Republicans vs. Trump (2)

Thirteen months ago, while the primaries were winnowing out the host of Republican candidates, the influential conservative publication The National Review published a powerful editorial against Donald Trump in an effort to stop his candidacy.  In no uncertain terms the intellectual and political heirs of William F. Buckley declared

Trump is a philosophically unmoored political opportunist who would trash the broad conservative ideological consensus within the GOP in favor of a free-floating populism with strong-man overtones.

Well said, then.  But now?

Today The National Review published a piece by Dan McLaughlin titled How Republicans Should Check Trump.  McLaughlin, a securities lawyer, is a regular contributor to conservative publications.

McLaughlin begins by dismissing, without further comment, the current efforts of Democrats to oppose Trump.  He calls them “hyperventilating resistance,” and a “dead end.”

McLaughlin names some things he (and presumably others at The National Review) do not like about Trump, but overall he treats the Trump presidency as a normal one.  More opposition from Republicans to Trump, he argues again and again, would be outside the boundaries of what has happened in the past.  Therefore, more opposition than Republicans have shown so far would be inappropriate.  Gone completely is the judgment that Trump is completely unfit to be President, the posture of January 2016.

In a confidant tone, McLaughlin says

We have a long history of absorbing and co-opting fringe movements into our remarkably durable two-party system, and that’s exactly what the rest of Republican leadership is trying to do with Trump. The struggle is far from over, but the early returns suggest that he is not as impervious to their efforts as he appeared.

McLaughlin is declaring that Trump can be contained and steered towards acceptable ends.  I believe that is an accurate assessment of the behavior of Republicans so far.  They are acting as if they believe they can achieve their ends (the conservative purposes that Ryan and McConnell have been working for for the past decade and more) by working with this President.  Sure they’d like to see not just Flynn but also Steve Bannon removed from this administration, but McLaughlin (and I believe others) are declaring overall comfort with the shape of things.  Sure (they’re saying) there will be battles over this or that policy issue (trade, Russia, health care) but they believe they can win enough of these battles with ‘their’ president to make this a good season for Republicans.

Today The National Review is singing a different tune.  They see no Republican Fausts.

On cabinet appointments, for example, McLaughlin has mostly praise for Trump’s selection.  The strongest doubt is voiced about Jeff Sessions.

Jeff Sessions is closer to a “Trump-style” nominee, at least on immigration, but is professionally well qualified and has long been a member in good standing of the Senate GOP caucus.

“Professionally well-qualified?” His record on civil rights is thoroughly disqualifying and yet no Republican Senator voted against him.  What good thing does it say about him that he has been “a member in good standing of the Senate GOP caucus?

I have a different assessment than McLaughlin.  I believe there will be much more conflict to come between Trump and the Republican leaders in Congress.  More important, I believe Trump has long ago showed himself the most inappropriate and unfit person ever to achieve the presidency.  Because of his rash character, it would be inappropriate to use the measure of past presidencies to gauge whether we should accept Trump’s cabinet appointments and early actions.

I’m for persistent opposition to this president.  Those who support him today, even in the early going, will deserve our scorn.

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About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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