Why you should care
Because it’s time to read the tea leaves.
First in a series of six essays on just what a Trump presidency will mean for America, by the founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform.
Is Donald Trump a Republican?
Only a few years ago, he identified as a Democrat. He contributed to Democratic candidates. He donated heavily to the Clinton Foundation. Bill and Hillary Clinton attended his daughter’s wedding.
When first asked during the GOP primaries, he was the only one of the 17 candidates who refused to commit to supporting the party nominee. Later in the campaign, Trump encouraged a challenger to House Speaker Paul Ryan and suggested previous Republican presidential candidates were losers (Mitt Romney) or not war heroes (former POW John McCain).
But Trump won the Republican nomination in Cleveland on July 19, 2016, and the presidency in November. So he is the titular leader of the GOP.
The question then becomes: Was his a hostile takeover of the party? In the business world, new management not only tends to toss out old management but also changes the entire theory of the acquired company. The once-failing firm will now succeed and make us all very rich by doing things … very differently. Perhaps this is like George McGovern taking over the party of LBJ, or Reagan radicalizing the party of Nixon and Ford.
Of course, it’s too ambitious to predict the next four or eight years on the eve of Trump’s inauguration as the 45th president of the United States. But we do have some early signs of how Trump and the GOP will cohabit — and they suggest, above all, that Trump intends to govern as a Reagan Republican.
Trump can sometimes hide behind the ambiguity in 140-character fiats, but he has been quite clear in several areas.
Tax cuts. He wants huge permanent tax cuts for individuals, small businesses and corporations.
Energy. Trump likes energy of the nonrenewable sort. He likes poking holes in the ground and pulling up coal and oil and gas. He ran against Obama’s “War on Coal.”
Abortion. Trump ran as the most clear-spoken pro-life candidate, ever. His description of partial-birth abortion in the final presidential debate signaled to pro-life voters that he was not paying lip service to an issue that over the years has divided not only the nation, but the Republican party.
Guns. Trump concealed-carries. His kids hunt. He was endorsed early and enthusiastically by the NRA, which invested heavily in turning out gun owners in the states key to his Electoral College win. No Republican candidate has been as forceful and clear in his defense of the Second Amendment as Trump. That includes Reagan.
This policy list is a checklist for a Reagan Republican. And if Trump is sticking with the GOP on the hard issues, why would one assume he would demand a third way on the easy ones?
To be sure, Trump did highlight three significant departures from recent GOP orthodoxy: free trade, immigration and the Iraq War and occupation. Interestingly, all the other Republican presidential candidates said they agreed with Trump that invading, staying and occupying Iraq was a mistake that hurt America. Even Jeb Bush. Here, Trump changed the Republican party.
We have yet to see how the Republican House and Senate will work with Trump on new trade deals, revisiting NAFTA and his first challenge: a free-trade agreement with Britain in the wake of Brexit. Similarly, immigration issues — the wall, H1B visas, guest worker programs and threats of deportation — will also test Republican unity and Trump’s leadership.
in a project as large as the United States government, personnel determines a great deal of policy. Those chosen to lead the FDA or FCC or the Pentagon get a great deal of running room. It is embarrassing to have to fire someone after you spend time, effort and political capital getting them through a Senate confirmation. Appointees know that.
While many will have Trump’s ear, his first big personnel decision was his vice president, Gov. Mike Pence — so solid a Reagan Republican that he might have come from central casting. His second big pick was his chief of staff, Reince Priebus — the chairman of the Republican Party and a down-the-line Reagan/Ryan/Kemp party-builder loyalist. Not your pick as a wartime consigliere if you planned a break with the GOP, let alone a siege or blitzkrieg against it.
Trump provided voters a list of his potential Supreme Court appointees during the campaign. The list could have been written by the conservative/libertarian Federalist Society. (Some think it was.) This nomination will be a unifying movement for Trump Republican Senators and the entire center-right coalition from the business community, the NRA and traditional conservatives.
The Trump White House and Cabinet are being deeply peopled by solid Reagan Republicans. While there will be moments and issues that divide Trump and the GOP Congress, this is true of all administrations. The White House and Congress are different entities that are elected in different years. They represent different collections of voters and bring different life experiences to each issue.
Two final thoughts
There is no Trump wing of the modern GOP. There was a Rockefeller wing of the GOP. A Goldwater wing. Few if any congressmen or senators believe they were elected because Trump was the nominee. Senate Republican candidates outperformed Trump in 23 of 32 races. Trump ran better than Republican Senate candidates only in four states: Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky and Missouri.
There is zero chance he’ll make nice with Democrats. Early on, during the contentious Republican primary, some suggested that Trump might govern with the Democratic Party against the Republicans, at least on some (unspecified) issues. Sen. Chuck Schumer reduced that possibility to zero when he announced that no Democrat would support any of Trump’s Supreme Court nominees.
Then came the dozens of Congressional Democrats announcing they’d boycott Trump’s inauguration, The New York Times’ editorial page, Meryl Streep’s Golden Globes speech, the cast of Hamilton’s address to Pence, Alex Baldwin on Saturday Night Live, CNN, the women’s march … the list goes on. All of those insults and indignities have erected a protective wall around Trump and the GOP, holding them — for now — in a strong embrace.