The 32nd post on the Journal of American Greatness originally published in March, 2016.
If not RFK, how about John C. Frémont?
To those on the right who insist that Trump is destroying the Republican party, we respond: we sure hope so! But we also ask: what then?
Some people we respect (and a great many for whom we have no respect) oppose Trump for reasonable reasons. They make a case, not easily refuted or lightly dismissed, that Trump would make a bad president. Yet given the alternatives, we’ve asked—and continue to ask—what would they have us do? Supporting Rubio is a non-starter. Cruz is better, especially in his pointedly non-neocon approach to foreign policy. But is he trustworthy on immigration? And on economics and trade, he’s stuck in November 1980 like all the rest of them.
That combination is still better than Hillary (or Bernie). But is it good enough to transform the party, and shape the country, for the long term? Especially now that the establishment is rallying around Cruz as a way to stop Trump? What’s more likely: that Cruz will change them or they’ll change him? Depressingly easy to answer.
And what if Cruz is nominated? We don’t claim to be expert political prognosticators. And we readily admit that polls contradict what we’re about to assert. But it seems to us that Trump—who has helped to more than double primary turnout, brought new voters into (what’s left of) the party, reenergized the disaffected, shows national appeal that could scramble the red-blue gridlock in place since 2000, and is actually speaking to the issues that matter most right now—has a much better chance in November than the doctrinaire and antediluvian Cruz.
Even we’re wrong, what would be better? A Trump loss or a Cruz loss? We suppose that depends on how in the tank one is for the Davoisie agenda. We’re assuming that, if you’re reading this blog, the answer is: not much. Let us therefore rephrase the question: what would be better for Trumpism (secure borders, economic nationalism, and America-first foreign policy): a Trump primary loss to Cruz or a Trump general election loss?
This one doesn’t seem particularly difficult to answer either.
A Trump primary win—whether or not he goes on to win the general—will either transform the Republican Party in a Trumpian direction or destroy it and open the way to a new party à la 1854, when the Republicans rose from the wreckage of the Whigs. And unlike Ross Perot’s amorphous Reform Party, this one would have a real core: the three pillars mentioned above. There’s no guarantee of success, of course, but remaining on the present course is a guarantee of failure—electoral and otherwise.
In 1856, in its first presidential outing, the brand-new Republican Party nominated John C. Frémont, erstwhile conqueror of California. Like Trump, Frémont was talented, ambitious, flamboyant, sometimes careless with facts, rarely played by the rules, and could be unscrupulous. He lost, but his loss paved the way to Republican success in 1860 and national dominance beyond.
Trump, as noted, is appealing to a new constituency that the Republican Party (perhaps because it is too open about how much it hates ordinary Americans) hasn’t lately been able to reach. He also, as noted, has the potential to scramble the red-blue electoral map in much the same way that Frémont and the Republicans scrambled the map back in 1856.
Most of the respectable (we mean that in the nice way—this time) anti-Trumpites are convinced Trump can’t win a general. They also acknowledge—ruefully—that the window in which it’s possible to block his nomination is almost closed. No widely acceptable and electorally superior successor has stepped forward and Cruz can’t seem to catch up.
If Trump is so bad and can’t be stopped, why not—as we’ve suggested before—use him like Cesare Borgia used Remirro de Orco? Or the gentler and more apt metaphor: like the Republicans used Frémont in 1856? To do the necessary dirty work and pave the way for something better.
This would require writing about something other than what an awful person Trump is, or how sad it is to see the Grand Old Party and the Reagan legacy in such straits. It would require turning our energies instead to fleshing out a practical program and electoral strategy for a transformed Republican Party, or for a new party. We’re confident that at least some of the better conservative pundits are capable of making a contribution. So why don’t they?
It’s not like they have a better plan. The only plan we’ve noticed on the “right” so far is: Let’s find some way to get back to BAU ASAP. Aside from being idiotic and undesirable, we don’t think that’s practical. The way forward is through.
So let’s get started. At least that’s a plan—and a positive project.