Now that we pretty much know who the Republican nominee will be (barring some last-minute machinations) it’s obvious that many “Regular Republicans” have gotten out the brown pants, as they have developed instant irregularity. We have the “Never Trump” people saying they’ll stay home or even vote for That Woman From the North Side.
But why? Some say that the Republic is in danger if we elect Donald Trump to the White House. Others say that principled conservatism is out the window because we’re nominating him. Personally, I think there’s a more prosaic–and opportunistic–explanation for the angst, but a little background is in order.
When we go to the polls in November, from a legal standpoint we will be choosing electors for the Electoral College to vote on two people: one for President and one for Vice-President. People think that, at a national level, those are the only two positions open.
But that’s not really true. The reality is that, when we choose a President, we also choose an entourage of people who will staff the various positions in the government. Both parties have built up such an entourage. When one party’s nominee is elected, the entourage goes into place in the government. When out of power, they move to lobbying law firms, consultants and think tanks, waiting to go back into place. There’s usually some Members of Congress thrown in for comic relief.
This is why, for example, when Barack Obama went into office, so many Clintonistas (like Rahm Emanuel) reappeared after an eight year hiatus. At the top of the entourage is the Vice President, who is generally selected from the “regulars.” This is also why Joe Biden, who can be a real liability when he puts his mind to it, was the “transformative” Obama’s VP. Before him was George W. Bush’s éminence grise, Dick Cheney.
The greatest fear that the Regular Republicans have is that, with a President Trump, the usual entourage will not get back into power, or at least not in the strength they think it should. Thus many people who have waited for the Occupant to vacate 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue so they could have their position back are afraid that they’ll be left out stay in “the wilderness.” (The Democrats have the same fear about Bernie Sanders but, as I mentioned earlier, they took more effective steps to keep him from getting nominated.)
This is careerist angst, pure and simple. It will drive people to do very extreme things. Republicans will remember that President James Garfield was assassinated in 1881 by a frustrated office seeker; that deed led to the beginnings of civil service. The fact remains that there are still many positions which are political in nature, and the expansion of government has only expanded these positions.
I strongly suspect that much of the blubbering coming from within the Republican Party about Donald Trump stems from fear, fear that he will bring in a new group of people and disempower the old. But I don’t think that our Founding Fathers–whose idea conservatives claim to follow–saw government as a core career for most of those who lead it, but as a part of a greater cursus honorum which included success in the civic sector. Unfortunately we are far from that ideal; the rank careerism that drives most of our people is the greatest enemy that “principled” conservatism has, and thus it died long before Trump came on the scene.
I do not believe that Donald Trump, for all of his faults (and they are many) is the end of the Republic, any more that he was the end of Palm Beach when he opened a club for Jew and Gentile together. For those whose careers hang on the next appointment, he is an existential threat. But they need to get over it. Americans generally only succeed when the rules are written their way, but in this case a little adaptability will go a long way.