Saturday, October 22, 2016

Imagine a Sane Peggy Noonan ... and a Rational GOP Primary

As the GOP establishment approaches its day of reckoning on November 8, or November 28 for that matter, the Republican standard bearers have already begun the post-election, post-Trump autopsy of just what went wrong in 2016. Certain trusted voices such as George Will and David Brooks have resigned themselves to the potential damage down the ticket in the Senate and House in hopes of an honest reassessment of the party's appeal, while others are wistfully speculating on "what could have been." That's the approach taken in the Wall Street Journal when longtime conservative voice of reason Peggy Noonan penned a strangely naive and oddly optimistic piece in which she asked us to "Imagine a Sane Donald Trump."

Just to be clear, there is no possibility of a sane Donald Trump. For, without all the bombastic rhetoric about vague infeasible solutions to America's problems and the wildly inappropriate sound bites that reveled in the act of "speaking his mind" and "telling it like it is," the candidate would simply be a political neo-phyte running a pretty pedestrian campaign of a political outsider who would use business experience to "shake things up." It's not much different than what Carly Fiorina and Herman Cain tried.  A "sane Donald Trump" wouldn't be Donald Trump - he'd be Mitt Romney without the gubernatorial experience. It's a tired myth that strangely plays well around the Republican voter water cooler, but not so much at the voting booth. Granted, Noonan does concede that Trump "is a nut," and she admits that a sane Trump doesn't exist. But sadly, the entire scope of her column implies that if Donald Trump had simply run his campaign of haphazardly contructed half-baked policies that question much of GOP orthodoxy, but had done so with a nicer tone, he would have "won in a landslide." And, that sort of thinking is perhaps a bigger problem for the GOP than Trump's many embarrassing mis-steps have been.

Noonan tries to scold the GOP establishment for being aloof to the policies desired by their electorate, but that's a groundless approach in regards to the realities of the primary voters, especially the less-than-informed Tea Party voters who simply want change but will often vote for the very candidates whose platform opposes the policies that would help them. Voters didn't choose Trump because he pledged to preserve entitlement spending to support "people [who] have been battered since the crash." It wasn't because of the American worker's nuanced understanding of "complicated trade agreements" that they blame for a lost manufacturing sector. And it wasn't because he had reasonable immigration proposals that could have been "explained ... with a kind loving logic." All of these claims expose Noonan as even more aloof to the electorate than Jeb Bush. The groundswell of support for Trump came from Tea Party extremes desiring him to "build that wall" and "lock her up" while he withdraws support from NATO, bans Muslim immigration, and somehow forces American corporations to build factories in Ohio and Michigan with much higher wages.

Noonan seems to believe that a "sane Donald Trump" would have been the second coming of the Reagan Democrats. Nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, GOP primary voters ignored numerous variations of candidates who weren't so aloof to the concerns of the American worker and who when joining forces on a ticket could have provided exactly the nuanced and fair "big tent" conservatism that Noonan mistakenly assigns to Trump. The most obvious choice was a true Reagan Republican - John Kasich. The extremely popular Republican governor of a fairly Democratic working class state should have been the GOP's dream. Pair him with a young energetic Marco Rubio, and the GOP could have won the election pretty easily, if not "in a landslide." Chris Christie should have had similar appeal to working class voters, and Rand Paul certainly should have appealed to Republicans who were dissatisfied and suspcious of a foreign policy that focused on re-building other countries at the expense of American infrastructure.

Instead the voters chose Trump precisely because he is not sane. And that's the biggest challenge for Republican leadership. And for the country at large.

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