I stirred up some controversy last week when I told a conference of several dozen House Republicans that the GOP is now officially a Trump working-class party. For better or worse, I said at the gathering inside the Capitol dome, the baton has now officially been passed from the Reagan era to the new Trump era. The members didn’t quite faint over my apostasy, but the shock was palpable.
I emphasized that Republicans must prioritize delivering jobs and economic development to the regions of the country in the industrial Midwest — states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Missouri. These are places that, for the most part, never felt the meager Obama recovery and where blue-collar Reagan Democrats took a leap of faith this election and came back to the Republican party for the first time since 1984. The GOP will be judged in 2018 and in 2020 on whether they deliver results for this part of the country and for the forgotten middle-class men and women (“the deplorables”) whom Democrats abandoned economically and culturally. This is all simply a political truism.
What roused the ire of some of my conservative friends was my statement that “just as Reagan converted the GOP into a conservative party, with his victory this year, Trump has converted the GOP into a populist, America First party.”
One friend lamented that I must have been drunk when I said this.
No. I meant exactly what I said, but I will clarify.
First, let me lay to rest the idea that this was a backhanded slam against Reagan’s legacy. Hardly. I worked for the Gipper. He rebuilt the American economy and caused a quarter-century-long boom in wealth creation and prosperity nearly unrivaled in American history. He won the Cold War and vanquished the Evil Empire of the Soviet Union. He belongs on Mount Rushmore.
But this is 2016 not 1986. The world is a different place. The concerns and priorities of the American people are different today from what they were 30 years ago. The voters spoke with a thunderclap. Trump squashed his 16 GOP rivals — a group that was touted as the most talented field of contenders in modern history — as if they were bugs crashing into his windshield. Republican voters opted for his new breed of economic populism. Republicans who were Never Trumpers and who insisted with absolute certainly that Trump could never win the primary, let alone the general election, can pretend that a political sonic boom didn’t happen.
Guess what? It did. A realignment occurred while all the high-falutin’ intellectuals and political consultants were napping.
There is great collective wisdom in the decisions made by the American voters. It’s not often wise to second-guess them; it’s better to listen to what they are saying.
So yes, this means we have awoken to a new party that will be a lot tougher on illegal immigration. A lot more skeptical of lopsided trade deals. A lot warier of foreign entanglements. More prone to spend money on infrastructure. I don’t approve of all of these shifts, but they are what the voters voted for. Trump was hardly ambiguous about what he intended to do. Trade and immigration are in my view unambiguously good for the country — but new policies on these issues will have to be done in ways that are supported by the American people, not shoved down their throats by the elites. In this regard, I am a populist. The elites in both parties have not understood Trumpism and have often been contemptuous of the intellect and lifestyle of the Trump loyalists.
Conservatives should go back and read Jude Wanniski’s classic, The Way the World Works. Wanniski reminds us over and over again of the lesson of history that there is great collective wisdom in the decisions made by the American voters. It’s not often wise to second-guess them; it’s better to listen to what they are saying.
A lot of good things come with the Trump package: probably three conservative justices on the Supreme Court, the biggest tax cut and assault against regulatory overreach since the Reagan era, spending cuts, Obamacare repeal, enterprise zones for inner cities, vouchers for kids in failing schools, and so on. But it’s a package deal, folks. If you want purity, vote for Ron Paul for president again and see where that gets you.
#related#I have always tried not to oversell Donald Trump to voters because I’ve been so bitterly disappointed by politicians time and again. You never know how it will turn out, and it’s folly to render a verdict on a President-elect Trump who hasn’t yet notched a single policy victory on his belt. Maybe I’m guilty of jumping the gun.
But it is a new Republican party and a new political and policy era has begun. What Donald Trump achieved on Election Night was to topple the legacies of one sitting president and two dynasties all at once: the Clintons, the Bushes, and President Obama. They were the troika of big losers in 2016. Trump didn’t topple the Reagan legacy of growth, optimism, and peace through strength. If the Age of Trump is to be a success, he will build on and modernize that legacy.