THE REPUBLICAN PARTIAL EXODUS AWAY FROM TRUMP
During the 2016 election, Trump’s erratic, violent, reckless, and vulgar behavior and rhetoric, along with policies that regularly stand in great contrast to what’s been considered economically conservative for generations, turned away at least 150 major Republican leaders. Even though they were very much opposed to Hillary Clinton and much that she represents, Trump was a greater danger in their minds. A striking example of the departure from wholehearted loyalty to the GOP in who they nominated for president was the absence of several key figures from the past and present at the 2016 Republican National Convention. The bold group of luminaries who expressed open resistance to Trump included both former Bush presidents, former Vice President Dick Cheney, 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney, John Kasich and 8 other governors, Jeb Bush, Condoleeza Rice, Lindsey Graham, John McCain, Colin Powell, Paul Wolfowitz, Carly Fiorina, Arnold Schwarzenegger and 6 other former governors, 50 former national security officials, Bill Kristol, Erick Erickson, Charles Krauthammer, Glenn Beck, Hugh Hewitt and George F. Will. Will, for example, has been a revered columnist emblematic with the conservative movement since the 1970s. He explained, “I left [the Republican Party] for the same reason I joined in 1964 when I voted for Barry Goldwater….because I was an conservative…this is not my party anymore.” Upon finding out that Will had left the GOP because of him, Trump said Will was overrated and lost his way a long time ago. Will responded during a Fox News interview: “He has an advantage on me because he can say everything he knows about any subject in 140 characters and I can’t.” This is a reminder of Trump’s ability to use social media to capture attention by any means available to him, regardless of any particularly relevant context for facts. Months later, in a criticism and warning much like what other Republicans against Trump had put forward, Will argued in an editorial that this candidate could not be trusted to maintain conservative principles.
Prominent Fox News commentator, Charles Krauthammer, catalogued several aspects of Trump’s value system that should be anathema to any conservative voter:
“A man who until yesterday was himself a liberal. Who donated money to those very same Democrats to whom the GOP establishment is said to have caved, including Chuck Schumer, Harry Reid, and Hillary Clinton….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); Republicans adamantly oppose federal intervention in health care. He also lists education, which Republicans believe should instead be left to the states….As for Planned Parenthood, the very same conservatives who railed against the Republican establishment for failing to defund it now rally around a candidate who sings the praises of its good works (save for the provision of abortion)….
“More fundamentally, Trump has no affinity whatsoever for the central thrust of modern conservatism — a return to less and smaller government. If the establishment has insufficiently resisted Obama’s Big Government policies, the beneficiary should logically have been the most consistent, indeed most radical, anti-government conservative of the bunch, Ted Cruz….Yet when Cruz got to his one-on-one with Trump at the Indiana OK Corral, Republicans chose Trump and his nonconservative, idiosyncratic populism….It’s an ideological earthquake. How radical a reorientation? Said Trump last week: ‘Folks, I’m a conservative. But at this point, who cares?’”
Never in American politics has a large portion of a political party been as uncomfortable with their own candidate as Republicans are in this election cycle with Trump. Increasing numbers of Republican leaders spoke out in detail against the extremes of this presidential candidate. Conservative and influential Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said of Trump:
“35% of my party believes Barack Obama is a Muslim born in Kenya….They see in Donald Trump an anti-Obama, a strongman who can fix a broken town called Washington, who doesn’t owe anything to anybody, who will tell our enemies ‘get back in line.’ Who will make America great again…What I see is a demagogue, someone who has solutions that will never work, that is playing on people’s prejudices and the dark side of politics.”
2012 Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, even though he had praised Trump in the past, decided that this man had gone much too far in a destructive and anti-conservative path during this election. He gave a widely publicized speech in March 2016, where he was highly critical toward what he saw as Trump’s alarming, childish and ignorant character flaws:
“Trump’s bombast is already alarming our allies and fueling the enmity of our enemies. Insulting all Muslims will keep many of them from fully engaging with us in the urgent fight against ISIS. And for what purpose? Muslim terrorists would only have to lie about their religion to enter the country….What he said on ’60 Minutes’ about Syria and ISIS has to go down as the most ridiculous and dangerous idea of the campaign season: Let ISIS take out Assad, he said, and then we can pick up the remnants. Think about that: Let the most dangerous terror organization the world has ever known take over a country? This is recklessness in the extreme….Donald Trump tells us that he is very, very smart. I’m afraid that when it comes to foreign policy he is very, very not smart….
“I am far from the first to conclude that Donald Trump lacks the temperament of be president. After all, this is an individual who mocked a disabled reporter, who attributed a reporter’s questions to her menstrual cycle, who mocked a brilliant rival who happened to be a woman due to her appearance, who bragged about his marital affairs, and who laces his public speeches with vulgarity….Dishonesty is Trump’s hallmark: He claimed that he had spoken clearly and boldly against going into Iraq. Wrong, he spoke in favor of invading Iraq. He said he saw thousands of Muslims in New Jersey celebrating 9/11. Wrong, he saw no such thing. He imagined it. His is not the temperament of a stable, thoughtful leader. His imagination must not be married to real power…..The President of the United States has long been the leader of the free world. The president and yes the nominees of the country’s great parties help define America to billions of people. All of them bear the responsibility of being an example for our children and grandchildren….Think of Donald Trump’s personal qualities, the bullying, the greed, the showing off, the misogyny, the absurd third grade theatrics. We have long referred to him as ‘The Donald.’ He is the only person in America to whom we have added an article before his name. It wasn’t because he had attributes we admired….Now imagine your children and your grandchildren acting the way he does. Will you welcome that? Haven’t we seen before what happens when people in prominent positions fail the basic responsibility of honorable conduct? We have, and it always injures our families and our country….
“Watch how he responds to my speech today. Will he talk about our policy differences or will he attack me with every imaginable low road insult? This may tell you what you need to know about his temperament, his stability, and his suitability to be president….I understand the anger Americans feel today. In the past, our presidents have channeled that anger, and forged it into resolve, into endurance and high purpose, and into the will to defeat the enemies of freedom. Our anger was transformed into energy directed for good….Mr. Trump is directing our anger for less than noble purposes. He creates scapegoats of Muslims and Mexican immigrants, he calls for the use of torture and for killing the innocent children and family members of terrorists. He cheers assaults on protesters. He applauds the prospect of twisting the Constitution to limit first amendment freedom of the press. This is the very brand of anger that has led other nations into the abyss….Here’s what I know. Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud. His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University. He’s playing the American public for suckers: He gets a free ride to the White House and all we get is a lousy hat.”
Trump responded by referencing the fact that Romney had endorsed him for president in 2012. Trump then took things much further by implying that Romney was so servile in that scenario that he would have given Trump oral sex if requested. “You can see how loyal he was,” Trump said. “He was begging for my endorsement. I could have said, ‘Mitt, drop to your knees!’ and he would have dropped to his knees.”
How did the Republican Party get to this extreme point of internal conflict?
CNN has explained that “one thing is demonstrably true: Trump is driving Republicans out of the GOP….The truth is that it hasn’t been Will’s party for a long time. Trump didn’t persuade the GOP base to embrace his extreme and at times bigoted views — he didn’t have to. Those views match up well with what the rank and file of today’s Republican Party already believes….For example, nearly 70 percent of Republicans support Trump’s ban on Muslims coming to the United States. On immigration, 70 percent of Republicans support building a wall along the Mexican border and a 2015 CNN poll found that 63 percent of Republicans support deporting all of the approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants — both positions Trump has vocally championed during his campaign….Trump and the majority of the GOP are even on the same page on the issue of Trump’s calling federal Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who was born in Indiana, a ‘Mexican’ and demanding he step down as the judge in the Trump University lawsuit. While 51 percent of Americans overall found Trump’s statement that Curiel’s Hispanic heritage was ‘an absolute conflict’ was ‘racist,’ only 22 percent of Republicans agreed….True, Paul Ryan dubbed Trump’s remarks on Curiel as the ‘textbook definition’ of a racist comment, and he has slammed Trump’s Muslim ban. According to polling data, however, less than a quarter of Republicans share Ryan’s views.”
Evangelical Christians, a group known to almost always vote Republican, were a key demographic for Trump to win over. Various political analysts thought these voters might be repulsed by his crass talk, multiple marriages, lack of humility, insulting of women and war heroes, in addition to other similar behaviors. This was not the case generally. As was demonstrated by the warm reception Trump was given during a campaign stop at Liberty University, the world’s largest Christian university, where he mispronounced a popular book of the Bible in a speech, many evangelicals found ways to justify Trump’s less desirable qualities and non-Christian habits. There were exceptions, however. The president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, Russell Moore, pointed out that the same people who decried Bill Clinton’s immoral and lewd behavior in the 1990s were hypocritical for so easily overlooking these kinds of character flaws in Trump. Best selling author on Christian spirituality, Max Lucado, boldly asserted that Trump didn’t pass the “decency test” for someone that we would chose to lead us. Even at Liberty University, a significant number of students formed a group called “Liberty United Against Trump” and voiced their concern that this candidate was a disgraceful choice for president and behaved in ways antithetical to the values their faith had taught them to uphold. The president of the school, Jerry Falwell Jr., a committed Trump advocate, censored the publication of their letter critiquing Trump in the university newspaper. Amazingly, earlier that week, Falwell had said, “Liberty University promotes the free expression of ideas unlike many major universities where political correctness prevents conservative students from speaking out.” Tyler McNally, the student group’s social media coordinator, released their first official statement online:
“We are Liberty students who are disappointed with President Falwell’s endorsement and are tired of being associated with one of the worst presidential candidates in American history. Donald Trump does not represent our values and we want nothing to do with him….A majority of Liberty students, faculty, and staff feel as we do….[Trump] has made his name by maligning others and bragging about his sins. Not only is Donald Trump a bad candidate, he is actively promoting the very things that we we as Christians ought to oppose….We must make clear to the world that while everyone is a sinner and everyone can be forgiven, a man who constantly and proudly speaks evil does not deserve our support for the nation’s highest office.”
Within several hours, they had 200 new signatures from other students.
Conservative news site, Red State, reported regarding this incident:
“It is a true shame what this election has done to this nation….However, I guess if there is any upside to be gleaned, it’s that it has uncovered the hypocrisy, false piety, and absolute ugliness of some of those who would hold themselves up as decent, normal members of society….Now that we see the sickness, we can think about ways to treat it.”
Greg Gutfeld, ardent conservative and Fox News anchor, challenged two of his fellow commentators to stop defending the indefensible regarding Trump’s outlandish remarks throughout the campaign, many times for multiple wild or false statements made in the same 24 hour period. Media analysis web site, Contemptor, described the video:
“He explained that it is absolutely silly to complain about media bias with Trump now when he had 4-5 times more coverage than anyone else throughout the primary season PARTICULARLY because he kept saying crazy [sh%@]. You can’t now whine about the press paying attention to your words and actions when you courted that type of incessant coverage in the first place….While they were falling over themselves defending all things Trump, Greg let them have it: ‘You’re turning him into a spoiled child. He can rely on you guys to explain, isn’t it exhausting to explain?’…In that one phrase, Gutfeld said all you need to know about Trump as a presidential candidate. If you have to keep explaining what he’s trying to say, and it is utterly exhausting doing it day in and day out, aren’t we just dealing with a tantrum-throwing privileged kindergartner here? If his defenders are constantly having to provide context, pivot to whining about liberal media bias or distract by bringing up something unrelated, then why exactly are they supporting the man in the first place?”
Political comedian Bill Maher gave a blunt expression of the GOP’s precarious position with Trump as an embarrassing and volatile candidate by saying, “When the Republican Party picked Donald Trump as their nominee, they handcuffed themselves to a dead hooker.”
A large portion of voters on the right, who for several very serious reasons didn’t want Trump, went to great lengths to rationalize the decision once he became the Republican nominee. Mark Krikorian of the conservative Center for Immigration Studies wrote in the National Review’s blog, the Corner:
“Donald Trump is unfit to be president….He’s a braggart and a liar. And a serial adulterer. He’s behaved shamefully during the primary campaign. He wouldn’t recognize the Constitution if he tripped over it in the street. He doesn’t know even the Cliff Notes version of any policy issue. The idea that the party of Lincoln and Reagan, Coolidge and Eisenhower, Justice Harlan and Senator Taft has nominated Trump is appalling….And I’m going to vote for him anyway.”
Krikorian explained that he was mainly concerned about the difference in kinds of people Clinton or Trump will appoint for the Supreme Court and especially the head of the Civil Rights Division in the Department of Justice. He said finally:
“It’s not crazy to argue that Hillary would be less destructive in the long run, but it’s an argument I do not find persuasive….So my reluctant conclusion is this: Vote for the bloviating megalomaniac – it’s important.”
And from the party that many conservatives turned to instead of Trump’s GOP came this development:
“[Libertarian] VP candidate Bill Weld told the Boston Globe that he plans to focus on attacking Donald Trump for the remainder of the campaign….Trump has Weld’s ‘full attention,’ he explained, because his agenda is so terrible it’s ‘in a class by itself.’ ‘I think Mr. Trump’s proposals in the foreign policy area, including nuclear proliferation, tariffs, and free trade, would be so hurtful, domestically and in the world, that he has my full attention,’…He pointed out that he disagrees with Clinton on fiscal and military issues, though last week on MSNBC he said he’s ‘not sure anybody is more qualified than Hillary Clinton to be president of the United States.'”
COMPARED TO TRUMP, WAS CLINTON THE MORE CONSERVATIVE OPTION?
Though there were other far right wing politicians who over the past few decades laid the groundwork for the Trump’s popularity and success, he stands a large distance apart from every American leader in his brash extremism. In contrast to loud assertions regarding President Obama’s ideology, that he was a dangerous socialist or simply a far left Democrat, many analysts across much of the political spectrum have detailed the ways his ideas and administration has been akin to moderate Republicanism, especially like that of George Bush Sr., Nixon and Eisenhower. This includes an analysis by Bruce Bartlett, historian, economic policy adviser to Reagan and Treasury official for George Bush Sr. In 1981, Bartlett famously published a book called, Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action, which provided a framework for supply-side, or “trickle-down” economics. A group called “Republicans for Obama” have argued that their party has gone a long distance from the kinds of GOP policies that have succeed in the past. By many accounts, Clinton is a centrist or moderate, even more so than Obama in several categories. One researcher commented, “President Hillary Clinton will be a conservative Barack Obama and a somewhat liberal George Bush.”
Texas Monthly notes in their article, “The Conservative Case for Hillary Clinton”:
“Clinton is more conservative than Trump on a number of key issues….Clinton, as noted above, is to all accounts less leftist than many national Democrats. Many progressives who voted for Obama in 2008, or Sanders in 2016, would be happy to tell you that, at length. Beyond that, she’s arguably more conservative than Trump, whose political views are to all appearances derived from his personal interests and unruly feelings, and therefore don’t really map onto any kind of philosophical framework. I’ll just give one example, because it’s a dispositively clear example. As a fiscally conservative Texan, I obviously care about a candidate’s views on trade. It is something I’m generally in favor of, and know to be a crucial pillar of the economy of the state in which I live. It used to be the case that most Republicans pretended to hold a similar view of the subject, and so it’s astounding to me that the Republican Party would nominate a candidate who is anti-trade. Trump has, in fact, specifically vowed to “beat Mexico at trade,” which would not only devastate Texas’s economy, it would create the kind of insecurity along our southern border that Dan Patrick has nightmares about. Clinton, by contrast, is generally pro-trade. And conservatives are well within their rights to vote for the candidate whose beliefs are more closely aligned with their own. The Republican Party has abandoned conservative principles. That doesn’t mean conservative voters have to do the same.”
The Atlantic said it simply in their piece, “How Democrats Become the Conservative Party”:
“By any reasonable definition, Democrats are now the more conservative of America’s two parties. They are more interested than Republicans in conserving America’s international relationships, cultural norms, and political and economic institutions as they are.”
“For his part, Trump is more apocalyptic than previous GOP insurgents. In 2000, George W. Bush titled his campaign book ‘A Charge to Keep’. In 2012, Mitt Romney titled his ‘No Apology’. Trump’s is titled ‘Crippled America’. In his convention speech, altogether, Trump used the words ‘crisis,’ ‘chaos,’ ‘death,’ ‘destruction,’ and ‘violence’ 19 times. In his 2012 convention speech, Romney didn’t use any of those words even once….There’s something deeper going on. Democrats have become the more conservative party because their voters are more optimistic about America’s long-term trajectory. They are more likely to believe that America is headed in the right direction and thus doesn’t require radical upheaval. A new Pew Research Center poll finds that 81 percent of Trump supporters say life in America is worse ‘for people like you’ than it was 50 years ago. Only 19 percent of Clinton supporters agree. More than two-thirds of Trump supporters say the next generation will be worse off. Among Clinton supporters, it’s less than one-third.”
Even Al.com’s editorial board, representing the Alabama Media Group that through multiple major city papers reaches the largest audience in one of America’s most conservative and Republican states, published an article titled, “Endorsement: We’re with Hillary Clinton. Frankly, Donald Trump’s dangerous.” They said:
“2016 isn’t a normal election cycle, and Donald Trump isn’t a normal presidential candidate. Nor is he a normal Republican. He is a man who is frighteningly unfit to be president. And she is his only roadblock….Any endorsement of Clinton will be a bitter pill to swallow for many in our state. For some, her lifelong record of public service is the mark of a career politician, rather than a public servant. We’ve all watched her struggle to defend her emails, her charitable foundation and her record on foreign policy. Still, Hillary Clinton is more than qualified to be president, and in winning her party’s nomination has reinforced the promise that our democratic process is equally open to all….We could do worse than four years of a stable hand that understands how government works and is willing to compromise with the Republican opposition. Donald Trump, in contrast, is an unstable force that would do lasting damage to America, at home and abroad….The list of Trump’s disqualifications is lengthy. And he adds new ones daily….Clinton has been caught in lies, but Donald Trump trashes truth far beyond the standards that even our broken political system accepts….He is both privately and publicly at odds with much that Alabamians value….[Trump] would be a disaster for America and the world.”
Research shows that the younger a Republican is, the more liberal they are and less likely to support Trump:
This is not just because of the basic insight that older people tend to be more conservative, an idea which has been both undergirded and disputed by various studies. As I’ve discussed earlier in this article series, much of the cultural mood since the mid-20th century has increasingly shifted towards social liberalism and secularity. This has occurred so pervasively than it’s subtly altered the habits and viewpoints of many conservatives. Another quote from The Atlantic illustrates the situation:
“The older Americans who are today more conservative than Millennials were more conservative in their youth, too. In 1984 and 1988, young voters backed Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush by large margins. Millennials are not liberal primarily because they are young. They are liberal because their formative political experiences were the Iraq War and the Great Recession, and because they make up the most secular, most racially diverse, least nationalistic generation in American history. And none of that is likely to change.”
Differing views on race also distinguish the generations. A political news story from cable station Fusion remarked:
“In 2011, Trump fueled rumors that President Obama was born in Kenya and is Muslim. Older voters are much more likely to believe this rumor: A stunning half (54%) of white survey respondents 70 and older said that Obama is a Muslim, compared with only 19% of young whites—still far too many, but significantly fewer….One explanation for this divide is age. (Another is views on discrimination). The youngest Americans are more likely to agree with the idea that language should be more inclusive, while older Americans largely reject that idea, saying society is too ‘easily offended.’ Among young whites, 46% believe language should change, compared with a quarter of whites over 50…It may be politically beneficial to play on fears of an overly ‘politically correct’ society, but these trends suggest that this strategy is less likely to work with young people….Young white people are less likely to believe in ‘reverse discrimination’….It seems that the youngest white people of voting age are noticeably more sympathetic to the need for racial justice and more likely to accept structural narratives about race. Trump may win the GOP nomination, but his style of politics has probably lost the future.”
The Pew Research Group has explained that today’s younger voters place “greater importance than older adults on two issues: The treatment of racial and ethnic minorities and the treatment of gay, lesbian and transgender people. About three-quarters of those under 30 (74%) say the treatment of minorities is a very important issue to their vote, compared with 56% of those 65 and older.”
The fastest growing belief category in our culture is what sociologists call the “nones”, meaning non-affiliated with a church, synagogue, mosque or religious body in general. National Geographic commented that they are now “the second largest religious group in North America and most of Europe”. An unprecedented number of people in our country, 23% according to the Pew Research Group, now describe their views to be agnostic, atheist or “nothing in particular”. With these monumental changes away from traditional religion, the political and social viewpoints for many (especially younger) citizens have moved as well. The baby boomers, born between 1946-1964, are the last generation that grew up in a mostly uniform and unchallenged structure of socially conservative, hierarchical, male-dominant, overwhelmingly caucasian and authoritarian cultural environment. They’re at retirement age now. Unless the GOP can make a course correction back toward the center, especially on social issues, a forecast of future strength in American society during the next few decades becomes substantially less plausible.