And now for a sentence I’m stunned to be writing (but maybe shouldn’t be stunned to be writing): Donald Trump has once again shown that he’s one of the most interesting politicians in America – and in a good way.
The reason: In just the last few weeks, the former President has just staked out moderate and commonsensical positions on two critical issues that are frontally challenging a hardening, politically foolish and substantively counterproductive Republican/conservative consensus.
I’m stunned to see this because last month, I wrote that his continuing, off-putting – and, I emphasized, apparently irremediable – personal behavior and poor judgment meant that he no longer deserved even to lead the conservative populist movement, much less win the Republican 2024 presidential nomination.
But I shouldn’t be so stunned because Trump has been opposing decades of Republican and conservative dogma since he first threw his hat in the ring in 2015. Trade and immigration policies are the obvious examples – and due to his efforts, the GOP is no longer the mouthpiece of the Open Borders-friendly corporate cheap labor lobby and of the China-coddling corporate offshoring lobby.
At the same time, Trump’s achievement in this respect has been even broader. As I’ve written, the unusual combinations of policies he supported contained the promise of not only redefining American conservatism (by uniting its traditional focus on allegedly excessive taxation and regulation with those aforementioned populist approaches to trade and immigration) but of bringing some long Democratic-voting constituencies into a new national political coalition broad enough to govern effectively. These include both households with members of industrial unions and working class minorities.
So it’s been all the more dispiriting that, in particular, the former President hasn’t been able to overcome his tendency to embrace even the most odious or simply dodgy figures as long as they profess admiration for him, and to blurt out the first often ill-considered opinions that pop into his head.
Nonetheless, there was Trump the day after New Year’s, writing on his own social media platform that “It wasn’t my fault that the Republicans didn’t live up to expectations [in the last midterm elections]….It was the ‘abortion issue,’ poorly handled by many Republicans, especially those that firmly insisted on No Exceptions, even in the case of Rape, Incest, or Life of the Mother, that lost large numbers of Voters.”
And as known by RealityChek regulars, evidence indeed abounds that contributing mightily to the Democrats’ better-than-expected November showing was a sharp, widespread reaction against (a) the sweeping Supreme Court ruling striking down the previously cited Constitutional right to privacy that legalized abortion nationally in most cases (approved to be sure by several Trump-appointed Justices); and (b) to the consequent stated determination of many Republican abortion foes to lengthen the list of draconian state bans.
Then, last Friday, Trump warned in a video message, “Under no circumstances should Republicans vote to cut a single penny from Medicare or Social Security.” He added, “Cut waste, fraud and abuse everywhere that we can find it and there is plenty there’s plenty of it,” Trump says. “But do not cut the benefits our seniors worked for and paid for their entire lives. Save Social Security, don’t destroy it.”
The former President was referring both to statements by Republican members of Congress supporting the idea of winning changes in eligibility for these hugely expensive but politically popular entitlement programs before agreeing to lift the federal debt ceiling, and to similar criticisms of entitlement spending expressed during the last campaign.
And as noted in the above-linked Politico article, support for Social Security and Medicare versus establishment Republican calls for significant change has been a long-standing Trump position.
Once again, I don’t believe that Trump has the personal discipline to stay on these most recent constructive messages and to avoid committing damaging own-goals. But these new statements add another big question about the future of Republicanism and conservatism: How genuinely Trump will leaders who have shown signs of championing “Trump-ism without Trump” actually be?