The admirable (and convivial) Peggy Noonan, always the most civilized of the vast anti-Trump media gallery, again contemplated on Aug. 1 (Wall Street Journal) the post-Trump era, with the peppy confidence of Never Trump Republicans that it’s about to begin.
Her column addresses the question of whether the post-Trump Republican Party should be “burned down,” totally dismantled, as if that were a real option. The last major American political party to endure this fate was the Whigs, at the onset of the Civil War and after all of its major figures had decamped to the new Republican Party.
She correctly attributed Trump’s victory in the 2016 Republican primaries, and in the presidential election, to public impatience over expensive and strategically disastrous wars, the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression, a complete failure of everybody to deal with the endless inflow of penurious illegal immigrants across the southern border, and a general feeling among working and lower-middle-class Americans that they were being ignored by a bipartisan government of financial and celebrity elites.
This is a reasonable and not overly difficult analysis, but it omits the failure of the Bush-Clinton-Obama era to generate economic growth. Per capita GDP growth declined from 4.5 percent in the bustling Reagan years steadily to 1 percent under Obama, with admonitions from senior administration officials that the country had to accustom itself to flatlined growth.
This was, in effect, an assault upon the American ethos of ever-greater plenty and of unlimited rewards for honest hard work. The Noonan analysis also underplayed the national frustration at a loss of manufacturing jobs through trade agreements with ostensibly friendly countries, and a foreign policy that, despite invincible military strength, led to failures and self-eradicating redlines.
Trump’s Decision to Run
Before addressing the pretended question of the fate of the post-election Republican Party, there was the usual anti-Trump mind-reading of the motives for his candidacy. It was a brand-building exercise, and Trump’s program was allegedly assembled in mid-campaign by measuring the applause generated by various oratorical gambits as Trump proceeded around the country making flamboyant stump speeches.
In fact, Trump had been considering and exploring the possibilities of transforming high public recognition into the highest political office for 20 years since he recovered from his financial crisis. He did win two primaries as the progressive candidate in 2000, a party that included Ross Perot and the wrestler Jesse Ventura (governor of Minnesota).
He changed parties seven times in 13 years, looking for the right moment and the correct vehicle. He withdrew in 2000 after realizing that the original Republicans in 1860 were the only third-party in American history to become a governing party. He saw that he couldn’t run against an incumbent in 2004 or 2012 and that in 2008, he had no chance of the Democratic nomination and the Republicans had no chance of winning.
The roulette wheel stopped in 2016 and he placed his bets. Brand-building may have been the default position that he would have invoked (doubtless profitably), but he had substantial and, as events revealed, well-founded hopes for political success.
Testing crowd reactions is a more reliable and cheaper canvas of public opinion for someone who can pull large crowds spontaneously than employing the experts who infest Washington and overcharge all candidates for frequently erroneous guidance.
Appeasing Violence and Leaning on Pestilence
Obviously, if Trump loses this election it will be by a relatively narrow margin and the Republican Party will be in perfectly good condition to reorient itself and will win again in four or eight years, especially as a Biden presidency can be confidently assumed to be a catastrophe.
That’s the pattern of American politics, and the Republicans will do much better than they did with Barry Goldwater in 1964 or the Democrats did with George McGovern in 1972, and in both cases, the White House changed hands at the next election.
So the question of the Republican Party ending is nonsense and not only for the reasons the author gives: that the two-party system is a good thing, and that a Democratic White House and both houses of the Congress would do a good many bad things, and that Trump is destroying himself, so nothing further need be inflicted on the Republicans.
Noonan had already written that the president has “produced a different kind of disaster” than the one he ran against.
“The past six months, Mr. Trump came up against his own perfect storm, one he could neither exploit nor talk his way past,” referring to the pandemic, the economic contraction, and “prolonged sometimes violent national street protests. If the polls can be trusted, he is on the verge of losing the presidency.”
Certainly, he can’t talk his way past these problems, but he is managing the pandemic and the economy quite well, and he can exploit in different respects all three of these crises.
Trump didn’t create them and the disaster that Noonan refers to was, in fact, a presidency that had a gold approval rating and was almost universally expected to be reelected prior to the onset of the coronavirus. As long as the polls have been judging the level of public discontent and not measuring candidates against each other, Trump was sinking. But as the process grinds toward Election Day, he is recovering in the polls, and the Democratic effort to make the election a referendum on Trump is giving way to a choice of available alternatives.
Joe Biden accused Trump of hysteria and “xenophobia” when he stopped direct air flights to the United States from China at the end of January. The Democrats want a continued shutdown of as much as possible to prolong the artificial recession and represent Trump as the Herbert Hoover of the 21st century.
The Democrats have been (as Attorney General William Barr mentioned in the House Judiciary Committee on July 28) unable to condemn mob violence. Violent crime is rising steeply in most U.S. cities where corrupt Democratic municipal authorities are curtailing or even abolishing police departments.
The Democrats want a prolonged shutdown and the nonsense of urging self-quarantine on anyone who has been near a coronavirus-afflicted person in the previous two weeks and can be identified and located, an insane proposal.
Trump has drastically reduced illegal immigration, had effectively eliminated unemployment, and shown what he could do to generate prosperity especially in lower-income groups prior to the virus onset, and is running against a completely implausible candidate who in the hands of his minders is appeasing urban mob violence and leaning upon a pestilence to sustain him.
On Nov. 4, the country will be more likely to be considering how to reconstruct a defeated Democratic Party than the Republicans. On that day, a hand should be extended to the Never Trumpers who have sleep-walked through these four years, inviting them to return usefully to the Republicans, and they should accept the offer.
Conrad Black has been one of Canada’s most prominent financiers for 40 years, and was one of the leading newspaper publishers in the world. He’s the author of authoritative biographies of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Richard Nixon, and, most recently “Donald J. Trump: A President Like No Other.”
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.