The Entente Between Trump and the Republican Elite

We are starting to see the sorry spectacle of a Republican establishment that detests Donald Trump falling in line behind his candidacy. Before it's over, schisms will be papered over; the vast majority of Republican elected officials will endorse Trump; and he will pick up plenty of Republican donors as well.

You can see all this in the well-choreographed back-pedaling by House Speaker Paul Ryan and by RNC Chairman Reince Preibus, and in the increasing isolation of the few senior Republican elected officials such as Nebraska senator Ben Sasse who have pledged never to support Trump.

A week ago, I wrote in this space that "efforts by Republican leaders to block Trump's election to the presidency will only intensify." Well, that prediction sure has been overtaken by events.

What about the plain contradictions between many of Trump's positions and those of most Republicans? Evidently, those will be papered over, too. The man is nothing if not opportunist. He has shown himself capable of reversing his positions on a dime. And he will.

The hiring of conventional (yet fringe) Republican economic policy advisers signals how this is likely to go. Trump has named Larry Kudlow of CNBC and Steve Moore of the Heritage Foundation to advise him on economics--far right economists with a record of getting things wrong, but familiar and comforting to leading Republicans.

As Trump repositions himself for the general election, we can anticipate more presidential-sounding and less lunatic pronouncements on foreign policy, and tax and budget proposals that merely fail to add up, in the great tradition of Paul Ryan and supply side economics, but not ones whose simple arithmetic is ludicrously off by $10 trillion.

One should be hesitant to predict anything when it comes to Trump, but I think I can predict this much with confidence:

The parts of the Trump program that most gave establishment Republicans heartburn will end up on the cutting room floor. By the time of the convention and the GOP platform, forget anti-Wall Street rhetoric and calls to raise taxes on the rich. Forget defense of Medicare and Social Security.

The man, after all, is a billionaire businessman. We should not expect the second coming of William Jennings Bryan. If admiring working class voters are too gulled to notice the contradiction, too bad for them.

What will remain will be the parts of the Republican program where Trump and the business elite converge--tax cuts, pruning back government, deregulation.
The one economic issue where Trump may well hang tough is on trade, China, and export of jobs. But the two bipartisan trade deals supported by President Obama - TPP and TTIP - are pretty dead in the water anyway. And a tougher line against China's predatory state-led capitalism is actually smart policy and politics, even supported by some of the business community.

What, then, will be left of the raw Trump populism that has had such appeal to downtrodden white voters? Why, the truly ugly nativism, of course. He has backpedalled some from his pledge not to admit Muslims to the country, but what remains loud and clear is the dog-whistle.

Why are Republican leaders rallying behind a figure who they hate, a man who has been mocking and vilifying them all year? Because they, too, are utter opportunists.

The stop-Trump movement failed. Trump has demonstrated appeal to constituencies who Republicans have long been trying to rally. He has been underrated ever since he declared for the presidency. And given the right set of accidents (like a major terrorist attack or a major Clinton stumble), he just might win.

As Andrew Sullivan observed in New York Magazine, "In terms of our liberal democracy and constitutional order, Trump is an extinction-level event. It's long past time we started treating him as such."

But for all of their blather about abuses of executive power and reverence for the Constitution, Republicans who put principle ahead of expediency are few and far between. And their view of what's expedient should tell us something.

If other Republicans were alarmed that a Trump candidacy would drag the entire ticket down to defeat, they would be working a lot harder to block Trump at all costs. We would be hearing more about a third-party challenge, and more GOP elected officials would be with Ben Sasse.

The fact that this stop-Trump movement is shrinking rather than growing tells us that many of Republican leaders have concluded that Trump could give Hillary Clinton a run for her money. And with a degree of party unity that seemed inconceivable even two weeks ago, Trump's hand is strengthened.

The rise of Trump is an emblem of the failure of American democracy. The Republican effort to block Obama at every turn has been all too successful. Problems keep festering; government keeps not addressing them; government itself keeps getting discredited. Demagogue time.

Those Democrats who were so pleased that Trump defeated more conventional Republicans, who expect that his candidacy sets up a collapse of the Republican Party and a landslide for Hillary Clinton, might want to think twice.

Robert Kuttner is co-editor of The American Prospect and professor at Brandeis University's Heller School. His latest book is Debtors' Prison: The Politics of Austerity Versus Possibility.

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