Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
Most of the Republicans attacking Donald Trump are missing the real significance of the Donald and his popularity. A lot of Republicans and independents don’t like establishment Republicans. They see them as an entitled elite that talks big but then compromises their principles in order to serve the interests of big business and to get along with their fellow social elites in the other party. They look at a Republican Congress’s record so far and see very little legislative pushback against an arrogant, lawless Progressive administration under which the federal Leviathan has waxed ever fatter and more intrusive.
That view may be simplistic, unfair, or or even untrue, but that’s irrelevant. It is the perception many voters have, and there is a lot of evidence that makes it plausible. Start with the confirmation of Loretta Lynch for Attorney General. The Senate should have voted her down and told Obama to come back when he had a servant of the law rather than a slavish minion of an imperial presidency. But too many Senators, frightened at appearing “racist” and “sexist,” and eager to display their bipartisan bona fides, folded their strong Constitutional hand when Obama shrewdly played both the race and the sex cards. An opportunity was lost to show Obama that Republicans were now going to play by his rules in order to reclaim their Constitutional authority.
This points to one of the bad habits of some Republicans that angers voters. They are masters of the “preemptive cringe,” particularly when questioned by those Democrat Party operatives laughably called “journalists.” That’s why they like Trump––he slaps down journalists when they get on their hind legs. More typically, Republicans anxiously monitor their words and deeds lest they offend the editorial board of the New York Times or Washington Post, and then have to suffer people calling them bad names or snubbing them at Georgetown cocktail parties.
They don’t seem to understand that Progressives hate Republicans just because they are Republicans. Like jihadists, they want those political infidels to either lose elections or live in cringing submission. No matter what they do, how much they apologize, how often they protest their love of “diversity” and “fairness,” Progressives will still call them racists, sexists, homophobes, Islamophobes, xenophobes, nativists, neocon imperialists, henchmen of the 1%, haters of the poor, stooges of corporate malefactors, enemies of science, rapists of Mother Earth, storm-troopers of the “war against women,” and all around evil-doers. If you’re going to be called names anyway, why not at least have the honorable satisfaction of sticking to your principles?
Many fed up with Republicans figure that this anxious fear of offense and calumny is why a Republican Congress hasn’t covered Obama’s desk with bills that he’d have to veto, and that they could later hang like albatrosses around Hillary’s neck. More important, they wonder why the House isn’t using the power of the purse, which the Constitution gave it precisely in order to check a tyrannical government. “This power over the purse,” James Madison wrote, “may in fact be regarded as the most complete and effectual weapon with which any constitution can arm the immediate representatives of the people, for obtaining a redress of every grievance, and for carrying into effect every just and salutary measure.”
Instead of using this “effectual weapon” against an overweening president, Congress is holding endless hearings and issuing endless subpoenas regarding Benghazi, Hillary’s private server, and the IRS, and nothing changes. In response, the Obama cadres display open contempt for the people’s representatives and the separation of powers, and just keep stonewalling, ignoring, misdirecting, and lying. The Fox News dogs bark, but the Progressive caravan moves on, now heading for a nuclear-armed Tehran. So why not try using the power the Constitution gave to the House for just such tyranny, and cut off the money? If you think “we can’t do that” because our society and human nature have evolved beyond the world of Madison and the Founders, then you’ve ceded the fundamental assumption of Progressivism, which means that we’re now just dickering over how fat the federal Leviathan should be.
These questions seething in the minds of many voters can be boiled down to one: Why won’t the Republicans fight harder? When will they drop the courtly pretenses and missish reticence, discard the Marquess of Queensbury rules, and fight as dirty as the Dems do? Do they want to win, or do they want to preen about their “bipartisanship” and “reaching across the aisle” and superior manners and lofty decorum?
No doubt some of these perceptions are unfair, simplistic, and uninformed. But democratic politics is more about perceptions than facts. Barack Obama getting elected twice proves that. Yet there’s another side of the story, an ancient principle of mass democracy: you can’t make a political silk purse out of a sow’s ear. Or as Milton Friedman put it more elegantly:
“I do not believe that the solution to our problem is simply to elect the right people. The important thing is to establish a political climate of opinion which will make it politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing. Unless it is politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing, the right people will not do the right thing either, or if they try, they will shortly be out of office.”
In other words, the “climate of opinion” among a critical mass of voters today tends to the big-state, crypto-pacifist, entitlement-dispensing federal government of the sort Obama and his fellow “wrong people” have created. Perhaps that explains the lack of widespread outrage over the serial scandals, lies, and skullduggery of this administration, most importantly the looming disastrous nuclear deal with the genocidal mullahs of Iran. People are angrier about a dentist shooting Cecil the lion than the possibility of an intolerant apocalyptic regime getting its hands on intercontinental missiles and nuclear warheads. And don’t even think about addressing the looming fiscal catastrophe of unfunded liabilities, metastasizing entitlements, and the monstrous government debt, unless you want to face AARP-funded ads with retirees snarling, “Keep your hands off my Medicare!”
Both sides in the Republican Party thus have an argument. Those attracted to Trump’s blunt rhetoric believe that the vast reservoir of anger at Republican establishment weakness bespeaks an opportunity to push the country back to its traditional center-right orientation. They point to Republican success in the 2014 Congressional elections and those in the state governments as evidence of this shift. Establishment Republicans don’t believe that the reservoir is capacious enough to gain the ultimate prize, the Presidency. They argue that reaching out beyond the angry base and compromising on some issues are necessary to amass enough electoral votes to win. Hence their belief that toning down the anti-immigrant rhetoric of the sort Trump is accused of is critical for peeling off Hispanic votes.
This argument will be resolved next year at the ballot box. If a scandal-ridden, money-grubbing, old Beltway insider like Hillary Clinton can get elected, then the “climate of opinion” is such that a majority of the voters are de facto Progressives. At that point, the only question will be how much closer does the iceberg have to get before the people start to turn the ship around.