One of the many amusements of the 2016 presidential primaries is watching establishment Republicans panic as Donald Trump elbows his way to the nomination and endangers down-ballot races.
That establishment should find Trump’s appeal easy to understand, since they prepared his way: the Southern strategy’s appeal to less-educated working class white men, their relentless and paternalistic efforts to legislate against women’s interests, their near-hysterical Chicken Little claims that the American economy is a disaster, and their blustery insistence on American exceptionalism.
But the GOP will never acknowledge, and probably cannot really comprehend, their own culpability in Trump’s takeover of much of the Republican base. When was the last time you heard a Republican apologize for making mistakes? Or a Democrat, for that matter?
How Congress Helped Make Trump
The latest Gallop poll reports that Congress’s approval rating among Republicans is only 13%. Congressional approval ratings have steadily declined during Obama’s presidency, a potent sign that Republican obsession with opposing Obama on everything has cost them support.
Since Republicans control Congress, that 87% disapproval rate means that Republicans overwhelmingly repudiate their own party’s establishment as a failure.
That 13% approval rate must sting, especially as Obama’s approval rate among all Americans is now above 50%.
The art of the deal
When Obama was elected, Sen Mitch McConnell said that Congressional Republicans’ primary political goal would be to thwart Obama. That is one political promise they certainly tried to keep, but their obstructionism is now costing them dearly.
Given Republican voters’ low regard for their own refusnik Congress, it is no surprise that Trump’s appeal is largely built on his insistence on making deals, not refusing deals!
Face facts or invent facts?
Neither party acknowledges or apologizes for its many failures, whether political or practical or ethical. Instead, they look for someone else to blame. So, whom can the Republicans blame for the rise of Donald Trump?
Attack the usual suspect
Of course, President Obama! And so we come to an Op Ed attributed to Bobby Jindal, and published March 4, 2016, by The Wall Street Journal.
My guess is that Jindal did not actually write the Op Ed piece. Writing speeches and Op Ed pieces is the work of political consultants, and Jindal probably had lots of consultant money left around after he suspended his own presidential campaign.
After the obligatory snide opening, the writer suggests that in open-seat elections, voters try to correct for the weaknesses of the incumbent. This argument is true as far as it goes, of course, but is too simplistic for us to ignore other factors.
Such as the president who came before the incumbent. The deleterious effects of the George Bush years are still being felt by Americans (The Great Recession, the increased national debt, and the wars, for starters).
The Op Ed essay claims that voters who like Trump do so primarily because he promises to make America great again, after eight years of a president who dislikes high drama. If Obama’s calm demeanor and pragmatism do eventually cause the election of a loose-cannon adventurer, Obama will indeed have a lot to answer for.
The writer claims that Trump would not be destroying the Republican Party if only Obama had been a Republican. Specifically, the essay says Trump would not be ahead if only Obama had operated on Republican principles (reducing taxes and shrinking entitlements) and if he had only cooperated with Republicans (by ending the Affordable Care Act and throttling the EPA).
Chickens coming home to roost
This delusional argument ignores several blunt facts: most Americans reject Republican obstructionism, support the ACA, regret George Bush’s wars, understand that the wealth redistribution going on benefits the wealthy at the expense of ordinary people, and expect the two parties to cooperate now and then in the national interest.
The GOP’s refusal to even meet with a Supreme Court nominee they used to praise, preferring to adhere to an invented traditional practice rather than the Constitution, shows they have not learned their lesson yet about how obstructionism alienates so many Americans.
The bluntest fact of all: most of those angry and emotion-driven Trump voters are the result of several decades of Republican strategy, tactics, and rhetoric.
The GOP would have been wise to cultivate a base of ordinary, centrist Americans who want an efficient government, can accept social change, and want political parties to put the national interest first for a change.