What were the conditions in the Republican Party before Trump that led the party to consider nominating him? Ten reasons:
- George W. Bush’s venture into Iraq on false pretenses, the bad intelligence that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, and the disaster that followed. This led to a loss of faith in neo-conservativism and in US intelligence. Even John McCain at the end of his career in his final book acknowledged that the invasion of Iraq was a mistake. Trump had the “courage” or candor to criticize Bush and by indirection his brother Jeb, for this disaster. A plurality of the Republican base felt betrayed by the Bushes.
- Bush’s bailing out the big banks, investment funds, and insurance companies, and engaging in socialism for the wealthy, in 2008, while average people faced the brutal consequences of unregulated capitalism: mass layoffs, mass foreclosures, rising unemployment, massive loss of wealth and investments in the Great Recession. He betrayed free-market economic orthodoxy.
- Bush exploding the deficit, refusing to engage in significant cuts in domestic spending, and supporting a new entitlement, the pharmaceutical benefit in Medicare. He betrayed fiscal conservatism.
- The Bush family’s support of NAFTA, the global economy, and amnesty for undocumented immigrants at a time of economic retrenchment for the middle class, particularly for workers in the manufacturing and construction segments of the economy, who felt their jobs were endangered by undocumented immigrants. Jeb Bush’s statement that undocumented immigrants are engaging in “acts of love” to cross the border doomed his candidacy among anti-immigrant Republicans in 2016. A plurality of the Republican base felt betrayed by the Bush family’s elitist policies.
- John McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin in 2008, tapping into The Politics of Resentment, an Alliance of the Aggrieved, Betting on Identity Politics Over Ideology. She pioneered the rhetorical style Trump adopted to the Republican base: more an emotional, reactionary response against the so-called urban, educated elite, including the media, than any particular policy prescriptions.
- The loss of “moderate” and “maverick” compromisers McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012 who tried to appeal to middle-of-the-road voters rather than to fire-up tribal rage and resentment. The base resented McCain and Romney for compromising, taking the high road, and losing. This was seen as “weakness.” They were suspicious of Romney for supporting the model for Obamacare in Massachusetts and immigration reform, and McCain for supporting campaign finance regulations, deficit reductions over tax cuts, immigration reform, and his crusade against torture of suspected terrorists. McCain, a principled man, would not engage in nastiness against Obama, forbidding his staff from using pastor Jeremiah Wright or fomenting anti-Arab or anti-Muslim prejudice against Obama. Republican primary voters in 2016 chose not to punish Trump for saying McCain was a loser because he was captured and for criticizing the Bush family’s support of the Iraq war.
- The election of the “socialist, Kenyan, African, Muslim” Barack Obama, led to a hateful, racist reaction, stirred up by Trump. Passage of the Affordable Care Act by one vote led to an intense reaction, Republicans re-taking House in off-year election of 2010 and the rise of the no-compromise Freedom Caucus in the US House.
- Perceived “weakness” of Republican leadership in Congress, led by House Speaker John Boehner, to do more to stop Obama’s agenda. The Republican base showed irrational tribal opposition to Obama’s stimulus and historically large tax cuts. They wanted Obama to fail more than that the country to succeed and recover from the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression. Any Republican photographed cooperating with Obama, such as Boehner, Senate leader Mitch McConnell, or NJ Governor Chris Christie, would be damaged politically. Rush Limbaugh and other Republican factions, for example, cheered when the US lost an Olympic bid.
- Perceived weakness among Republicans of US foreign policy under Obama: the rise of ISIS in Iraq, the flood of refugees from Iraq and Syria into Turkey and Europe, the increase in Islamic terrorist attacks in Europe (especially Nice and Paris, France; Belgium, UK), and the US. Obama and Hillary Clinton were arguably not tough enough, they did not leave a residual force in Iraq to fight ISIS, and set a deadline for US withdrawal from Afghanistan, then reversed it. They were arguably not tough enough on Assad in Syria, not punishing him enough for using chemical weapons against his own people. They supported NATO’s toppling of Qaddafi in Libya, which led to the death of US Ambassador Christopher Stevens, (false) cries of a Benghazi cover-up and chaos in Libya. Obama initially supported the Arab Spring in the Middle East, especially Egypt, thinking it was a cry for democracy, but then the Muslim Brotherhood was elected. He had little to say about that or the military coup that followed. He supported, with Europe, a lifting of sanctions against (Shia) Iran if it stopped nuclear weapons development. These developments offended Gulf State (Sunni) monarchies and the oil industry. Obama exerted strong pressure on Israel for a two-state solution with the Palestinians, which was not successful. The Religious Right in America, which equates modern Israel with Biblical Israel, allies itself with Israeli far right, and wants a one-state solution, with Palestinians and Orthodox Christians treated as third-class citizens in Israel.
- Loss of faith in traditional Republican politicians and office-holders, feeling they would make weak nominees. There were the calculating, obsequious, market-tested positions of Mario Rubio (who supported immigration reform and amnesty before he opposed them); Rand Paul (who was a libertarian before he realized it wasn’t popular among Republicans and changed his position on abortion and foreign policy, from isolationism to interventionism); and John Kasich (who supported Obamacare). Ted Cruz pitched evangelical fundamentalism in politics but never broadened his base beyond that and was deeply disliked among Senate Republicans.
- Into these vacuums emerged a candidate who exuded toughness, “authenticity,” saying what he really thought even if it was politically incorrect, exhibiting traditional male dominance, going so far as to attack the appearance of a female presidential candidate, Carly Fiorina, and a female journalist, Megyn Kelly. Americans are historically fascinated by the “new,” the “innovative,” the “different” non-politician successful billionaire businessman who has never held elective office, ie Trump might be Ross Perot 2.0. Trump dared to score with those in the Republican base resentful of women’s leadership in the workplace, and of an America when minorities would soon make up the majority population. Through The Apprentice, he cultivated an image of a straight-talker, “an evangelist for the American gospel of success, a decider who insisted on standards in a country that had somehow slipped into handing out trophies for just showing up,” as journalists Michael Kranish and Marc Fisher observed in their book Trump Revealed. “Above all, Apprentice sold an image of the host-boss as supremely competent and confident, dispensing his authority and getting immediate results. The analogy to politics was palpable.”