What lies behind Donald Trump’s nomination victory? The wisdom among conservatives is that he sensed, marshaled and came to represent a revolt of the Republican rank and file against the “establishment.”
This is the narrative: GOP leaders made promises and received, during President Obama’s years, major electoral victories. Yet they didn’t deliver. Exit polls showed a majority of GOP primary voters feel “betrayed” by their leaders, who let Obama walk all over them.
Then comes the paradox. If insufficient resistance to Obama created this sense of betrayal, why in a field of 17 did Republican voters choose the least conservative one? A man who until yesterday was a liberal. Who donated money to the very Democrats to whom the GOP establishment is said to have caved.
Trump has expressed sympathy for a single-payer system of socialized medicine, far to the left of Obamacare. Trump lists health care as one of the federal government’s three main responsibilities (after national security); he also lists education, which Republicans believe should be left to the states.
As for Planned Parenthood, the same conservatives who railed against the establishment for failing to defund it now rally around a candidate who sings the praises of its good works (save for abortion).
Trump also has no affinityfor the central thrust of modern conservatism – a return to smaller government. If the establishment has insufficiently resisted Obama’s Big Government policies, the beneficiary should have been the most consistent, most radical, anti-government conservative running, Ted Cruz.
Which makes Indiana a truly historic point. It marks the most radical transformation of a major political party’s political philosophy in our lifetime. The Democrats continue their trajectory of ever-expansive liberalism. While the GOP, its ideology refined and crystallized by Ronald Reagan, just went populist.
It’s an ideological earthquake. Said Trump last week: “Folks, I’m a conservative. But at this point, who cares?”
Wasn’t caring about conservatism the very essence of the tea party, grass-roots revolt against the so-called establishment? They cheered Cruz when he led the government shutdown in the name of conservative principles. Yet when the race came down to Cruz and Trump, these opinion-shaping conservatives who once doted on Cruz affected a studied Trump-leaning neutrality.
So, Trump won.
True, Trump appealed to the economic anxiety of a squeezed middle class and the status anxiety of a formerly dominant white working class. But the prevailing conservative narrative – of anti-establishment fury – was different and is now exposed as a convenient fable. If Trump is a great big middle finger aimed at a Republican establishment that has abandoned its principles, isn’t it curious that the party has chosen a man without any?
Trump doesn’t even pretend to have any, conservative or otherwise. He lauds his freedom from political or philosophical consistency. And he elevates unpredictability to a foreign policy doctrine.
The ideological realignment is stark. On major issues – such as the central question of retaining America’s global pre-eminence as leader of the free world – Trump is to the left of the Democrat.
And who knows on what else. We will soon find out. But as Trump himself says of being a conservative – at this point, who cares?
As of Tuesday night, certainly not the GOP.