Jonathan Freedland, the New York Review of Books, in spite of, or perhaps because of, his obvious liberal bias, explains accurately how Donald Trump’s candidacy contradicts everything the Republican Party has traditionally stood for.
The GOP has long been the party of free trade; in 1993, Bill Clinton could only pass NAFTA with Republican votes. But now its nominee denounces such trade as a destroyer of American jobs, apparently seeing commerce as something the US should do to, rather than with, other countries. The result was the astonishing sight of a Republican presidential nominee, in his acceptance speech, bidding for the voters of an avowed socialist, Bernie Sanders, â€œbecause,â€ as Trump put it, â€œwe will fix his biggest issue, trade deals.â€ The issue was hardly debated in Cleveland, but the shift is remarkable all the same. Trump has refashioned the GOP as the party of protectionism, advocating an approach Republicans previously denounced as a threat to American prosperity.
Similarly, Republicans have for decades enjoyed an advantage on national security, obliging the Democrats to match them on strength and military commitment. Trump has broken from that too. He implies a rupture not only from the neocon, democracy-spreading policies associated with Bush the son, but also with the engaged internationalism of Bush the father. Trump is seemingly uninterested in Americaâ€™s traditional status as sheet-anchor of the international system, central in a series of interlocking alliances that have maintained relative order and stability since 1945. Instead, he took time out from Cleveland to tell The New York Times he did not believe in the cardinal principle underpinning NATOâ€”that an attack on one member is an attack on allâ€”and that, as president, he would only defend one of the Baltic states from hypothetical Russian invasion if he deemed that state to have been paying its proper dues. Put aside the huge implications of such a shift for global security. Trump is turning his back on decades of Republican Party doctrine.
Thatâ€™s true on the scale of government, too, with Trump implicitly advocating gargantuan powers for an imperial presidency: â€œI alone can fix this problem,â€ he says of crime, ISIS, immigration and much else. Thatâ€™s quite a change for a party that has long regarded it as an article of faith that government is the problem and never the solution.
In his electoral strategy, Trump seems to be in tune with the old Republican playbook, the one written by Nixon and which used racially-tinged fears to win the White House by winning white votes. But in recent years, Republicans were meant to have seen the limitations of that strategy and at least to have gone through the motions of winning over non-white voters, especially Latinos. Trump has set that project into reverse, alienating if not infuriating Latino and other non-white Americans with his signature promise to build a wall with Mexico and by alleging that a US-born judge could not be impartial because of his Mexican heritage. He is apparently resting his hopes on expansion of the white electorate, chiefly by persuading blue-collar workers in rustbelt states to turn out for him in unprecedented numbers. …
In one area after another, Trump is upending the pillars of Republican wisdom. The old guard looked bewildered in Cleveland, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell coming out to boos rather than the respectful greeting he might have expected from a Republican flock welcoming one of its elders. Senators and congressmen were thin on the groundâ€”many found their diaries booked with the politiciansâ€™ equivalent of washing their hairâ€”but the ones that did appear were reduced to walk-on parts. As they spoke, usually in slots outside primetime, the hall remained noisy and only half-filled. The self-aware among them would have understood that in the new Republican hierarchy, they now fall below a 1990s soap actress-turned-avocado-grower named Kimberlin Brownâ€”a real speaker on Tuesday nightâ€”and several notches lower than the new Republican elite: the children of Donald Trump. What took the Bushes and Clintons decades was achieved in Cleveland within days: the anointing of the Trump clan as a political dynasty.
Republicans alarmed at these developments are not quite sure what will be worse: for Trump to lose or for Trump to win. Some have persuaded themselves that a Trump victory is best for America, simply because Hillary Clinton must not be president. (One Utah delegate, anguished about Trumpâ€™s â€œrough edges,â€ told me he believed Clinton was â€œevil.â€)
But others are terrified by the possibility of a Trump victory. If that happens, they fear, the upheaval of 2016 will become permanent: the Republican Party will be reshaped in Trumpâ€™s image. It will be protectionist, nativist, authoritarian, and the vehicle for an exclusively white rage.
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