Growing up in Princeton, New Jersey, and now living in the Philadelphia suburbs, I’ve had plenty of occasion to observe and interact with “moderate” Republicans. It’s true that they’re dying out. Before he passed on, Arlen Specter became a Democrat. Christine Todd Whitman is an enthusiastic endorser of Hillary Clinton. But these folks were mostly okay with John McCain (if not his running mate) and Mitt Romney. And these Republicans in the Mid-Atlantic are generally highly educated, tax-averse voters rather than culture warriors. For many of them, their parents fled crime in the cities and built a comfortable suburban life. Republicanism was a signifier indicating that you’d achieved the American Dream and that you were respectable. In the collar around Philly, the GOP absolutely dominated in the postwar era, to the point that many people joined the party just to have a chance at getting patronage jobs. It was basically the mirror image of the ethnic urban machines that doled out patronage to young Catholics from Poland, Italy and Ireland. When you got out of the city, you bought a split-level home in a nice development and joined the country club, and that meant that you had arrived.
This class of people doesn’t necessarily go to Fox News to hear about what’s going on politically. They still read the New York Times or the Philadelphia Inquirer or the Newark Star-Ledger, and they still read syndicated columns in more local papers. They are the natural audience for columnists like George Will and David Brooks, and I’ve heard them both cited more times than I can count.
Reading Will and Brooks today is a good measure of where Mid-Atlantic Republicans stand at the moment. Both of them are caustic and blistering in their criticism of Trump.
Will compares the Republican National Convention to a Nuremberg rally and says:
Trump is a marvelously efficient acid bath, stripping away his supporters’ surfaces, exposing their skeletal essences. Consider Mike Pence, a favorite of what Republicans devoutly praise as America’s “faith community.” Some of its representatives, their crucifixes glittering in the television lights, are still earnestly explaining the urgency of giving to Trump, who agreed that his daughter is “a piece of ass,” the task of improving America’s coarsened culture.
Today, however, Trump should stay atop the ticket, for four reasons. First, he will give the nation the pleasure of seeing him join the one cohort, of the many cohorts he disdains, that he most despises — “losers.” Second, by continuing to campaign in the spirit of St. Louis, he can remind the nation of the useful axiom that there is no such thing as rock bottom. Third, by persevering through Nov. 8 he can simplify the GOP’s quadrennial exercise of writing its post-campaign autopsy, which this year can be published Nov. 9 in one sentence: “Perhaps it is imprudent to nominate a venomous charlatan.” Fourth, Trump is the GOP’s chemotherapy, a nauseating but, if carried through to completion, perhaps a curative experience.
Meanwhile, David Brooks is just as harsh:
Politics is an effort to make human connection, but Trump seems incapable of that. He is essentially adviser-less, friendless. His campaign team is made up of cold mercenaries at best and Roger Ailes at worst. His party treats him as a stench it can’t yet remove.
He was a germophobe through most of his life and cut off contact with others, and now I just picture him alone in the middle of the night, tweeting out hatred. Trump breaks his own world record for being appalling on a weekly basis, but as the campaign sinks to new low after new low, I find myself experiencing feelings of deep sadness and pity.
Imagine if you had to go through a single day without sharing kind little moments with strangers and friends.
Imagine if you had to endure a single week in a hate-filled world, crowded with enemies of your own making, the object of disgust and derision.
You would be a twisted, tortured shrivel, too, and maybe you’d lash out and try to take cruel revenge on the universe. For Trump this is his whole life.
This is a whole new world, folks, at least my little corner of it. These guys are emphatically rejecting the idea that there’s anything respectable about being this kind of Republican. Trumpism doesn’t mean that you’ve arrived and that you’re respectable. It doesn’t mean that you’ve achieved the American Dream. It pretty clearly indicates the reverse of all of those things. Talking up Trump at the 19th hole of the Chester Valley Golf Club is a good way to get your children shunned.
If you want to know why Trump can do so well in parts of Pennsylvania and still get his clock cleaned, this is why.
And Will and Brooks are leading the way.