Over the course of this election, the fears of many conservatives hoping to win the White House back have been realized: Donald Trump has reaffirmed every awful stereotype about the Republican Party.
In the year following Mitt Romney’s 2012 loss to President Obama, the GOP looked inward, and saw serious distress signals in the country’s changing demographics. The party had become unappealing to wide swaths of voters, including women, minorities and millennials. Republicans set about to change that, spreading more inclusive and disciplined messages that focused more on limited government and fiscal issues than divisive social ones.
But when Trump descended a gold-accented escalator to the tune of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World” last June, and proceeded to call Mexicans rapists, among other things, all that progress screetched to a halt.
If there was any hope of convincing voters that Republicans are not racist, bigoted, xenophobic, sexist, backwards and ignorant, it vanished — along with the party’s chances of winning the White House — when Trump became the nominee. When he made the decision to appeal not to the Paul Ryan wing of the party, but instead to the much smaller white nationalist wing — and the party did not disavow him for it — Republicans writ large were instantly covered in his singularly grotesque patina.
Even conservatives who did not support Trump, like myself, will have a difficult time separating Trump’s unconservative politic and rhetoric from the party that literally begged him to sign a loyalty pledge, when Trump himself has shown little if any loyalty to anyone or anything but himself.
As a consequence of Trump, Republicans have the highest unfavorable rating since 1992, according to Pew, rising from 58 percent last October to 62 percent in April. Notably, the decline came mostly among people who identified as Republican — 68 percent had a favorable view of their own party in April, versus 79 percent in October.
This may please liberals who relied on those negative stereotypes to paint conservatives as out-of-touch and ugly, but to those of us who knew better, watching Trump’s disastrous campaign has been like watching someone set fire to the house you finally paid off.
Unimaginably, this is not even the worst of it. In addition to reaffirming the damaging popular perception of the Republican Party, he has actually stolen legitimate arguments away from conservatives who will find new skepticism where it didn’t previously exist.
Conservatives used to be able to say that the GOP was the party of intellectual diversity. While Democrats tended toward group-think, the Republican party housed numerous competing philosophies, from libertarianism to social conservatism to populism. Democrats offered one solution for every problem — more government — while Republicans offered a dozen different ones.
Trump’s campaign, however, has been neither intellectual nor particularly diverse. It’s been group-think at its worst, where his supporters will defend anything he says or does as “anti-establishment,” even if the establishment has nothing to do with it. How will conservatives insist they are intellectually diverse when for a year Trump made himself an authoritarian demagogue, whose rise was due in large part to an anti-intellectual, anti-diversity backlash?
Conservatives also used to claim the moral high ground when it came to infidelity and sex. Even when adultery or sexual assault happened on our side, conservatives were at least morally outraged about it. No more. In spite of the numerous disavowals of Trump’s inexcusable behavior with women from party leaders, the party itself can muster only disappointment, but no moral outrage, over countless allegations of sexual assault and disgusting conversations caught on tape. No conservative will be able to suggest ours is the more righteous set of values now that Trump was at the top of our ticket.
Republicans also used to be able to claim the edge when it came to foreign policy. At times of war or international crisis, conservatives tend to win elections. Whatever you think of George W. Bush and the Iraq War, President Obama’s foreign policy has been an abysmal failure. But instead of offering a smart counterpoint, Trump has offered only uninformed bombast and a frightening deference to world dictators.
Trump hasn’t only undone the progress conservatives had been making in winning new voters to the Republican Party. He’s stolen the arguments we used to make credibly and without protest out from under us. When he loses on Nov. 8, conservatives will be left with very little to make our case to the country Trump leaves behind.
Contact Cupp at thesecupp.com
This column originally appeared in the New York Daily News.
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