Surely the most intelligent thing said so far about the Trump phenomenon was Anne Coulter’s pithy admonition that those who don’t like Trump should steal his issue, by which she meant immigration. We’d amend that to “issues,” because in our view there are three core components to Trumpism: secure borders, economic nationalism and America-first foreign policy.
No matter, though: the question still stands. Why hasn’t anyone stolen Trump’s issues? That applies both to other candidates and to “conservative” intellectuals.
In 1968, the leadership of the Democratic Party all fervently believed in the Vietnam War, but the base was—to say the least—divided. Here was a huge opportunity for some ambitious pol to seize the leadership of the anti-war faction and reap their votes. Except that no one with anything to lose wanted to get on the wrong side of LBJ. Until Eugene McCarthy, who had nothing (politically) to lose, launched his famous suicide mission. He succeeded in taking out LBJ, if not in securing the nomination for himself.
The incumbent president this year is not a Republican (though, given how often the Republican leadership does Obama’s bidding, confusion on that score is understandable). Still, the GOP establishment may be analogized to LBJ and Trump to McCarthy. Like McCarthy, Trump has nothing (politically) to lose by taking on the bosses, whom he is well on his way to dislodging.
But this begs the question: where is the GOP’s RFK? That is, where is the more palatable—to the party and to the general electorate—seasoned pol with high ambition and a big reputation who could sweep in and collect the prize after the kamikaze pilot has done the unpalatable dirty work?
McCarthy’s stunning near-upset over Johnson in New Hampshire occurred on March 12th—that is, 48 years ago almost to the day. RFK entered the race on March 16th—as it were, three days from now.
Yes, yes—the primary system was different then. Not every state held one, the process began later and was more complex, requiring an earlier start, etc. Still, one wonders why no RFK came along months ago to transform the GOP race?
Part of the answer, surely, is that all the wise and good were certain that Trump would collapse of his own weight and that one of the half-dozen or so acceptable establishment candidates already in the race would cruise to victory. They held to this hope for much longer than the facts warranted, as one after the other, the establishment candidates flamed or dropped out until it was too late to substitute anyone else. We are thus left with the amusing spectacle of the establishment trying desperately to talk itself into holding its nose and rallying behind Ted Cruz.
But the bigger part of the answer points back to Coulter’s question. The real reason no senior Republican has swooped in to bump Trump aside and seize the nomination is because in order to do so, he’d have to steal Trump’s issues and no senior Republican wants to do that. Because no senior Republican actually believes in—much less wants to fight for—secure borders, economic nationalism and America-first foreign policy.
Contrast that with RFK, who had to repudiate—if only implicitly, but no less unmistakably*—his own brother’s foreign policy in order to take up the anti-war mantle. By coincidence, we had another presidential brother in the 2016 cycle. Can anyone imagine him deviating one millimeter from the establishment script his brother helped codify?
That neither he nor anyone else would so much as consider doing so is #1 on the growing list of reasons why the Republican Party as currently constituted is finished, and deserves to be.