Monday, July 31, 2017


Establishment Republicans have agreed on a talking point regarding Donald Trump, and they're now whispering it in the ears of elite journalists at every opportunity. The message: Trump has nothing to do with us. This message is being retransmitted by Tim Alberta at Politico:
Looking around Trump’s inner circle, there is communications director Anthony Scaramucci, a political novice who in the past donated to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton; chief strategist Steve Bannon, who used Breitbart to try and burn the Republican Party to the ground; National Economic Council director Gary Cohn, a lifelong Democrat; director of strategic communication Hope Hicks, who has zero history with GOP politics; and Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, a pair of self-professed Manhattan progressives. Of Trump’s closest advisers, only Mike Pence has any association with the Republican Party.

This no longer seems accidental. Trump has, since taking office, consistently referred to Republicans as though he is not one himself—it's invariably “they” or “them.” Unlike past presidents of his party, Trump entered the White House with few personal relationships with prominent Republicans: donors, lobbyists, party activists, politicians. This liberated him to say whatever he pleased as a candidate, and, by firing Priebus, Trump might feel similarly liberated. The fear now, among Republicans in his administration and on Capitol Hill, is that Trump will turn against the party, waging rhetorical warfare against a straw-man GOP whom he blames for the legislative failures and swamp-stained inertia that has bedeviled his young presidency.
It's also being transmitted by Matthew Continetti on the New York Times op-ed page:
By firing Mr. Priebus and Mr. Spicer and hiring John Kelly and Anthony Scaramucci, President Trump has sent a message: After six months of trying to behave like a conventional Republican president, he’s done. His opponents now include not only the Democrats, but the elites of both political parties.
And by Molly Ball at The Atlantic:
With Priebus out, the only traditional conservative remaining in the administration’s upper ranks is the vice president, Mike Pence, leading many on the right to fear that Trump will now openly turn on the GOP and begin pursuing an agenda antithetical to his party’s traditional principles.
And by Joe Scarborough:

Some of this may express a legitimate fear among GOP establishmentarians that Trump will now work with Democrats to pass a moderate agenda. (Trust me, that won't happen. Trump is too addicted to Fox and right-wing memes to move to the center.) But mostly, I think, it's an effort to give Republicans an alibi when the Trump presidency crashes and burns.

Yes, I know: I told you yesterday: that Republican candidates (especially non-incumbents) are boasting about their ties to Trump. This is the new version of the old establishment/Tea Party split. It creates tension within the party -- we saw that in the health care fight, when it was difficult to construct a bill that was mean enough for the ultras, even though nearly everyone else just wanted to sign on to something, anything, that would check the "Obamacare repealed" box. On the other hand, the split gives Republicans two brands to sell to two different publics, and that's worked well for the party up to now.

In the past, hardcore GOP voters turned to the right-wing media and heard endless fulminations about death panels and Benghazi and the New Black Panthers and Barack Obama's Kenyan Muslim anti-colonial socialist leanings. Then, on Sunday, there were Lindsey Graham and John McCain on the chat shows selling pre-Tea Party, less Fox-inflected Republicanism to less-rabid voters. The GOP was like a company with an elite brand for upmarket consumers and a bargain brand for the masses. As election time approached, David Brooks and Ron Fournier and Chuck Todd could pretend that the lunatics hadn't taken over the GOP asylum, while the not-yet-named deplorables got plenty of red meat on talk radio and Fox -- and both sets of voters turned out to vote.

It's happening again. In deep-red states and districts, insurgents will run as Trump zealots, while the message in the elite press will be, if necessary, "We Republicans aren't responsible for the actions of those vulgarians in the Trump White House."

It might not work in 2018 or 2020, but in the long run, what's left of the GOP will get a do-over. The press won't hang Trump around the party's neck for a generation, even though that's what the GOP deserves.

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