The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill

Juan Williams: The GOP’s deal with the devil

The Kool-Aid is spilling over those bright red “Make America Great Again” cups these days. All but a few brave Republicans are imbibing like there’s no tomorrow.

The message from last week’s GOP primaries in Virginia and South Carolina was encapsulated in the words of one upset winner, Katie Arrington: “We are the party of Donald J. Trump.”

Since the days of President Trump’s 2016 campaign, observers have been asking what it would take for Republicans in Congress, in the right-wing media, and in evangelical pews to turn against him.

{mosads}So far, the answer has been nothing — not besmirching Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) war record; not saying “very fine people” march with neo-Nazis; not separating children from their parents at the border; not his lawyer paying hush money to a porn star; not calling Mexicans rapists; and not even embracing a murderous North Korean despot.

“We are in a strange place. I mean, it’s almost, it’s becoming a cultish thing, isn’t it?” Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) told reporters last week.

“And it’s not a good place for any party to end up with a cult-like situation as it relates to a president,” Corker added in exasperation.

Corker’s lament for the broken state of the GOP — a party that once stood for free trade, lowering the deficit, family values and the power of a western alliance that opposed dictators — fits with a recent message from McCain:

“To Our allies: bipartisan majorities of Americans remain pro-free-trade, pro-globalization & supportive of alliances based on 70 years of shared values. Americans stand with you, even if our president doesn’t,” he tweeted.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) put it more succinctly:

“Fellow Republicans, this is not who we are. This cannot be our party.” 

Flake’s tweet came after Peter Navarro, one of the president’s economic advisors, said there is a “special place in hell,” for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, simply because Trudeau accurately described Trump’s unilateral tariffs as “insulting.”

Last month, former Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) put the GOP’s crushing identity crisis this way:

“There is no Republican Party. There’s a Trump party. The Republican Party is taking a nap somewhere.”

According to the Gallup tracking poll, Trump was enjoying a 90 percent approval rating among self-described Republicans during the first week of June.

But those numbers may be an illusion.

“Right now, Trump is popular, obviously, among Republicans…but I think it is overstated,” Bill Kristol, editor at large of the conservative magazine The Weekly Standard, told a Republican business group in New Hampshire last month.

Kristol explained that “about half of those people strongly approve, about half of those people somewhat approve,” and he said a lot of Trump’s popularity is a “retrospective judgment” in which many Republicans are still saying they prefer Trump to Democrat Hillary Clinton and appreciate that he put a conservative on the Supreme Court.

In an interview with National Review, Kristol said focus groups show that Trump-supporting Republicans, like most Americans, are not happy “with the divisiveness and the sense of just bitterness and everything is always a hyperpartisan fight, a personal fight, a fight in which you demean your opponents, and Americans really don’t like that.”

One line of criticism does seem to get traction — anxiety that Trump is starting trade wars that could hurt the economy. This is a strong concern with the midterm elections approaching, and with suburban white women holding the key to districts that could swing control of the House to Democrats.

GOP mega-donors and business political action groups are launching a full court press to push back on the Trump tariffs. The Koch political network announced this month it will begin a “multiyear, multimillion dollar” campaign to tout the benefits of free trade and the dangers of tariffs.  

A new group called Republicans Fighting Tariffs is taking the lead.

“Republicans Fighting Tariffs was formed to remind everyone why the Republican Party is the party of free trade,” said senior policy advisor Scott Lincicome in a press release. “Implementing unwarranted tariffs is a direct threat to our growing economy and presence on the world stage.”

In fact, polls show most Americans and Republicans disagree with Trump on trade.

A Pew poll published last month found that 56 percent of Americans believe that free trade agreements have been a good thing for the United States.

Those results track with those of a Quinnipiac poll from earlier this month which found 50 percent oppose the steel and aluminum tariffs.

I covered the Ronald Reagan White House as a reporter for the Washington Post. Reagan remains the patron saint of economic conservativism, a cornerstone of which is free trade.

“A creative, competitive America is the answer to a changing world, not trade wars that would close doors, create greater barriers, and destroy millions of jobs,” Reagan said in his final State of the Union address back in 1988. “We should always remember: Protectionism is destructionism. America’s jobs, America’s growth, America’s future depend on trade…that is free, open, and fair.”

And yet the GOP is prepared to jettison the Reagan legacy to embrace the cult of Trump. History will soon record this as a Faustian bargain for the GOP. 

A bad trade.

Or as Trump might say: Sad.

Juan Williams is an author, and a political analyst for Fox News Channel.

Tags Bob Corker Boehner Donald Trump Hillary Clinton isolationism Jeff Flake John Boehner John McCain Republican Party Trade policy

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video