On Monday, The New York Times’ David Brooks criticized “the decline of anti-Trumpism.” The movement, he writes, has descended into “monotonous daily hysteria” over the president’s fitness. The struggle, he argues, lies in anti-Trumpers’ insularity, which self-reinforces a narrative of the president as a “semiliterate madman.”
But there’s another explanation: In policy terms, the president has been entirely a conventional Republican. Anti-Trumpers have struggled because year one of President Donald Trump has proved there is no Trumpism, only Republicanism.
In rhetoric and behavior, Trump has acted as he did as a candidate. The ethics and rules violations do seem endless. But the Donald Trump of the campaign reveled in crossing lines. His supporters wanted their bull in the china shop, destroying everything the liberal snowflakes and Beltway elites held dear. In that sense, they’ve gotten what they voted for.
On policy, however, Trump the president has differed from Trump the candidate. The candidate pledged to protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. He suggested spending billions on infrastructure. And he promised to “eliminate the carried interest deduction and other special interest loopholes that have been so good for Wall Street investors.”
None of these have come to pass. The only Republicans talking about Social Security are the House and Senate Republicans who want to cut it. Infrastructure is technically still on the table but only as a giveaway to private companies. The GOP tax package didn’t just keep the special-interest loopholes; it handed even more money to corporations and the wealthy.
Whether it’s because the president cares little about policy or because he genuinely believes in the GOP establishment’s platform matters little. Underneath the extra-obvious demagoguery and incompetence, one year of Trump has been largely the same as one year of President Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush or Ted Cruz would have been. Where candidate Trump’s views on key issues differed from the GOP, President Trump has gotten on board.
And, crucially, Trump’s so-called foes in Congress reflect this gap between rhetoric and reality. Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., have sparred publicly with the president, yet they have remained reliable votes for the White House’s initiatives. The most notable example of a Republican breaking with the White House — John McCain’s vote against repealing Obamacare — was rooted in procedural disagreements, not policy. (Remember: McCain backed the GOP tax bill that ended Obamacare’s individual mandate.)
The same gap exists off Capitol Hill. Take Mitt Romney, eyeing a run for a Senate seat in Utah. “While laying the groundwork for a prospective bid,” reports Politico, “Romney has made little secret that he will be unafraid of taking on the president” (even though Trump reportedly called Romney to encourage him to enter the race). In policy terms, though, on what major issue would Romney oppose the president? They agree on taxes, health care, immigration and so on. A Sen. Romney would be a reliable vote for the Trump agenda — because it is the Republican agenda.
With the 2018 midterms approaching and an unpopular incumbent president, GOP candidates in competitive races will do their best to separate themselves from the president. No doubt Trump will provide them with more opportunities to denounce a tweet. But Republicans will nonetheless struggle to distance themselves because the past year has proved that Trumpism and Republicanism are fundamentally the same. A vote for one is a vote for both.