Julian Zeilzer, professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University, isn’t buying the handwringing we’re seeing from David Brooks and the National Review about the presidential candidacies of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. In a case that others have made, but perhaps not so thoroughly, he says: GOP Establishment Deserves Trump, Cruz.
Going back to Reagan’s embrace of the Moral Majority, the racism Lee Atwater infused into George H.W. Bush’s presidential campaign and the fact that it was McCain who chose Palin to be his running mate in 2008, Zeilzer demonstrates how GOP presidential candidates laid the groundwork for what is happening today.
He also captures how Boehner and McConnell initially embraced the election of tea party candidates like Ted Cruz back in 2010.
In the House of Representatives, Republican leaders were more than welcoming to the tea party revolution that took hold in 2010 — until it no longer suited their purposes. John Boehner and Mitch McConnell welcomed the energy and enthusiasm that tea party activists brought to the fight against President Barack Obama.
While the activists might have pushed the boundaries of acceptable partisan compact with threats like allowing the government to go into default, the discipline as a voting block and willingness to stand up to an ambitious President helped, in the leadership’s minds, to revitalize the standing of the party. Or at least that’s what Boehner thought before he felt he had to leave.
Zeilzer points out that conservative media has also played a role – echoing the warnings of conservative David Frum.
I’ve been on a soapbox for months now about the harm that our overheated talk is doing to us. Yes it mobilizes supporters – but by mobilizing them with hysterical accusations and pseudo-information, overheated talk has made it impossible for representatives to represent and elected leaders to lead. The real leaders are on TV and radio, and they have very different imperatives from people in government. Talk radio thrives on confrontation and recrimination…If Republicans succeed – if they govern successfully in office and negotiate attractive compromises out of office – Rush’s listeners get less angry. And if they are less angry, they listen to the radio less, and hear fewer ads for Sleepnumber beds.
Finally, Zeilzer notes that overheated talk against the government has come back to bite the GOP establishment.
At the heart of the Cruz and Trump campaign is an essential message that has been a central theme of conservatism in the post-World War II period: that Washington is never good and career politicians are without virtue.
Their anti-politics rhetoric comes directly out of the “conservative establishment” politics that formed in the 1970s and 1980s. “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem,” Reagan said.
Once again today, David Brooks is pleading with Republicans to “stay sane.” His supplications completely ignore the path the GOP took that led them to where they are today. As Zeilzer notes, “the alliance, the ideas, the rhetoric and the style have all come from the heart of Republican politics.” In other words, there’s no “staying” sane. That’s because the insanity started a very long time ago.