Thursday, May 5, 2016

After the Trumpening

Just a few quick thoughts in the aftermath of Donald Trump becoming the presumptive Republican nominee:

Trump was Romney all along.  I mean this here strictly in terms of their roles in the primary campaign dynamic--not their personae, issue portfolios, or other areas.  Throughout 2011 and 2012, Mitt Romney stood near the top of the primary polls, and the other candidates competed to be the not-Romney.  In the 2016 cycle, Trump basically dominated national polls from the end of the summer onward.  For a long time, pundits liked to compare Trump to the various 2012 candidates who temporarily eclipsed Romney in 2011-2012 only to come hurtling back to earth (Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, etc.).  Instead, Trump had the dominant position of Romney throughout the campaign.

His ascent really is rather unprecedented.  It's become common to mock pundits who underestimated Trump's chances in the primary, but, in reality, their skepticism is pretty understandable.  Since its founding, the GOP has nominated only one person with no previous experience in public office (either in elected office, civil office, or high military position).  And that one person was Wendell Willke, the Democrat-turned-Republican businessman who ran a dark-horse campaign to be the GOP nominee in 1940.*  Other than Willkie, every Republican nominee since 1856 had prior experience in public office.  Precedent suggested, then, that Trump would not be the nominee.  But that precedent has been broken.

Trump's victory does not mean the end of conflict in the Republican/conservative coalition.  Trump's success in the primary has fueled debates about party loyalty, the identity of conservatism, the identity of the GOP, and how to face up to the policy and political challenges of the 21st century.  I'm hopeful that we can address some of those challenges as a nation and that conservatism in particular can contribute to that search for solutions.  But it will be important to place our emphasis on light--not heat.  In part because things are so up in the air right now, intellectual charity, imagination, and courage will be especially helpful.

*A lot could be said about the parallels and contrasts between Trump's and Willkie's candidacies.  But that's a story for another day.

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