Since Donald Trump took the oath of office January 20th, who has attacked Republicans more, Trump or the Democrats? The answer is the president. The alleged leader of the GOP has been its most ardent critic.
Many of us have said all along that Donald Trump is not a Republican. The news, however, is how quickly Donald Trump’s marriage of convenience to the Republican party has ended.
Bill Clinton only triangulated in the third year of his presidency after his party lost both houses of Congress. Less than nine months into Donald Trump’s first term, this president has effectively repositioned himself as the leader of a different political party. From the hollow Republican party of yesterday, he has cleaved a new “Trump GOP” in his image. So now we must lay down our old, two-party frame of reference to understand how America's new political system works.
Yesterday’s Political Parties
For decades, America’s cultural elites have wondered, “Why doesn’t the United States have a multi-party democracy like France, Germany, or the Kardashian family?” Well, congratulations Europhiles. Finally, our huddled masses have been civilized. The U.S. now has three political parties. A new, brightly-colored, anti-Washington party has evolved from two old institutions that became interchangeably gray and dull.
On one end of the partisan spectrum, we still have the plodding, self-admitted defenders of the status-quo: a Democratic Party trapped in the industrial age, holding Venezuelan socialism as its new idea, and addicted to old, top-down, political and artificial solutions from Washington. Animated by an octogenarian Democratic Socialist and marshaled into battle by machine politicians Schumer and Pelosi, Democrats would still rather regulate manual typewriters than reinvent them. They would paint our economy taxi-cab yellow instead of opening it to the future and Uber.
Even Senator Schumer concedes Democrats are an old party in search of a new message. As technocratic repairmen, Democrats have “left voters with little sense of what they represent,” as the New York Times confessed and Hillary Clinton’s campaign exposed.
At the other end aisle, sits the Democratic Party’s political double, the dishonest defenders of the status-quo; Washington Republicans are the lifeless husk of Ronald Reagan’s once-vigorous party. They cannot admit they have become an accommodating, establishment institution, displaying an insider’s respect for the filibuster, reverence for the orderly march of budget resolutions, and fidelity to Congressional processes. The GOP now exists only for the sake of appearance, like an antique salon chair upon which no one is allowed to sit. Whatever disruptive vision it once flashed, it surrendered for an establishment membership card. In the mixed martial arts world of politics, these passive Republicans resist change and observe Marquis de Queensbury rules.
Case in point: Many Republicans, like Tennessee Senator Bob Corker, object to President Trump’s tax reform package because his tax cuts actually cut taxes. Tax cuts, they tell us, must go hand in hand with spending cuts so the deficit doesn't increase. So they refuse to vote for Trump's tax cuts.
This patrician GOP, frail and wobbly in its decline, has been stunned into paralysis since Trump crushed it. Yet the Republican Party has learned nothing from Trump’s humiliating takeover. Its strategy has been reduced to a prayer that one day, Trump will go away so it can return to business as usual. Until then, GOP leaders sit quietly in the shadows, oblivious of the vacuum they allowed Trump to fill, hoping the president doesn’t unleash a tweet at 4:00 a.m., either attacking or endorsing them.
Divided between a meek establishmentarian majority and an ever-constipated Freedom Caucus minority, the GOP can’t even agree on what kind of failure it will support. In case there were any doubts about their impotence, GOP leaders asked President Trump to let them carry the ball, promising they would deliver “repeal and replace” by Easter, tax reform by August, and infrastructure, end of the year. Today’s lifeless and divided GOP has accomplished none of that. Instead, in one of history’s great political ironies, Republicans saved Obamacare, making it more popular, a feat beyond the abilities of its creator.
Behind Door Number Three
Opposite these crumbling political institutions, a third option has evolved, compelled by the demands of the market. This new, ideologically barren, anti-Washington party is willing to deal with the devil to defeat the devil, so to speak. Led by President Trump, it is waging an all-out, two-front war against both Democrats and Republicans.
One night soon, perhaps over a White House dinner massed with food tasters, President Trump could threaten to build a Schumer-Pelosi coalition with establishment Republicans like Susan Collins to plot debt-laden infrastructure legislation. Another evening, over dessert, he might forge a GOP-led coalition, sprinkled with Democrats, to cut corporate taxes and repatriate foreign profits. In either case, when ice cream was served, the president would get an extra scoop.
Down the road, to Republican horror, Trump might even join Democrats to support an Australian-British-Canadian amalgam of “Medicare for All.” After all, before he rented the Republican nomination, Trump spoke kindly of single-payer.
So, congratulations, establishment Republicans. Your failure has driven your President into the arms of your adversaries. And congratulations, too, Washington Democrats. The bane of beltway and conservative Republicans is now also your problem. And if either party thinks Third-Party Trump is still playing only to his voters, get woke. He is playing to yours.
Amidst arguments that he's betraying his party and not acting 'presidential', Trump is providing forgotten, working-class swing voters results neither old party has given them: a constitutionally focused Supreme Court, massive deregulation, support for a Border Wall, funding cuts for sanctuary cities, extreme vetting, deployment of a fleet near North Korea, a threat to hit China with sanctions, positive relations with Israel, the jawboning of American corporations not to go overseas, a tightening of the screws on defense contractors, effective leadership for hurricane relief and now, he is speaking up over the national anthem controversy.
More importantly, Trump speaks in the voice of his supporters, blunt and raw, calling out Washington’s pretension. His unpolished language signals he is on their side and doesn't care about political correctness. This president, Trump supporters feel, harnesses small lies to sell big truths, employing marketing hyperbole they find permissible. The establishment, they believe, employs small truths to sell big lies, which they cannot forgive or support.
Where the Three-Party Road Goes
Great political parties need an inspiring purpose. Democrats, at this point, have no mission other than stopping Donald Trump and protecting us from the future by preventing it. Washington Republicans wander lost, absent of purpose. And while both parties flounder, Donald Trump’s support holds with the conviction of cement.
I predict Republicans will get beaten in 2018, to the modest limits their Senate advantage and gerrymandering allow, because they are unneeded in Washington. Having learned nothing and changed nothing, they remain the party of nothing. More of the same from the same leadership that has failed the Republican party provides a brittle defense from angry Democrats at the polls.
Donald Trump may also have a tough time at the polls in 2020, but only in reaching 50% in a two-way contest. I believe he could easily bank 40% in a three-way race. If the president comes to understand that, as we do, why would he not work to seduce an anti-Trump Republican into the general election? Many prospective contenders would enjoy the attention as well as the encouragement of the news media.
Imagine a base-friendly Democrat like Senator Al Franken posting up against an establishment Republican like John Kasich, with a third, independent candidate representing the “real” Republican Party. They would divide the anti-Trump vote instantly. In that scenario, after defeating a Freedom Caucus purist for the GOP nomination, Third Party Trump, running under the GOP banner he has transformed, easily returns to the White House. His re-election would not be a toss-up but a layup.
The Promise of Uncertainty
A thousand times, the buzzy D.C. consensus has told us Donald Trump has taken the Republic to the brink of extinction. From his language to his focus on Obama's birth certificate to his threats to barbecue North Korea, we are told this President has gone too far. It leads Beltway insiders to reach beyond their despair and comprehension to ask, “How could a rational person ever vote for President like this guy?”
If Trump’s flaws are what his adversaries say, however, they damn themselves with the comparison. It’s not that Trump voters support him because we cannot see his failings. We support him despite his flaws because we grasp the greater danger: More of the same from his detractors.
If credit goes where it is due, Trump’s third-party tribe was not created solely by this President. It was compelled by the ongoing bankruptcy of his adversaries. It succeeds because they still offer no alternative. The fault for three-party America lies not in our stars, dear Brutus, but in our old, ruined political parties themselves. Look in the mirror, Washington: You gave America Donald Trump.