By Jordan LaPorta
2016 has been pretty bad for the Grand Old Party. With most projections showing that Trump will lose the White House race to Hillary Clinton, and new analyses showing that he could cost Republicans the Senate, members of the party elite are already examining how they can rebuild after a devastating November.
The conservative establishment believes that it can hit the reset button in a post-Trump landscape and get the candidate it has looked for since Reagan. In the words of movement-darling and Trump nemesis National Review, “after November 9, conservatives will have an incredible opportunity — to rebuild a once grand old political party. Let’s take up that responsibility with the same hope and optimism that made America great.”
But despite all of the optimistic Reaganisms, there is no going back. Trying to undo the movement that Trump started is akin to resealing Pandora’s box. On November 9, 2016, there will be no reset button to hit because the “new” Trump-led GOP is really not new at all.
In other words, the political Rubicon has been crossed, and the conservatism of the Reagan/Goldwater variety has been abandoned on the opposite bank.
Noah Rothman, in an article for Commentary, effectively summed up what Trump did to the GOP this cycle. In essence, the Republican nominee has exposed the Republican base for the right-wing populists that they are.
Donald Trump himself has explicitly rejected conservatism and the support of conservatives, and his most vocal supporters on the right have followed suit. Conservatives do not, however, have the luxury of ejecting Trump backers from the Republican Party’s coalition. Even if such a purge were possible, it would not be reasonable or prudent.
Trump has found success by portraying himself as a political strongman with the ability to fix a broken system. Along the way, he has proposed nationalist policies that include trade protectionism, immigration restrictionism, and isolationism. None of these policies are particularly conservative, and they are even less libertarian.
In the historical record, such populist policies have been the norm in the Party of Lincoln. For Republican politicians, especially those holding or running for the office of the presidency, actions reflecting a genuine concern for individual liberty have been the exception and not the rule.
Teddy Roosevelt, a man very similar to Trump in both tone and policy preference, was a nationalist’s nationalist. His strong belief in his ability to exercise executive authority extended from everything from trust-busting to imperial conquest. Herbert Hoover, a man who served as the chief food rationer during World War I, enacted protectionist economic policy that helped make a depression into the Great Depression. Richard Nixon ran afoul executive limits in every sense of the word, and he honestly believed the American Executive was immune from the most nefarious deeds. Even George H.W. Bush denied the effectiveness of tax cuts before the Reagan Revolution, infamously calling Reagan’s policy “voodoo economics” in the 1980 Republican Primary.
Instead of claiming this legacy, for the past 25 years Republicans have adopted the libertarian language of the Reagan era, even if they have fallen far short of libertarianism in terms of policy. They always spoke the language of liberty, but acted the part of the neoconservative.
With Trump, this tactic has changed. He does not speak much about liberty, the Constitution, individual rights, or other key libertarian buzzwords. Instead, he cuts through the jiggery-pokery and speaks to what really appeals to the right-wing base: nationalism.
The specific block of die-hard Trump voters has followed the flag of nationalism wherever it has been flown. Whether it was George Wallace’s white nationalism in the late 1960s, or even Reagan’s Cold War nationalism in the 1980s, the underlying voting motivation has been the same.
Other Republicans are starting to readjust, too. This week, Maine Governor Paul LePage expressly stated that he is okay with authoritarianism.
“Sometimes, I wonder that our Constitution is not only broken, but we need a Donald Trump to show some authoritarian power in our country and bring back the rule of law,” LePage said. “We’ve had eight years of a president, he’s an autocrat, he just does it on his own, he ignores Congress and every single day, we’re slipping into anarchy.”
The willingness to trust Trump’s authority is not an anomaly: recent events have displayed the ability of those on the right to constantly defend municipal police forces, regardless of the circumstances. But do not merely take this writer’s word for it; just take a look at Tomi Lahren’s YouTube channel and the associated comments.
While this new Republican party is increasingly scary, at least it is honest. If nothing else, the destruction of the GOP establishment means the elimination of the neoconservatives that have inflicted great harm to the cause of liberty. No longer is there any pretense of caring about the Constitution, liberty, or the individual. It is now out in the open that the GOP stands for undoubted authoritarianism.