let’s not just look at the top of Republican tickets to see the ideological rot and hypocrisy that hollowed out the conservative Republican “brand” like a wet log teeming with termites. At least since Barry Goldwater and certainly since Ronald Reagan’s success, the GOP has always billed itself as the party not just of “limited” government but of small government—or at least smaller government than whatever the Democrats were yapping about. What was it that St. Reagan used to say? “Government isn’t the solution, it’s the problem.”