Why the Republican Establishment Really Fears Trump

by Toni Tweedle Healy
March 20, 2016

As a life-long Democrat, it is fun to watch the collective freak-out of the Republican establishment to the ever increasing likelihood of a Trump nomination at the top of their 2016 ticket.  They claim that his appeal to bigotry and xenophobia is not what their party stands for.  They claim that he can’t win a national election.  They claim that he will hurt down-ballot Republicans in house and senate races.  These things may or may not be true, especially in this topsy-turvy election cycle.  But these machinations are merely a ruse to disguise the real reasons they don’t want a Trump nomination.  They oppose him because he is not a reliable conservative on any of the issues that really matter to them:  restricting abortion rights, conservative economic philosophy, or neo-con foreign policy.


Republican claims that Trump’s bigotry and misogyny are inconsistent with their values is blatant hypocrisy.   They have been running national elections on dog-whistle racial politics for decades.  Goldwater’s positions were blatant; later campaigns’ messages were far more subtle: Nixon’s “silent majority”, Reagan’s “welfare queen,” George H. W. Bush’s Willy Horton ads.  Trump has merely traded the dog whistle for a trumpet, and the white working class is hearing it loud and clear.  Trump’s strategy is pretty clear; he is hoping that enough white working class Democrats will cross party lines and vote for him to counter the wall of opposition from minority groups and that hatred of Hillary Clinton will be high enough to put him over the top.  Pundits disagree on whether this can work.


The Cook Political Report has recently changed ratings on ten house races in favor of Democrats based on either a Trump or a Cruz nomination, so it is possible that movement conservatives do have something to worry about in this scenario.  http://cookpolitical.com/story/9382 They rely on dog whistles; but Trump’s blatant appeal to intolerance turns off a significant portion of the electorate.  But I honestly don’t believe this is why they have so vehemently, although belatedly, begun to openly oppose his nomination.


The real motivation for the “Stop Trump” movement is the fact that Donald Trump is not one of them.  How can they rely on him to continually trample on a woman’s right to choose when he as recently as 1999, been “pro-choice in every respect”?  He doesn’t rail on this solid pillar of Republican establishment principles at his rallies.  He didn’t have some kind of phony religious conversion on the issue.  He simply and suddenly became “pro-life.”  Box checked.


If you’ve ever refused to turn off the television when the cable networks run endless strings of Trump rallies, you know that what he talks about most to his supporters is trade.  Yes, you read that right:  trade.  Trump is the only Republican candidate that I can recall who has ever suggested that corporations shipping jobs overseas is somehow a bad thing.  While his assertion that he could single-handedly impose protectionist tariffs in a phone call to a company CEO is patently absurd, this kind of truth doesn’t faze Trump supporters.  But this is the Trump rallying cry that most terrifies movement conservatives.  His position is totally inconsistent with the laissez faire capitalism that dominates conservative economic philosophy. They believe in free markets and deregulation, not protectionism.  They favor the rights of corporations over the rights of lowly workers.  Donald Trump has exposed movement conservatives for the tricksters they are.  They use dog whistle politics and appeals to socially conservative touchstones like abortion and gay rights to rally the white working class to the Republican Party while supporting policies that were totally against their economic interests, a phenomenon explored by Thomas Frank in his famous book, What’s the Matter with Kansas?  Trump has now brought the economic needs of the white working class to the forefront and loudly shouted their nativist anxieties in an effort to separate them from the “establishment” who has let them down.  He does this while claiming as an aside that he is a “free-trader.”  This statement, which by the way his supporters seem to ignore, is not sufficiently trustworthy for movement conservatives.  They just don’t know how he will govern on this issue, and that scares them to death.


On foreign policy, Trump’s positions are even more circular and confusing.  Most concerning to the neo-con set is his breaching of the third rail of Republican politics:  his voiced disgust against George W. Bush’s Iraq war.  The audible gasps of exasperation from Republican regulars (including the other candidates) defined one famous slug fest debate on the issue.  Republican pundits were apoplectic.  This is not normally considered a Republican position; this is a Democratic position.  Could it be that the Republican base is not as interventionist and militaristic as their neo-con military advisors demand them to be?  Or should they believe his statements to the contrary that he will “bomb the hell out of ISIS,” or put 40,000 troops on the ground to defeat them?  Or those that indicate he will even further grow the military budget to send fear into the hearts of our enemies? Which is it?  How can they trust this man to adhere to the neo-con positions the movement conservatives demand?


Trump’s ability to wiggle around issues and talk over any journalist who dares ask a question is legendary. He supports abortion rights; he’s pro-life.  He’ll impose tariffs on corporations who ship jobs overseas, but he’s a free trader.  He opposes interventionist military policies, but he’ll “bomb the hell” out of our enemies. His verbal gymnastics allow his supporters to read into his message anything that appeals to them.  And that is why he is so dangerous.  No one knows how he will govern or what he will stand for if elected President of the United States.  For me, his election would be a superlative embarrassment.  To his supporters, he is the leader who tells it like it is, who says what they want said.


According to Chris Matthews, Richard Nixon once said, “If you ever hear of a Stop X movement, bet on X.”  Donald Trump is careening toward the Republican nomination for President of the United States.  And that scares the hell out of a lot of people.  But it’s still fun to watch.




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