I stirred up some controversy last week, when I told a conference of several dozen House Republicans that the GOP is now officially a Trump working class party. For better or worse, I said at the gathering inside the Capitol Dome the baton has now officially been passed from the Reagan era to the new Trump era. The members didn’t quite faint over my apostasy, but the shock was palpable.
I emphasized that Republicans must prioritize delivering jobs and economic development to the regions of the country like the industrial Midwest — states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Missouri. These are places that, for the most part, never felt the meager Obama recovery and where blue-collar Reagan Democrats took a leap of faith and came back to the Republican Party for the first time since 1984. The GOP will be judged in 2018 and 2020 as to whether it delivers results for this part of the country and for the forgotten middle-class men and women (“the deplorables”) who Democrats abandoned economically and culturally. This is all simply a political truism.
What caught the ire of some of my conservative friends was my statement that “just as Reagan converted the GOP into a conservative party, with his victory this year, Trump has converted the GOP into a populist America First party.”
One friend lamented that I must have been drunk when I said this.
No. I meant exactly what I said, but I will clarify.
First, let me lay to rest the idea that this was a backhanded slam against Reagan’s legacy. Hardly. I worked for the Gipper. He rebuilt the American economy and caused a quarter century-long boom in wealth creation and prosperity nearly unrivaled in American history. He won the Cold War and vanquished the Evil Empire of the Soviet Union. He belongs on Mount Rushmore.
But this is 2016, not 1986. The world is a different place. The concerns and priorities of the American people are different today than 30 years ago. The voters spoke with a thunder clap. Trump squashed his 16 GOP rivals — a field touted as the most talented field of wannabes in modern history — as if they were bugs crashing into his windshield. GOP voters opted for his new breed of economic populism. Republicans who were Never Trumpers and who insisted with absolute certainly that Trump could never win the primary let alone the general election can pretend that a political sonic boom didn’t happen.
Guess what? It did. A realignment occurred while all the high falutin’ intellectuals and political consultants were napping.
So yes, this means we have awoken to a new party that will be a lot tougher on illegal immigration. A lot more skeptical of lopsided trade deals. A lot more wary of foreign entanglements. More prone to spend money on infrastructure. I don’t approve of all of these shifts, but they are what the voters voted for. Trump was hardly ambiguous about what he intended to do. Trade and immigration are unambiguously good for the country — but it will have to be done in ways that are supported by the American people, not shoved down our throats by the elites. In this way, I am more of a populist. The elites in both parties have never understood Trumpism and often are contemptuous of the intellect and lifestyles of the Trump loyalists.
Conservatives should go back and read Jude Wanniski’s classic The Way the World Works. Jude reminds us over and over the lesson of history that there is great collective wisdom in the decisions made by the American voters. It’s not often wise to second guess them but rather to listen to what they are saying.
A lot of good things come with the Trump package. Probably three conservative justices on the Supreme Court, the biggest tax cut and assault against regulatory overreach since the Reagan era, spending cuts, Obamacare repeal, enterprise zones for inner cities, vouchers for kids in failing schools, and so on. But it’s a package deal, folks. If you want purity, vote for Ron Paul for president again, and see where that gets you.
I have always tried not to oversell Donald Trump to voters because I’ve been so bitterly disappointed by politicians time and again. You never know how it will turn out, and it’s folly to render a verdict on a President-elect Trump who hasn’t yet notched a single policy victory on his belt. Maybe I’m guilty of jumping the gun.
But it is a new Republican Party, and a new political and policy era has begun. What Donald Trump achieved on election night was to topple the legacies of three family dynasties all at once: the Clintons, the Bushes, and the Obamas. They were the troika of big losers in 2016. Trump didn’t topple the Reagan legacy of growth, optimism, and peace through strength. If the Age of Trump is to be a success, he will build on and modernize that legacy.