I wonder when the Trump backers will realize they’ve been had.
The 2016 GOP campaign has been overwhelmed by Donald Trump’s celebrity persona, by the can’t-take-your-eyes-off-it appearances where he might say or do anything — and “anything” includes expletives, incitements, and assorted idiocies that would have been disqualifying in the bygone times of, oh, five or ten minutes ago. But Trump is not the real story of the campaign. The real story is the Republican base’s rejection of the Republican establishment — i.e., the party leaders, prominent pols, lobbyists, and donors who make up the GOP component of the Washington ruling class.
It is, we’re told, an “insurgent election.” In the media narrative, which swallows whole Trump’s self-portrait, the “outsider” real-estate mogul’s ongoing clash with Senator Ted Cruz is the ultimate showdown of “Insurgent v. Insurgent.”
Alas, if you buy this storyline, you’re apt to miss a couple of things.
The first is that no one else is left. As we focus on the pitched battle between the two remaining candidates, it is easy to overlook that all the insiders’ preferred candidates have been swept aside — unless you count the vanity crusade of John Kasich (which I don’t, except as a subsidiary of the Trump campaign).
The second thing missing from the “Insurgent v. Insurgent” storyline is: We’re one insurgent short.
Donald Trump is the Washington establishment. The fact that he has not previously held public office does not make him an “outsider.” Hell, Reince Priebus — the head of the Republican National Committee — has never held public office. If the ruling class were just the officeholders, it would be short-lived. The Donald Trumps who pay the freight are the Washington establishment’s lifeblood. They are joined to the officeholders at the hip . . . or hadn’t you noticed Governor Christie shadowing The Donald?
When Trump leans Republican, he leans with the Republicans who play ball with Democrats. It is Democrats, predominantly, who have been lavished with Trump’s material and moral support over the decades. There is plenty of room at the Trump trough, though, for the kind of Republicans that primary voters thought they had deep-sixed.
While Boehner was surrendering, Donald Trump was backing him to the hilt: a staggering $100,000 contribution to the Congressional Leadership Fund — Boehner’s super PAC, formed largely to fend off conservative primary challenges against GOP establishment loyalists. It should be easy to remember that number, $100,000. It is the same amount Trump gave to the Clinton Foundation. That’s even more than the $60,000 Trump gave to Kentuckians for Strong Leadership, the super PAC of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (along with a $5,200 contribution to McConnell’s reelection campaign). It was McConnell, of course, who handled the Senate end of the budget surrender that Obama praised for reflecting “our values” — meaning two years of his values, paid in full by the GOP-controlled Congress.
Understandably furious at GOP leaders, Trump fans swoon to the charlatan promise of a fortress wall that will never be built, much less paid for by Mexico. Meanwhile, it doesn’t seem to register with these voters that Trump is promising to give legal status to millions of illegal aliens after temporarily deporting them.
Trump is the Washington establishment, the very embodiment of its progressive pieties, cloaked in tough-guy bravado. It is thus an amazing thing to behold: In our “insurgent election,” voters are so incensed at Republican-party leaders that if John Boehner and Mitch McConnell had run for president, they’d have gotten even less support than Chris Christie, who failed to win a single delegate despite $31 million spent on his candidacy. Yet millions of those voters have been taken in by Donald Trump, who funds the establishment they tell us they despise and would press the agenda that has driven them from the GOP.
When will they realize they’ve been had?
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