Politics & Policy

Donald Trump and the Republican Party’s ‘Mad as Hell’ Moment

(Photo Illustration: NRO; Image: Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty)

For a 78-year-old elder statesman, John McCain seems at times not to have advanced beyond the second grade. Two years ago, McCain labeled Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Justin Amash “wacko birds” for their aggressive opposition to CIA director John Brennan, then in the nomination process. Senate decorum has slackened in recent years, but surely name-calling is still to be reserved for members of the opposite party.

Now the “crazies” are the approximately 5,000 people who showed up to hear Donald Trump speak about illegal immigration and border security. It’s that comment from McCain that prompted Donald Trump to suggest, at this weekend’s Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa, that the Vietnam POW-turned–​Arizona senator is considered a war hero “because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

Trump’s comment — outrageous, classless, wrong — is getting all the attention (the way The Donald likes it, of course), but spare a moment for Senator McCain, who is, not for the first time, marvelously wrong, too.

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Writing in Politico magazine, Keith Koffler, curator of White House Dossier, has his finger on the pulse of the Trump Bump:

I am here to tell you that despite what you’ve read in the media, even some outposts of the conservative media, these Trump acolytes in general are not racist against Latinos and they have not been seized by madness.

They are, however, angry. Very angry. And many are agonizingly fearful about the future of the nation. They believe that vast changes to the country are being wrought in ways that are undemocratic, dishonest, and perhaps even illegal.

Trump, who seems perpetually angry, is an expression of the angst of conservatives who believe the United States has gotten so deep into a mess that a little extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. What they adore about Trump is that he is a pugilist who has emerged at a time when someone needs to start throwing punches.

Senator McCain’s penchant for name-calling betrays an obliviousness to this mood manifesting itself within the Republican party — the suggestion that there might just be something to be angry about. It’s not, as Representative Joaquin Castro (D., Texas) suggested on Sunday’s Meet the Press, mere “stereotyping” against immigrants. It’s 12 million people in the country illegally, and an administration that wants to welcome them, then open the border to more. It’s Obamacare and mandates rewritten to convenience the president’s party in midterm elections. It’s terrorism and trigger warnings and Anthony Kennedy and Iran and the IRS. Many conservatives are having their Howard Beale moment: They’re as mad as hell, and they don’t want to sit down and take it anymore.

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You don’t need to be a WHINO to be upset (though certainly Trump has more than a little support from the Right’s conspiracy theorists). WHINOs are only a wrongheaded subset of a larger part of the Republican party that senses, rightly, that government, perhaps more than ever before, regularly acts in its own interests — that government is now often of itself, by itself, for itself. The question is whether anger can be a guide.

#related#To that the answer should be obvious. Trump is the strain of spitting anger in the Republican party at its worst — a whirlwind of a demagoguery and delusion. But recognizing this id suggests that we should be searching for an ego, someone who can bring the passions animating the party after so many years of misrule into accord with conservatism’s wisest policies and highest ideals.

The current crop of Republican candidates has multiple persons potentially up to that task. Scott Walker has displayed a remarkable ability to stay on message — a bold message, more important – on the difficult issue of immigration. Marco Rubio is articulating tax-reform plans that could help lift the country from its financial slough of despondency. Rick Perry, who is breaking the Republican mold on the issue of race, has Trump’s fighter’s impulse tempered by that most helpful of political resources: charm.

Donald Trump is revealing something important about the party. If we’re smart, we’ll recognize that message — and find a winning messenger.


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