Democrats foolishly wasted the first two years of Trump’s presidency waiting for Republicans to see the light. They hoped for a savior from behind enemy lines, cheering in turn as new candidates for the role came along: Susan Collins, Jeff Flake, the anonymous author of a New York Times op-ed article about dysfunction in the White House.
But what the Democrats have failed to understand is that just because someone is an enemy of their enemy, he isn’t necessarily a friend. They keep hoping for that “reasonable” Republican who can save bipartisanship and the fate of the country. But there will be no such miracles. Where the Republican Party is concerned, what you see is what you get.
Yes, Trump has caused some Republicans to abandon the GOP, including Iowa’s longest-serving Republican lawmaker, Andy McKean. Others, including right wing radio host Joe Walsh, have broken with the president but not the party. The importance Democrats have attributed to these defections is as crazy as it is seductive. Liberals infer the turncoats are sure signs that the GOP establishment secretly opposes Trump and that the Republican Party is cracking. Trump is an outlier, they conclude; a crazy figure, a cancer on Republican politics.
But that’s nonsense. In fact, poll after poll has found that more than 80% percent of Republicans nationwide approve of Trump’s performance in office.
And if you’re thinking an alternative Republican would fix everything, let’s consider Walsh, the latest disaffected conservative to repudiate Trump, announcing that he will mount a primary challenge to the president. As recently as 2017, Walsh tweeted that President Obama “was held to a lower standard cuz he was black.” When declaring his candidacy to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, Walsh expressed regret for his role pushing the long-discredited racist conspiracy that Obama is Muslim and born in Kenya, as well as his sexist and racist 2017 tweets against Sen. Kamala Harris: “If you’re black and a woman, you can say dumb things. Lowered bar.” And of course there is also Walsh’s longstanding trickle-down, Tea Party worldview.
Many of the prominent Trump-rejecting conservatives are speaking out from comfortable perches in the mainstream media — Ana Navarro, David Brooks, Meghan McCain, Joe Scarborough. It’s debatable whether their opposition is more likely to change unsettled minds or reinforce support for Trump. The Republican never-Trumpers are far smaller in number and more impotent in political influence than their large bullhorns suggest. The Trump turncoats and defections from the Republican Party make for dramatic news but they are simply political aberrations with outsize visibility and little political consequence.
Dangerously, Democrats cling to the myth that Trump is an affront to Republican values and that he represents a cult figure who is singularly yanking the party rightward to insanity. Trump is not deviating from current conservative values; he uses his hateful, scurrilous persona in service of advancing those political values.
In fact, Trump is the unsurprising, direct byproduct of years of Republican policies and politics. He is cut from the same cloth as his Republican predecessors, pushing tax cuts for the wealthy, suppressing the black vote, defunding climate science, fighting reproductive rights, and denigrating facts and expertise to make our politics more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright lies. He is from the same party that insisted there were “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq to initiate an ill-advised war, the party that brought us birtherism.
Trump has marched in lockstep with the party’s goals, opposing living wages and slashing corporate taxes. He has doggedly pushed to limit healthcare access, expand government assistance for millionaires and guarantee the right of billionaires to pollute our air and water. Yes, Trump may be cruder and more duplicitous than his predecessors, but he is cast from the same mold. That’s why no one should have been surprised that Dick Cheney co-hosted a recent fundraiser benefiting both Trump’s reelection effort and the national GOP.
The liberal fantasy holds that ship-jumpers like Walsh can help peel votes from Trump in a general matchup. If anything, the president’s Republican opponents are his useful idiots. He can turn them into handy, willing foils, holding them up as misguided, self-serving jesters whose late-coming, dubious political conversions ultimately highlight Trump’s steadfast conservatism. The truth is, the never-Trumpers can’t truly change their spots without denouncing the bulk of Republican values.
Rich Benjamin, the author of “Searching for Whitopia: An Improbable Journey to the Heart of White America,” is a contributing writer to Opinion. Follow him @IAmRichBenjamin