If we are to believe the growing chorus of critics, Donald Trump’s rapid rise to the top of the GOP presidential leader board is the triumph of style over substance. Jonah Goldberg offers this withering assessment in a recent National Review article.
“Trump has the charisma, I’ll grant him that. But there is no evidence he’s thought deeply about the job beyond how much classier it will be once he has it.”
The Club For Growth, the conservative pro business political action committee, is considering a multi-million dollar ad blitz against Trump to call out his vacillating stand on taxes.
And Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake recently described Trump’s candidacy as “offensive,” “laughable” and “not serious.”
So the emerging consensus among the conservative commentariat, Republican party elites, and special interest groups is that Trump is an unwelcome upstart and a threat to the established political order.
All true and as such Donald Trump may be rapidly becoming the heir apparent to a lineage of revered Republican presidents that stretches back for more than a century.
Herewith two examples of Republican renegades who confounded GOP conventional thinking and went on to profoundly shape the direction of their party and country.
1) Theodore Roosevelt. Elected governor of New York in 1898 largely on the celebrity strength of his rough riding escapades during the Spanish American war, TR set about enraging GOP bosses in NYC and Albany by exposing housing and sweatshop conditions and pushing through popular but politically incorrect reforms. The ruling cabal of party insiders thought they had hit on a perfect solution when they badgered Roosevelt into becoming McKinley’s running mate in 1900. Hoping to bury TR’s political career in the graveyard that was the office of the Vice President, their plans were foiled by an assassin’s bullet in 1901. President Roosevelt then went on to fracture the Republican Party power structure nationally by trust-busting big financial, railroad, and steel interests who had controlled the GOP since the Civil War. He then turned his attention to stronger federal regulations on drug and food safety and championed converting vast tracks of wilderness land into national parks.
2) Ronald Reagan. Now largely venerated as the apostolic father of the modern Republican Party, Reagan’s conservatism was not particularly welcomed when he challenged President Gerald Ford for the nomination in 1976. At that time the GOP was still in the grip of traditional moderates who looked with thinly veiled contempt on the rising conservative movement emerging in the west and south. And lest we forget, it was President Ronald Reagan, he of the most impeccable conservative credentials, who during his eight year administration signed the largest amnesty immigration bill of the last 50 years, supported government funded catastrophic health insurance, and backed gun control in the Brady Bill.
Which brings us back to Donald Trump. Maybe this is what he meant when he said during the first GOP debate that he, like Ronald Reagan, has “evolved” on issues.
Maybe not. Trump is still a work in progress. But as we await the next round of “gotcha” questions from the upcoming CNN debate, here is one we may want to ask ourselves:
Donald Trump is clearly pursuing an unconventional and to many an irritatingly unpredictable path to the Republican nomination for president. But does that make him a traitor to the party or a traditionalist?
Grandy starred on “The Love Boat,” then was a Republican member of Congress from Iowa, then hosted a radio talk show. He lives in Charlotte.