A time will soon come when our descendants will look at writers like Ross Douthat like the speaker in Shelley’s “Ozymandias” staring at ruins. Here’s another meteor slamming into Pangaea:
With Marco Rubio’s grudging, painful statement this week that he intends to support “the nominee” (for many Republicans, He Who Must Not Be Named), and with Paul Ryan possibly contemplating assimilation, it’s a good time to take one last look back at what I got wrong — oh, so very wrong — about the Republican Party’s leadership in the age of Donald Trump.
You and I both know this look won’t be the last. Five months and several thousand words await, not to mention the inevitable post mortem on November 9.
Before Trump’s emergence, the Republican elite was in the midst of a long-running civil war, pitting the much-hated “establishment” against the much-feared “base,” the center-right against the Tea Party, the official party leadership against a congeries of activists, media personalities and up-and-coming right-wing politicians.
The scare quotes give the game away. The “establishment” vaporized on January 20, 2009 when a black Democrat called Barack Hussein Obama put his hand on the Bible, looked Chief Justice John Roberts in the eye, and delivering the oath of office (and causing Roberts to himself fumble the words of the oath). The vapors faded when several months later a congressman named Patrick Wilson called the president of the United States a liar on national television.
But beneath the noise of battle, the establishment’s leaders and the base’s tribunes were often in near-agreement on policy (or, in some cases, on the absence thereof). The establishment wanted a more cosmopolitan and compromise-oriented party and the base a more socially conservative and combative one.
The first sentence – yep. The second – well, if you consider cutting taxes for the rich and stepping away from Mitt Romney and Bob Dole’s health plans and example of being compromise-oriented, I’ll order a round of Cosmopolitans.
Then the person whom Lord Dothan calls The Great Exposer complicated this game of bridge.
Beyond confusion and incompetence, though, there was also flirtation, normalization and finally acceptance, as a wide array of figures whose own commitments seemed incompatible with Trumpism decided that he was worth defending and eventually supporting.
Hell, no legislator wants to pass up an invitation to Sunday brunch at Cokie’s or lukewarm coffee on Chuck Todd’s show. Besides, legislators need to send their kids to private school too. They remember how good they had it in, oh, 2005.
Of course many converts to Trumpism were motivated simply by expediency, ambition, power worship.
“Many” = “all.” “Simply” = “inevitably.”
But many were clearly motivated by grudges and fears instilled by the party’s civil war, and by a sense that even though Trump might represent a grave threat to their vision of Republicanism, it would still be better to serve under his rule for a season than to risk putting their hated intraparty rivals in the catbird seat.
Now I’ve reached the diseased heart of the column. After digging a chasm as deep as a puddle between himself and the participants in his invented civil war, Douthat hints at how he’ll write the terms of his own surrender.
For those of us who have long been frustrated precisely by the smallness of those differences, the narrowness of the G.O.P. policy debate, it’s a particularly staggering result:
Sez the man who ten days ago explained how he and everyone else, including libs, want a king for president. Sez the man who wondered why gays have to be so goddamn pushy to churchgoers.
It is possible that a dishonorable, cowardly, unprincipled course will yield the result that many in both G.O.P. factions clearly crave: Trump defeated in the general election, his ideas left without a champion, and then a reversion to the party’s status quo ante, to the comforts of a tactically narrow “wacko birds versus RINOs” family feud.
But then again it’s possible that the establishment and the Tea Party are more like Byzantium and Sassanid Persia in the seventh century A.D., and Trumpism is the Arab-Muslim invasion that put an end to their long-running rivalry, destroyed the Sassanid Dynasty outright, and ushered in a very different age.
George Will is the only conservative columnist allowed to make inapposite historical and literary allusions, buddy!