Trump’s first week in office has been a disaster. The new president has veered from embarrassment and denial over his poorly attended inauguration, to anger and disbelief over massive protests that dwarfed his inauguration numbers, to a mishmash of poorly conceived, counterproductive and unpopular executive orders. Trump is at war with the press, members of his own inner circle are at loggerheads with each other, and a white supremacist hailing from a conspiracy theory website appears to have the upper hand. He even instituted a dangerous and heartless discriminatory ban on refugees on Holocaust Memorial Day while failing to mention Jews in his remembrance statement.
Trump’s far-right nationalism is terrifying, and it will have deadly consequences for many of the most vulnerable: immigrants fleeing persecution, women who need reproductive care, people all over the world facing the consequences of climate change, and many others. Given the president’s pettiness, ignorance and short temper, horrific global catastrophes cannot be ruled out as a consequence of his behavior. The world is right to fear the devastation and havoc that Trump will wreak.
But it’s also important to remember that Trump isn’t a disease infecting the Republican Party. He is merely a symptom of its rightward lurch. Yes, the new president has a more vindictive streak than most and he is even less studied on policy matters than many Tea Party House Republicans. He wears his bigotry on his sleeve rather than disguising it with dogwhistles. But in spite of all of this, on many issues Trump’s ideological unorthodoxy and his ignorance of longstanding policy debates make him less immoral than many of the Republican Party’s more “normal” standardbearers.
Take Obamacare repeal, for instance. It has long been clear that Republicans have no coherent plan to replace the Affordable Care Act. Many Senate Republicans fear to repeal the healthcare law and leave many of their constituents uninsured, but House Republicans–most of whom live in unassailably safe districts where the only electoral threat is to their right–have few qualms about repealing the ACA with nothing in its place. Paul Ryan says he wants to simultaneously repeal and replace the ACA, but in over four years has never gotten around to figuring out how to do it. Trump, despite acting aggressively to use executive power to dismantle the ACA, has vowed to “insure everybody” and provide better healthcare cheaper than the ACA did. Given that Trump reportedly understands very little about healthcare policy and that the insurance market after Obamacare repeal will inevitably be called “Trumpcare,” Trump doesn’t want to be known as the president who made healthcare worse. Paul Ryan and Mike Pence, on the other hand, don’t care–they’re anti-government ideologues.
Similarly, Trump’s obsession with coal-and-steel protectionism is a hamfisted callback to outdated 19th century economics, but it’s hard to call it worse than the Pence/Ryan agenda. A President Pence would just as surely restart the Keystone Pipeline and sell of federal lands. Trump at least wants the pipeline steel produced in the United States. Trump axed the unpopular, corporate-friendly Trans-Pacific Partnership where Pence and Ryan would have approved it. It’s thin gruel, but Trump’s policy here really is better for the country than the “normal” Republican line–which isn’t to say that Trump is good, but rather that “normal” Republicans are worse.
Then there’s Medicare and Social Security. On the campaign trail, Trump repeatedly said that he would not touch those programs. Paul Ryan, of course, has dreamed most of his adult life of taking those successful public pension programs and turning them over to the wolves of Wall Street. Terrifying as it is to consider, Medicare and Social Security are almost assuredly safer with Trump in the Oval Office than they would be with Ryan or Pence.
And those executive orders in Trump’s first week? Almost fifty of the first executive orders Trump plans to sign had been prepared by “normal” Republicans for Mitt Romney in 2012.
This disaster isn’t just a Trump problem. In many ways, “normal” Republicans are even more to blame.