‘The Muse of History must not be fastidious.” Thus Churchill the historian. But as Churchill the politician knew, the Muse of Politics must not be fastidious either.
Which brings us to Donald Trump.
Trump is, to say the least, not in favor among the fastidious. He’s not even in much favor among those of us who are nonfastidious in our politics. We at The Weekly Standard enjoy the rough-and-readiness of the American political scene—but we also understand the distinction between a reality show and reality, between performing and governing. We love American democracy and are impressed by Trump’s mastery of some of the arts of democratic politics—but we also acknowledge that Trump embodies much that is dubious about mass democracy. We admire the American people—but we also grant that Trumpism exemplifies much that is problematic about American populism.
Still, the fact remains: Donald Trump stands, unexpectedly and impressively, at the center of gravity of the Republican presidential field. His rise has been spectacular, a shock not just to the Republican establishment but to the conservative movement. His fall may be sudden or protracted, complete or partial. Conceivably he won’t fall at all. But in any event, Republicans and conservatives can’t afford fastidiously to turn their back on, or mindlessly to embrace Trump . . . or Trumpism.
What is Trumpism? Elsewhere in this issue Christopher Caldwell and Julius Krein consider the question. In this they join other thoughtful commentators who have recently addressed this matter. What we have to add to the conversation is simply one name: Richard Nixon.
After all, isn’t Donald Trump’s political appeal a kind of cartoon version of Richard Nixon’s? Nixon was the most consequential Republican in America for a long time, arguably from the Hiss-Chambers hearings in 1948 until his resignation from the presidency more than a quarter-century later; a candidate who ran five times for national office, four times a winner and losing only once, possibly as a result of stolen votes in Illinois and Texas; a politician who invented the Silent Majority and laid the basis for the emergence of a governing Republican majority; a president whose achievements pale beside those of our beau ideal, Ronald Reagan. But no Nixon, no Gipper.
Now, in 2015, we seem to be replaying history in fast forward. What took 16 years, from 1964 to 1980, is now happening in a matter of 16 months. The Tea Party was in a way a replay of the Goldwater movement—a visceral, deeply felt, and in many ways justified rebellion against the pretensions and depredations of big government liberalism. Both rebellions fell short of attaining the presidency. Both were followed by a less constitutionalist but perhaps more wide-ranging revolt against the cultured despisers of American patriotism and traditions—the first of which produced the Nixon ascendancy over several tumultuous years, the second of which has fueled the Trump phenomenon over several rambunctious months.
The Nixon era was followed, after a short interlude, by Reagan. The task today is to ensure that the Trumpian moment is followed—with no interlude, and with time telescoped—by a neo-Reaganite victory, one that builds on what is best in the Tea Party and what is healthy in Trumpism to create a politically viable governing conservatism.
The current candidates are, understandably, struggling to come to grips with the phenomenon of Trump. None has put the pieces together as Reagan did. Can one of the 2016 contenders be Reagan to Trump’s Nixon? Can any of the candidates—or one not yet in the race—move beyond disgust at a decadent liberalism to forge a vigorous governing conservatism? That is the question of the hour. The Muse of History will smile on any political leader who can pull this off.
More than a few Republican graybeards are panicking about how the rise of Donald Trump is pulling at the seams of the GOP’s big tent. However, the Republican establishment itself has played a big role in creating this particular Frankenstein’s monster.
It’s been a rough month for Scott Walker. From February through July, the Wisconsin governor topped virtually every poll of likely GOP voters in the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses. But after a lackluster performance in the opening Republican presidential debate on August 6, Walker dropped nearly 10 points in an average of Iowa polls, sliding to third place behind Donald Trump and Ben Carson, with Carly Fiorina, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio close behind.
Whatever the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, the summer of 2015 will be remembered as the summer of Trump and Sanders. The other candidates, especially the Republicans, could learn a lesson from the two renegades, who have figured out how to capitalize on the fact that America is in a funk even as its economy improves.
The late great comedian Milton Berle, when introduced to an enthusiastically applauding audience, would hold up his left hand in a modest gesture as if to say thank you but that’s enough, and with his right hand held at waist level encouraged the audience to even wilder applause. President Obama has just accomplished a similar feat. With one hand he has delivered his Clean Power Plan, designed to reduce the use of our own resources of fossil fuels.
A little over 30 years ago, three generations of the McMartin family, who had run a nursery school in Los Angeles for decades, were arrested, jailed, and put on trial, charged with hundreds of sensational counts of child sexual abuse. Six years later, when no convictions had been obtained, all charges were dropped against them—including against one family member who had languished in jail for five years without being convicted of anything.
Hillary Clinton is a scandalous candidate for president of the United States. Most people acknowledge this, at least judging by her plummeting poll numbers. A raft of stories gives the distinct impression that she and her husband have been running an elaborate pay-to-play operation. Donations to the Clinton Foundation may have produced favorable State Department policies dealing with Russia-owned U.S. uranium deposits, Haitian relief efforts, and foreign banking interests.
The idea of writing a book about a presidential campaign that never happened had not occurred to Don Cogman. He had spent two years trying to get Mitch Daniels, then governor of Indiana, to run for president in 2012. His effort—and it was no small effort—had failed. Daniels had moved on, right out of politics. He’d become president of Purdue University.
Carly Fiorina tried to inspire the nation with a rift about how America is "being crushed by the weight, the power, the cost, the complexity, the ineptitude, the corruption of the federal government." She promised to fix that:
When Hillary Clinton first launched her campaign in April, THE WEEKLY STANDARD reported that her website was asking for donations up to $2,700 on the English version of the site, but only up to $250 on the Spanish language version. Within hours after the story was published, the campaign
In his first Inaugural Address, President Obama offered an open hand to the Iranian regime. On July 14, announcing the nuclear deal that is the culmination of that overture, he shook a closed fist at the American people. The president came out swinging—not at the regime in Tehran but at his predecessors in the Oval Office and in Congress who for decades imposed an increasingly tough sanctions regime on Iran.
One might think that after the last Iraq war Democrats would be wary of allowing intelligence to dictate policy. Yet that is effectively what Barack Obama has done with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action signed in Vienna on July 14. The agreement with Iran is strategically premised on the notion that greater commerce will transform the virulently anti-American, antisemitic, terrorism-fond, increasingly imperial Islamic Republic into something more pleasant. Tactically, the agreement depends on Western intelligence against the Iranian nuclear target.
Hillary Clinton has already spent nearly one million dollars on polling. According to the Democratic presidential candidate's first Federal Election Commission disclosure report, the campaign has already spent $904,915.00 on polling.