Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

The Remaking of the Gop Donald Trump's Republican Party Is Something Entirely New, but We're Not Sure Yet What It Is

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

The Remaking of the Gop Donald Trump's Republican Party Is Something Entirely New, but We're Not Sure Yet What It Is

Article excerpt

A president campaigns with promises to achieve a specific goal. The House goes along. The Senate begins to examine the matter, accedes to various lawmakers' demands for special favors and concessions, but the process runs into resistance. Commentators ask why a Republican president with a Republican House and a Republican Senate can't pass a major element of the Republican platform.

That describes the legislative history of the Smoot-Hawley tariff bill of 1930, admittedly an unfortunate comparison to President Donald J. Trump and his efforts to win repeal of Obamacare. That tariff bill eventually passed into law, beginning a debate that dates to this very day about whether it caused, or deepened, the Great Depression. That debate is beside the point, at least for this column. What is relevant is the process - and the political implications.

"Hoover's inability to manage Congress was rooted in a fundamental and amateurish misapprehension of his job," Kenneth Whyte writes in a new (refreshingly positive) biography of the 31st president, to be published two months from now. He adds: "His ascension to the presidency without benefit of the usual Republican machinery had duped him into thinking that he had little need of his party's congressional potentates."

The result of the Trump experience with health care - the president has described some Republicans as "fools" and said that if the GOP doesn't try again to repeal Obamacare they would be "total quitters" - is a fresh set of questions about what the Republican Party is all about, and who is a Republican.

These kinds of questions have been raised before. They arose, for example, during the Barry Goldwater insurgency of 1964, again during the Ronald Reagan ascendancy in 1976 and 1980, and a third time when religious conservatives became a vital element of the GOP coalition around 1988. Nor are these questions confined to the Republican Party. The Democrats asked similar searching questions about 1968 and over the next three decades, when they lost five out of six presidential elections and might have lost them all had not the Republicans been burdened by the Watergate scandal in 1976.

But this month the question is taking on new urgency, prompted by the rise of a president who once was a Democrat and who won the White House by running against the establishment of the very party that gave him its presidential nomination. Mr. Goldwater tried that more than a half-century ago and failed. By the time Mr. Reagan won his first nomination, in 1980, he had a good deal of the establishment behind him, and his running mate, George H. W. Bush, whose father was a Connecticut senator, was a gold-plated member of that establishment.

Mr. Trump's Republican Party is something entirely new.

The GOP is being re-formed, or reformed, at this very moment. Sober voices are asking whether some members - the names of Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska inevitably are invoked here - are really Republicans after all, and whether they ought to be allowed to remain under the party's policy umbrella.

"The fact is that last year after Trump won everyone was on the same page: full repeal of Obamacare," says Andrew Roth, the chief lobbyist for the Club for Growth, a conservative group that emphasizes economic issues, especially lower taxes. …

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