Paul Krugman makes a valuable, subtle point today, that Donald Trump has exposed the Republican Party’s long-running claims about economics for what they are – unpopular even among the base, a fact carefully concealed up until now.
It’s worth quoting at length:
And here’s what’s interesting: all indications are that Mr. Bush’s attacks on Mr. Trump are falling flat, because the Republican base doesn’t actually share the Republican establishment’s economic delusions.
The thing is, we didn’t really know that until Mr. Trump came along. The influence of big-money donors meant that nobody could make a serious play for the G.O.P. nomination without pledging allegiance to supply-side doctrine, and this allowed the establishment to imagine that ordinary voters shared its antipopulist creed. Indeed, Mr. Bush’s hapless attempt at a takedown suggests that his political team still doesn’t get it, and thinks that pointing out The Donald’s heresies will be enough to doom his campaign.
But Mr. Trump, who is self-financing, didn’t need to genuflect to the big money, and it turns out that the base doesn’t mind his heresies. This is a real revelation, which may have a lasting impact on our politics.
Krugman is at pains to point out he’s not making a brief for Trump, but never mind that. The point is that Trump, for all his bombast, is the first Republican in a long time who can publicly say what actual, real people suspect, like maybe some taxes need to be raised and maybe universal health care, or whatever you call our fumbling half-steps in that direction, isn’t an existential evil.
There are people who believe conservatism is a serious political philosophy; one hijacked, to be sure, by Fox News, but with a durable foundation of governing principles. Then there are people who believe conservatism is all about selling gold to the rubes, that it’s an elaborate misdirection play designed to ensure the people on top stay there.
If Krugman’s right, Trump is strong evidence the second view is the correct one, which raises some intriguing questions: let’s assume (as now seems safe) that much of the Republican base couldn’t care less about so-called ‘conservative’ principles. How will the eventual nominee – if it’s not Trump – deal with that? Will the national party adjust where it is, or decide the voter, rather than the ideology, is out of step? How do you shove the genie and his comb-over back into the bottle?