It is a cliché of the 2016 presidential campaign that support for Donald Trump is being driven by the anger of the voters against party establishments. Trump is, we are constantly reminded, the candidate who will go to Washington, knock heads and create the change that will “make America great again.” But is he really for change?
Notable among the failures of the party establishments has been the inability of the government to take actions to reform entitlements and ensure that Social Security survives. That’s an issue on which almost all Republicans have agreed in one form or another. While Democrats have for years sought to demagogue the issue by falsely claiming that the GOP was trying to push sick grandmothers over a cliff, conservatives have understood that the rising U.S. debt, as well as the hopes of younger Americans that they too might eventually get something back for the money being deducted from their paychecks, depended on reform. When it comes to entitlements, Republicans have, (with the solitary exception of Mike Huckabee) been the party of change and new ideas on the issue while Democrats were the defenders of the status quo, seeking higher and higher levels of taxation to guarantee the survival of these programs.
But Democrats are no longer alone in that fight against reform.
Yesterday at a South Carolina town hall, Trump took a gratuitous and false shot at House Speaker Paul Ryan while once again aligning himself with President Obama and Congressional Democrats.
As the New York Times reports, Trump claimed that the selection of Ryan as Mitt Romney’s running mate doomed the Republican ticket in 2012. It was, he said, something that he predicted at the time but, like his supposedly prescient warnings about the invasion of Iraq before that war started, there doesn’t seem to be any record of him actually saying that before Obama was re-elected.
But let’s not waste much trying to fact check the Donald about predictions. What’s also interesting is that the reason he gave for Ryan being the kiss of death for Romney was his stance as an advocate for entitlement reform. Trump claimed he scared off senior citizens from voting for the GOP thus ending any chance Romney might have had to win.
There are a couple of things very wrong about this statement.
The first is that it fails as electoral analysis. While Ryan probably didn’t help Romney much, there is absolutely no evidence that he hurt the GOP ticket. In particular, as even the Times pointed out in its report, older voters — the ones most likely to view entitlement reform with dismay — were one of the demographic groups that Romney carried. But like so much of what comes out of Trump’s mouth, this misstatement will soon be forgotten after he utters another dozen falsehoods in the next news cycle. That’s part of the genius of Trump’s masterful manipulation of the media. Politicians that study his methods probably won’t be able to duplicate this trick, but as we’ve learned over the course of the last several months, the best way for a lie to get a pass is to say a few more thus drowning out coverage of previous examples of mendacity.
Trump bears a grudge against Ryan because he condemned the candidate’s blanket ban on Muslim travel. We already knew that the Donald regards all dissent from his pronouncements as punishable offenses. But what is really interesting about this rant is that in doing so he staked out a position that is unique among the GOP candidates that are still standing. He is, he said, the only candidate that opposes reforming Social Security and Medicare. “The only one that is not cutting is me,” Trump boasted.
This is in line with Trump’s attempt to pose as the champion of the ordinary man against the elites. But what it really means is that, just like his wild outbursts against the Bush administration on the 9/11 attacks and the Iraq War, Trump is again reciting the liberal Democratic catechism.
Just like left-wingers such as Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, Trump’s against any changes in entitlements is an attempt to play to the fears of senior citizens. And like them, he claims he can magically fix the system so as to pay for Social Security and Medicare in perpetuity though, as with other magical stands that will make America great again, he isn’t supplying any details about how this can possibly be true.
But the main takeaway from this story is that Trump is again providing evidence that he is not only not a conservative but on many key issues is a carbon copy of the liberal big government establishment that so many of his voters claim to despise. While he has carved out a position that puts him to the right of everyone on immigration, on so much else his lifelong loyalty to the Democrats and liberal stands is shining through the nationalist rhetoric. Any other politician that mimicked the conspiratorial lunacy of Code Pink while defending Planned Parenthood and opposing entitlement reform would simply be classified as a left-winger. But though any other candidate that fit this description would deserve the RINO (Republican in name only) label, apparently if you add some chest-thumping about illegals and spew insults at everyone else in the GOP, you can call yourself a “common sense conservative” and get away with it.
This is but one more piece of evidence that far from being a candidate of change, Trump is actually a reliable supporter of business as usual in Washington. If some Republicans wonder how they could support him if he became their party’s nominee, it’s because on so many issues, from foreign policy to government finances, the differences between Trump’s positions and those of Hillary Clinton are more superficial than substantial. His followers may want to burn the government down but Trump is the status quo candidate.