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How the GOP’s dishonesty led to the rise of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz
To understand why the current conservative
crack-up so confounds the Republican establishment, you have to
recognize that the party is facing two separate but simultaneous
revolts: one led by Ted Cruz, the other by Donald Trump.
The first is well described by E.J. Dionne Jr. in his important new book, “Why the Right Went Wrong.”
For six decades, he explains, conservatives promised their voters that
they were going to roll back big government. In the 1950s and early
’60s, they ran against the New Deal (Social Security). Then they railed
against the Great Society (Medicare). Today it is Obamacare.
But they never actually did anything. Despite nominating Goldwater
and electing Nixon, Reagan and two Bushes, despite a congressional
revolution led by Newt Gingrich, these programs endured, and new ones
the reality, Republicans kept promising something to their base but
never delivered. This has led to what Dionne calls the “great betrayal.”
Party activists are enraged, feel hoodwinked and view those in
Washington as a bunch of corrupt compromisers. They want someone who
will finally deliver on the promise of repeal and rollback.
Cruz. How did a first-term senator, despised within his party both in
Washington and Texas, get so far so fast? By promising to take on the
party elites and finally throttle big government. Cruz has said that he
will repeal Obamacare, abolish the IRS and propose a constitutional amendment to balance the budget — which would mean hundreds of billions of dollars in spending cuts.
Trump’s supporters, on the other hand, are old-fashioned economic
liberals. In a powerful analysis, drawing on recent survey data from the
Rand Corp., Michael Tesler
shows that the Trump voter is very different from the Cruz voter. “Cruz
outperforms Trump by about 15 percentage points among the most
economically conservative Republicans,” he writes. “But Cruz loses to
Trump by over 30 points among the quarter of Republicans who hold
progressive positions on health care, taxes, the minimum wage and
unions.” Trump is well aware of this fact, which explains why he has said repeatedly he won’t touch Social Security
or Medicare, spoke fondly of the Canadian single-payer system,
denounces high chief executive salaries, promises to build
infrastructure and opposes free-trade deals.
voters reflect an entirely different revolt. Since the 1960s, some
members of the United States’ white middle and working classes have felt
uncomfortable with the changes afoot in the country. They were uneasy
with the social revolutions of the 1960s, dismayed by black protests and
urban violence, and enraged by the increasing tide of immigrants, many
of them Hispanic. In recent years, they have expressed hostility toward
Muslims. It is this group of Americans — many of them registered
Democrats and independents — who make up the core of support for Trump.
(Obviously there are overlaps between the two candidates’ supporters,
but the divergences are striking.)
In his analysis, Tesler shows
that, statistically, “Trump performs best among Americans who express
more resentment toward African Americans and immigrants and who tend to
evaluate whites more favorably than minority groups.” The New York
Times’s Nate Cohn points
out that Trump’s support geographically is almost the opposite of that
of the last major populist businessman to run for president, Ross Perot.
Perot did well in the West and New England, but poorly in the South and
industrial North. Trump’s support follows a different but familiar
pattern. Cohn writes: “It is similar to a map of the tendency toward
racism by region.” To be clear, many people back Trump for reasons
entirely unrelated to race, religion or ethnicity, but the correlations
shown by scholars are striking.
Could these revolts have been
prevented? Perhaps, if the Republican Party had been honest with its
voters and explained that the welfare state was here to stay, that free
markets need government regulation, and that the empowerment of
minorities and women was inevitable and beneficial. Its role was to
manage these changes so that they develop organically, are not excessive
and preserve enduring American values. But that is the role for a party
that is genuinely conservative, rather than radical.