Republicans: Is their ‘devil’s bargain’ paying off?
Few of us saw this coming, said Rich Lowry in the New York Post, but President Trump’s first year in office is actually “starting to look like a big win” for traditional conservatives. The capstone was the $1.5 trillion tax-cut bill that Trump signed just before Christmas, which lowers the corporate tax rate from 35 to 21 percent. But the president has also rolled back environmental and business regulations, appointed a slew of young conservative judges— most notably Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court—and withdrawn from the burdensome Paris climate accords. Overseas, Trump has pounded ISIS to the brink of defeat, taken a tough line with Iran and North Korea, and finally recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. “None of this is to deny Trump’s failings”; he remains a deeply divisive figure, with “a shambolic governing style.” But from a policy standpoint “it’s hard to see how a conventional Republican president could have done much better.” For most of 2017, the GOP leadership seemed worried that supporting Trump was “a devil’s bargain that would end in disaster,” said Matt Lewis in TheDailyBeast.com. Now, House Speaker Paul Ryan is praising Trump’s “exquisite” leadership, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is congratulating him for a year of “extraordinary accomplishment,” and an overwrought Sen. Orrin Hatch has predicted that Trump will deliver “the greatest presidency that we’ve seen not only in generations, but maybe ever.”
With Congress’ help, Trump did deliver some solid policy wins for the Right, said Noah Rothman in CommentaryMagazine.com, but conservatives need to ask themselves: “Was it all worth it?” The president’s gleeful stoking of the culture wars over kneeling football players, Confederate monuments, and supposed voter fraud has made the GOP base even more angry and paranoid than it was before; “his habit of giving aid and comfort to the worst elements of American society,” most notably white supremacists, will surely come back to haunt the GOP in the November midterms. Trump is still the “cruel, mendacious egomaniac” that the Republican leadership used to keep at arm’s length, said Conor Friedersdorf in TheAtlantic.com. By fawning over him now, they are “disgracing themselves and doing shortsighted violence to the GOP’s long-term prospects.” This stain won’t wash off.
Those concerns are “well-founded,” said David French in NationalReview.com, but the fact remains that so far Trump’s impulsive and “malicious” tendencies have largely found their expression in his Twitter feed, rather than in public policy. Despite or perhaps because of their obsequiousness, Republican leaders have succeeded in pushing Trump into a mainstream conservative agenda. The rise of Trumpism was supposed to mean the death of true conservatism, said Ben Shapiro, also in NationalReview.com. Instead, the first year under Trump “has left nationalist populists out in the cold,” while Trump governs as if he were Ted Cruz.
In the end, conservatives will still rue the day they bowed to Trump, said Bret Stephens in The New York Times. Two central conservative truths are that “character counts” and “culture matters.” Yet Republicans are now pretending that Trump’s character—his constant lying, his crude bullying, his racial bigotry, his monstrous narcissism—are mere distractions. They are not; neither is the deep damage being done to our national culture by his anti-intellectual, conspiracy-minded white-identity politics. This president has unleashed something deeply ugly, and it “won’t end with Trump.” As decent Americans recoil in disgust, Republicans who embrace this reckless demagogue may end up “permanently alienating” a generation of young voters.