Shake off that post-election glow, and stop falling in line, conservatives.
So, what are the principles of Trumpism? Opposing political correctness, saying “Merry Christmas,” and protectionism, among others. But mainly, the Principles of Trumpism are the Attitudes of Trumpism: populist rabble-rousing, “in the tradition of Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, FDR, and Ronald Reagan,” Gingrich said. “And by that I mean, in every case, they believed in the American people, they aroused the American people, and they led the American people to victory over entrenched powerful interests.”
Gingrich never bothered to mention that Jackson was an ambitious demagogue who cared little about legal restrictions on his power and used the spoils system to punish his enemies and reward his friends; Teddy Roosevelt was a progressive who massively expanded the reach and power of the federal government; FDR destroyed the very notion of limited government in the United States and ruled from on high using the might of the federal government. If we are to take Gingrich seriously, the main Principle of Trumpism is this: Say whatever you can to win popularity, then use whatever power you have to do what you want.
And Republicans defend all this.
The supposed conservative “thought leaders” — who, we were told, would hem Trump in — have instead knelt before him. Vice President–elect Mike Pence, the man we were promised would limit Trump’s anti-conservative heresies, now says, “The free market has been sorting it out and America’s been losing.” (Trump’s reply: “Every time, every time.”) Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, asked about Trump’s potential business conflicts, simply brushed off such concerns: “This is not what I’m concerned about in Congress.” Ryan has also endorsed Trump’s controversial pick of pro-Russian Rex Tillerson as the potential secretary of state, and he has dismissed questions about Trump’s bizarre insistence that 3 million people voted fraudulently for Hillary Clinton. Senator Ted Cruz, who spent the primaries railing against cronyism, now says that the Carrier deal — a textbook example of cronyism — is great politics: “I think the American people are gratified to have an incoming president, an incoming administration, that will fight to keep jobs here in America.”
There are two possible explanations for conservatives falling in line behind Trump’s bad ideas. First, we could be in the postcoital glow: Trump’s victory has created a halo effect that makes it easier to simply shout “MAGA!” in ecstasy instead of looking at policy. Criticism seems like a damp blanket during a time of celebration — nobody likes a Republican party-pooper.
Second, we could be seeing a tactical attempt by many Republican leaders to flatter Trump into conservatism. That seems to be Paul Ryan’s tactic: Praise Trump to the skies and hope he treats Ryan the same way he treats Putin. This tactic is bound to fail, however: Trump lets flattery work on him only if he has an underlying kinship with the flatterer. Otherwise, he treats flattery as weakness. Mitt Romney tried to flatter Trump, and Trump instead treated him as a penitent Ned Stark, chopping off his head to the delight of the passengers on the Joffrey Train. Ted Cruz did the same, and he got left out in the cold. Trump is fine with Putin’s flattery because he admires Putin’s stronk-like-bool style; he’s not so hot on Chris Christie’s flattery, instead sending Christie back to New Jersey to fetch burgers. If Paul Ryan is delusional enough to believe that his generosity with Trump will earn Trump’s support on entitlement reform, he’s about to be rudely awakened.
Meanwhile, the illusion of conservative unity behind Trump will help Trump effect a soul-suck of the movement itself: Trump will consolidate his gains, then do what he wants. After all, that’s the actual Principle of Trumpism: What’s best for Trump is principal.
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