Establishment Republicans are apparently coming around to normalizing Trump. They got their tax cuts, their Supreme Court justice, fewer regulations and a more aggressive foreign policy. In the process, they’ve lost the meaning of conservative. Instead of respecting norms and traditions, they’ve thrown them out the window to embrace policy wins.
National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru began a push to give Trump a pass on his behavior. As he points out, Trump’s accomplishments have been those of an establishment Republican, not a raging populist. The tax cuts, in particular, make everything else just an inconvenience.
They’ll defend or ignore his attacks on the press. They’ll excuse his blatant and persistent lies. They won’t even glance at his conflicts of interest or violations of the emoluments clause. They may have been a bit relieved when Roy Moore lost, but they won’t hold Trump accountable for his support of an alleged child molester or for his own alleged sexual abuse. His appeals to racism and defense of white supremacists in Charlottesville are embarrassing but not disqualifying. And they’ll go along with his campaign to discredit the FBI and law enforcement as long as he keeps signing their bills.
Trump may have turned the GOP coalition on its head, but he really didn’t change who was in it. It’s been an alliance of the business-oriented free market ideologues, corporate America and social conservatives, many of whom have always harbored ugly resentments against minorities, for a very long time. Trump just shifted the balance. While before the corporate folks and free marketeers drove the agenda and paid lip service to others, today, it’s the populist social conservatives who are the face of the party.
The populists will excuse all of Trump’s ugliest behavior and even embrace a guy like Roy Moore if we can just keep the brown people in check and make abortions illegal. Ponnuru and others are acknowledging that the new order is ok and not really that different if you just ignore the damage to the norms and traditions and the dignity of the office. Being conservative no longer is about conserving decorum.
We’ve seen it here in North Carolina. Conservatives look the other way when the legislature is overriding the will of the people by redistricting local elections against the wishes of the local residents. They pretend to believe in debunked voter fraud theories when the legislature is embracing policies that target older African-Americans to make voting harder. They stay quiet while the legislature upends the judicial system to provide a partisan advantage. And they say little as the legislature micromanages the business of the university system.
The only people who can contain Trump are the Republicans who control the House and Senate and they’re clearly not going to. More disturbing, though, are the conservative columnists, pundits and donors who could exert influence on the Republican leadership. While they may criticize the president, they are silent about the people like Ryan and McConnell who could possibly curb Trump’s behavior but who are too scared or opportunistic to do so. They’ll take their policy wins, deregulation and tax cuts and pretend like Trump is just another president.