Politics & Policy

Some GOP Meltdown

The party hasn't looked this good in ages.

I left the Republican party a long time ago for a number of reasons, one of which is that I didn’t want to be part of any organization that had Arlen Specter as a member. The man this magazine famously named “America’s worst senator” eventually bailed and hooked up with Team Jackass, but I didn’t see any real reason to come back. Still, for all the angst regarding the presidential primary and the endless largely phony us-and-them theater of base vs. establishment, I cannot remember a time since the Alex P. Keaton years when the Republican party has seemed to me so attractive.

As you may have heard, earlier this month I was a guest of the William F. Buckley Jr. program at Yale, which was the focus of some truly boneheaded protests. That was silly, and I felt a little embarrassed for the Yale kids. But at the dinner afterward, I felt a little envious of my Republican friends, especially those in Nebraska, when Senator Ben Sasse gave his talk. A very smart young man at my table — a young man not given to political crushes — said that he’d never heard a politician give a speech like that, and he was right: Senator Sasse is in possession of a living mind open to original thought, and he has spent part of his first year in the Senate thinking seriously about what the Senate really is, what it does, and what it should do. That sounds like the sort of thing that everybody in Washington ought to be doing, and maybe it is, but there isn’t to my knowledge anybody in elected office doing it with the intelligence and rigor that Senator Sasse applies to his job. My young friend seemed ready to quit his job and go to work for Senator Sasse; I didn’t blame him.

I didn’t think John Boehner was a terrible speaker of the House, given his fractious caucus and the fact that the entire legislative branch is being diminished by an out-of-control executive branch and an imperial presidency, Barack Obama being the most recent and worst exemplar of the phenomenon but not the only one. Now Republicans have Paul Ryan, who has the brain power and the intellectual focus that Newt Gingrich once brought to the job without the grandiosity or the indiscipline. Of course people have their bones to pick with Paul Ryan — he is a legislator, not a talk-radio host, and, as such, he has to work in the real world rather than flatter the prejudices of angry men stewing in traffic jams. Is there really somebody we’d rather have as speaker of the House? (Who actually could be, you know, speaker of the House?) Conservatives love to bitch and moan, but Speaker Ryan is something close to our best-case scenario.

#share#What about the presidential field? Trump is a buffoon who is trading mainly on his celebrity (and, not incidentally, on elected Republicans’ failure to deal seriously with the issue of immigration), and Ben Carson is a very admirable man who has no particular reason to be president of these United States. What about the rest of them? Senator Rubio has made some missteps on immigration, Senator Paul’s libertarian foreign policy might not be to your liking, Carly Fiorina has never held political office, Jeb Bush is Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz is sometimes soppy stern and schoolmarmish,  Mike Huckabee has some batty ideas about trade and economic policy, Chris Christie is bad on the Second Amendment, etc. That’s all absolutely true.

And though conservatives’ internal debates sometimes get a little silly and theatrical, practically the entirety of the meaningful political discourse in our country is taking place on and among the Right.

It’s also true that if Marco Rubio had been a senator during the Reagan years, he’d have been one of the most conservative senators, way over there on the right with Jesse Helms — while being a considerably sunnier and more Reaganesque figure than Jesse Helms was. Senator Cruz isn’t the “Morning in America” guy — he’s more like Reagan in his “I am paying for this microphone!” mode — but he is one of the smartest and most accomplished men to get close to the nomination in a while. The military contractors wouldn’t love Senator Paul, but who really thinks that a nice big dose of libertarianism would be a terrible thing on balance for these United States after the past decade or two? What conservative doesn’t relish the thought of sly Carly Fiorina taking Hillary Rodham Clinton apart like a high-school biology-lab frog on the debate stage? What governor representing a 50-50 state could sneer at Jeb Bush’s record in Florida? What governor in an insane Democratic state could sneer at Chris Christie’s?

And though conservatives’ internal debates sometimes get a little silly and theatrical, practically the entirety of the meaningful political discourse in our country is taking place on and among the Right. Our argument is Mark Levin and George Will and Reihan Salam; the Left’s debate is Franz the Eternally Wounded Transgender Activist at Amherst vs. Caitlyn the Eternally Wounded Women’s Studies Major at Yale on the subject of which malevolent pronouns turn literary criticism into rape. Take a little time some afternoon and read an issue of National Review cover to cover and then do the same thing with The New Republic. Listen to Justin Amash talk for five minutes and compare him with Bernie Sanders. And if Amash isn’t your thing, check out Cole, Martinez, Abbott, LePage, the ladies and gentlemen of the 38 state legislatures under full (30) or partial (8) Republican control, or one of those 32 Republican governors. The Republicans aren’t having a meltdown — they’re suffering from an embarrassment of riches. White Protestants? Yes, pretty much all the white Protestants. But what about: black Mormon women from Utah? Right here. Millennial women from New York? Meet the youngest member of Congress. Gay California tech titans? Team Cruz.

On the other side, what? The Teamsters?

Call me crazy, but the Republicans look pretty good, if you bother looking. 

— Kevin D. Williamson is roving correspondent for National Review.

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