I wonder when the Trump backers will realize they’ve been had.
The 2016 GOP campaign has been overwhelmed by Donald Trump’s celebrity persona, by the can’t-take-your-eyes-off-it appearances where he might say or do anything — and “anything” includes expletives, incitements, and assorted idiocies that would have been disqualifying in the bygone times of, oh, five or ten minutes ago. But Trump is not the real story of the campaign. The real story is the Republican base’s rejection of the Republican establishment — i.e., the party leaders, prominent pols, lobbyists, and donors who make up the GOP component of the Washington ruling class.
Alas, if you buy this storyline, you’re apt to miss a couple of things.
The first is that no one else is left. As we focus on the pitched battle between the two remaining candidates, it is easy to overlook that all the insiders’ preferred candidates have been swept aside — unless you count the vanity crusade of John Kasich (which I don’t, except as a subsidiary of the Trump campaign).
So one by one, as the primaries unfolded, the bipartisan moderates faded away — Bush, Graham, Christie, et al. Even Marco Rubio, an immensely talented conservative, was undone by the taint of supporting amnesty for illegal aliens under the banner of “immigration reform,” the signal issue dividing the establishment from the base.
The second thing missing from the “Insurgent v. Insurgent” storyline is: We’re one insurgent short.
Donald Trump is the Washington establishment. The fact that he has not previously held public office does not make him an “outsider.” Hell, Reince Priebus — the head of the Republican National Committee — has never held public office. If the ruling class were just the officeholders, it would be short-lived. The Donald Trumps who pay the freight are the Washington establishment’s lifeblood. They are joined to the officeholders at the hip . . . or hadn’t you noticed Governor Christie shadowing The Donald?
When Trump leans Republican, he leans with the Republicans who play ball with Democrats.
When Trump leans Republican, he leans with the Republicans who play ball with Democrats. It is Democrats, predominantly, who have been lavished with Trump’s material and moral support over the decades. There is plenty of room at the Trump trough, though, for the kind of Republicans that primary voters thought they had deep-sixed.
Take John Boehner, former House speaker, GOP establishment pillar . . . and longtime Trump golf pal.
When last seen, in his Capitol Hill swan song, Boehner was courting Democrats and slamming through a budget that forfeited all Republican leverage against Obama. But with Trump kicking off his California campaign this week, there was Boehner, thrilling the campus Left at Stanford University with snipes at Ted Cruz. The Texas senator is “Lucifer in the flesh,” chortled the former speaker, and “a more miserable son of a bitch” than anyone with whom Boehner had worked in his entire life.
Remember: Boehner spent the last decade working with Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid. Yet, it’s Ted Cruz he can’t abide.
As it happens, Cruz and Boehner barely know each other. They overlapped in Washington for a little over one congressional term, in different chambers. They’ve exchanged few words (none of them cross, apparently) in the few times they’ve spoken, and they’ve never worked together — at least not directly. Cruz, however, is a principled conservative, who fought Obamacare to the bitter end; Boehner brought about the bitter end by pushing to fund Obamacare while pretending to oppose it. That experience is enough for Boehner to spew his bile and count himself as #NeverCruz . . . though he’d gladly vote for Trump, with whom he bragged of being “texting buddies.”
Want to know why Obamacare is fully funded? Why the meager spending caps enacted in 2011 were busted? Why the debt limit was suspended so Washington could zoom past its $18 trillion credit line? Why Obama’s lawless executive order granting de facto amnesty to illegal aliens is proceeding apace? Why Obama is emptying Guantanamo Bay and planning to transfer detainees into the United States? Why the EPA continues to implement Obama’s climate-change agenda despite a Supreme Court stay of its anti-coal regulation? Why no official was impeached and no funding was slashed when the IRS was used as a political weapon against conservative groups? Why the Justice Department has a $27 billion budget that pays for its paralyzing investigations of the nation’s police departments while the attorney general threatens new legal action against climate-change “deniers” and “anti-Muslim” speech?
Thank John Boehner. To fight Obama on these and other progressive priorities would have required exploiting Congress’s constitutional authority, particularly the power of the purse. Boehner and other GOP leaders were given this power because voters believed their promises to fight. Empty promises.
While Boehner was surrendering, Donald Trump was backing him to the hilt: a staggering $100,000 contribution to the Congressional Leadership Fund — Boehner’s super PAC, formed largely to fend off conservative primary challenges against GOP establishment loyalists. It should be easy to remember that number, $100,000. It is the same amount Trump gave to the Clinton Foundation. That’s even more than the $60,000 Trump gave to Kentuckians for Strong Leadership, the super PAC of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (along with a $5,200 contribution to McConnell’s reelection campaign). It was McConnell, of course, who handled the Senate end of the budget surrender that Obama praised for reflecting “our values” — meaning two years of his values, paid in full by the GOP-controlled Congress.
It doesn’t seem to register with Trump voters that he is promising to give legal status to millions of illegal aliens after temporarily deporting them.
Remarkably, Trump has managed to separate himself from the political establishment that he has been underwriting for years by rhetorically attacking Washington’s infatuation with illegal aliens. It’s a feint: Trump is actually laying the groundwork for Washington’s panacea, amnesty.
Understandably furious at GOP leaders, Trump fans swoon to the charlatan promise of a fortress wall that will never be built, much less paid for by Mexico. Meanwhile, it doesn’t seem to register with these voters that Trump is promising to give legal status to millions of illegal aliens after temporarily deporting them.
If we had a responsible media, this would surprise no one. In just the last three years, Trump has tweeted in apparent support of the Gang of Eight immigration bill (the same one that advocacy for which killed Rubio’s campaign) and has urged giving illegal aliens a “path” to legal status — and Trump was willing to grant this “path” under the express but exaggerated assumption that the illegal-alien population was 30 million (it is more likely 11 million, nearly three times less).
Moreover, in 2012, Trump described as “maniacal” and “crazy” a proposal to enforce the immigration laws in a manner that incentivizes illegal aliens to “self-deport.” Yes, only four years ago, the guy who now says he’d round them all up and deport them was complaining that merely pressuring illegal aliens to leave on their own was too “mean-spirited.”
Obviously, it would make no sense, and there is not nearly enough money, to kick 11 million people out of the country just so you can usher them back into the country, duly minted as legal immigrants. So take this to the bank: If Trump were elected president, there would not be the mass deportations his followers crave; he would skip that step and move on to the amnesty they abhor.
Trump is the Washington establishment, the very embodiment of its progressive pieties, cloaked in tough-guy bravado. It is thus an amazing thing to behold: In our “insurgent election,” voters are so incensed at Republican-party leaders that if John Boehner and Mitch McConnell had run for president, they’d have gotten even less support than Chris Christie, who failed to win a single delegate despite $31 million spent on his candidacy. Yet millions of those voters have been taken in by Donald Trump, who funds the establishment they tell us they despise and would press the agenda that has driven them from the GOP.
When will they realize they’ve been had?
(I support Ted Cruz for president.)
— Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior policy fellow at the National Review Institute and a contributing editor at National Review.