“…Anyone paying cursory attention to the conservative political scene since the great Tea Party uprising of 2010 understands all too well that anti-politics, far from being a Zika-style virus smuggled into the vulnerable GOP host organism by a single ‘outsider’ populist presidential hopeful sporting a Chia Pet pompadour, has been the very lifeblood of the Republican political class since the dawn of the Obama era. And the recent political past has been studded with object lessons in what happens when you feed a major party’s movement base on unhinged fantasies of governance as identitarian rebellion by other means.
“There was the stunning primary defeat of Majority Whip Eric Cantor—himself a scheming courtier of would-be Tea Party anti-government insurgency—by holier-than-thou Christian libertarian economics professor David Brat. There was the numbingly pointless litany of 60-plus bills repealing Obamacare—all dutifully endorsed amid great ideological sound and fury and even greater wastage of Congress’s already scant legislative calendar—which served no other purpose than to allow Tea Party incumbents to create the illusion that they were actually doing something (anything) in Congress to advance the agendas they ran on. (Or, you know, anything in Congress at all.)
“There was the GOP’s ritual sacrifice of John Boehner’s speakership on the altar of still more ideological purity, when he demurred on a proposed government shutdown over bogus allegations that Planned Parenthood was an open-air bazaar for fetal body parts. There was Ted Cruz’s equally empty—though immensely mediagenic—filibuster designed to provoke a (yes, again) government shutdown bid over (yes, again) Obamacare funding. There was, for no explicable reason on Earth, the continued public relevance of Sarah Palin.
“Looking back at this parade of confrontational nothingness, it’s hard to fathom why the Trumpist movement, or something like it, hasn’t happened sooner. In essence, the backlash-gone-wild, that is the Tea Party phase of the GOP, has detonated the cynical social contract struck at the outset of the Reagan revolution. Back then, you’ll recall, the business wing of the Right found symbolic common cause with an evangelical grassroots insurgency—and once in power, GOP apparatchiks would duly ignore the culture-war wish lists of religious conservatives. (For the simple reason that actual progress toward implementing their Christian-nation reveries would make them that much harder to mobilize in full gospel fury for each new election cycle)…
“[A]s we all know too well by now, the Trump brand of class politics is also a racist politics. Rather than encouraging marginalized, white-middle Americans to dress up as colonial patriots, Trump encourages them to attack nonwhite protestors, unleash displays of religious bigotry, and otherwise rudely defy the behavioral canons of ‘political correctness.’
“Just as important, he does all this while affecting a genial showman’s mien, which permits him to opportunistically back off from the political fallout he courts—and ensuring all the while that his theater-in-the-round production of ‘Falling Down’ gets maximal press coverage. No traditional GOP candidate could have managed, as Trump..., to play dumb before the cameras as he was repeatedly pressed to disavow his endorsement by former Klan wizard David Duke, without setting his own campaign on fire. And no other candidate could have a white supremacist kingpin making get-out-the-vote robo-calls on his behalf, or have a group of peaceful black students forced out of a campaign rally.
“Trump’s deft culture-war shtick also permits Trump to short-circuit expectations of simple ideological consistency, let alone purity. He’s successfully peddled the image of himself as a great man to the Republican primary electorate—and his supporters readily accept the notion that a great man contains multitudes.
“Trump is anything but an avatar of conservative righteousness. He’s been a pro-choice, big-government liberal, and seems unto this day a more consistent supporter of single-payer universal health care than Hillary Clinton is. (He’s also twice divorced, something that hasn’t gone down well with the GOP’s self-styled ‘values voters,’ since Reagan’s heyday.)
“How the Trump insurgency plays out within the now-deranged coordinates of Republican electioneering and governance is anyone’s guess. But Americans of a left persuasion shouldn’t be too quick to gloat over the great Republican crack-up of 2016… Donald Trump is everyone’s problem now” (After decades of bigotry and anti-politics, the GOP got what it deserves in Donald Trump by Chris Lehmann).