In a post a week ago I wondered about how many of the impossible promises Donald Trump made during the campaign he could renege on or water down before his supporters would turn on him. I think he could get away with a lot. Republicans (and many Democrats too if we are honest) are notorious for being able to abandon their loudly stated principles when it serves their partisan needs, and Trump supporters seem even more extreme in their almost cult-like devotion to him personally than run-of-the-mill party members.
I expected the so-called deficit hawks to abandon their demand that all new expenditures be balanced with cuts in spending elsewhere now that Trump is president and I did not have to wait long to see that happen. The day after I made that prediction, the so-called Republican Freedom Caucus in the House of Representatives that represents the most extreme elements of the party said that they might not hold Trump to that same standard and might be willing to accept a budget that had cuts that accounted for just 50% of new spending. As anyone knows, that is like saying one is just 50% pregnant. Once one has abandoned a total commitment, the percentage involved can be fudged to allow almost anything.
According to several members, there has been informal talk of accepting a bill that’s only 50 percent paid for, with the rest of the borrowing being offset down the road by “economic growth.” It’s an arrangement Republicans would never have endorsed under a President Hillary Clinton, and a slippery slope to go down with Trump.
In fact, what we are seeing now is massive maneuvering within the Republican party to accommodate Trump’s plans, such as they are, without seeming to have totally sold out.
This explains why, eight days after Trump’s victory, the Conservative Action Project — an umbrella group for prominent activists — held a celebratory gathering at the Ritz-Carlton in Tyson’s Corner, Va. Attendees included some hardline conservatives who remained opposed to Trump throughout the election season; they were surprised to hear Heritage Foundation president Jim DeMint talk about the party’s finally being unified, and stunned at the glowing remarks about Trump from Ed Meese, Ronald Reagan’s former attorney general and an icon in the conservative movement.
It also explains why, over the next three days, a sister organization — the Council for National Policy — met at the same location and focused not on the risks Trump poses to conservatism but on the opportunities at hand. There were panels featuring economists Larry Kudlow and Stephen Moore, both of whom are expected to work in Trump’s administration; Meese and Family Research Council president Tony Perkins; and Tom DeLay, who starred in a discussion entitled “Make Congress Great Again.” Nary a negative nor cautionary remark was made about Trump the entire weekend, attendees say.
All of this is a gamble, of course, as Trump’s ideology is disjointed at best and his core philosophy on the appropriate role of government is anyone’s guess. So while his presidency represents a prime opportunity for conservatives to influence the direction of the party and the country, it also threatens to redefine Republicanism in a way that is hostile toward traditional concepts of limited government. In some areas, no doubt, Trump’s agenda will mesh nicely with these principles. When it inevitably does not, conservatives will find themselves facing a quandary: Fall in line and risk damaging the credibility of conservatism, or push back and risk provoking a thin-skinned and Twitter-addicted president.
Meanwhile, some of the extremists in the Trump fan base that includes neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and Holocaust deniers are threatening a revolt if Trump does not carry through those promises that attracted them to him.
Donald Trump will disappoint and disillusion his far-right supporters by eschewing white supremacy, according to some of the movement’s own intellectual leaders.
Activists who recently gave Nazi salutes and shouted “hail Trump” at a gathering in Washington will revolt if the new US president fails to meet their expectations, the leaders told the Guardian.
Jared Taylor, a white supremacist who runs the self-termed “race-realist” magazine American Renaissance, said the president-elect had already backpedalled on several pledges that had fired up the far-right. “At first he promised to send back every illegal immigrant. Now he is waffling on that.”
n an email interview Peter Brimelow, founder of the webzine Vdare.com, which alleges Mexican plots to remake the US, said Trump’s failure to deliver “important bones” could trigger a backlash. “I think the right of the right is absolutely prepared to revolt. It’s what they do.”
Trump’s relationship with the far-right – an unruly grouping which includes opponents to illegal immigration, free trade, police reform, political correctness, miscegenation and mainstream Holocaust scholarship – will partly define his administration.
So this is what we can expect to see in the first year of the Trump administration: Attempts by Trump to con his extremist and working and middle class supporters into thinking that he is serving their needs even as he betrays them; efforts by the Republican establishment to accommodate Trump’s grandiose plans and executive power expansion while trying to appear as if they still stand for limited government; and his most extreme supporters trying to hold both Trump and the Republican party’s feet to the fire if they backtrack on the racist and xenophobic campaign promises.
We should also bear in mind that an extreme narcissist like Trump is likely to do and say anything that he thinks will make people like him. We can expect him to continue to hold campaign-style rallies in front of adoring crowds where he tosses out red meat. But as time goes by and the novelty of his presidency wars off and the crowds get smaller and less enthusiastic, the meat will have to get redder to get a similar response. How low can he go? Is there a breaking point? These are the big unanswered questions as we await a Trump presidency.
The question for progressives is what should be their strategy while all this is going on. There is no question that specific policy initiatives that are harmful should be fought vigorously using every possible tool. But is there a broad, overarching strategy that can and should be adopted?