People say Donald Trump ruins the Republican brand. Tell me if you think Donald Trump cares about the Republican brand. More significantly, tell me if you think the Republican establishment cares about it, except insofar as it helps them get back into the White House. Let’s review the Republican brand, before the Donald began to slash and burn:
- Developing an archipelago of black sites to torture people in secret didn’t ruin the Republican brand?
- Starting a war of choice that developed into a world war a decade later didn’t ruin the Republican brand?
- Lying about why World Trade Center 7 came down didn’t ruin the Republican brand?
I recognize the Republican party had help from the national security state in these and other projects. The CIA ran the black sites, not the party. True, but the CIA cannot openly run itself as a criminal organization without a by-your-leave from the ruling party. When George W. Bush said about halfway through his second term that we have to go easier on the enhanced interrogations, the CIA and other torturers went easier on the enhanced interrogations. Before that the Justice Department – under direction from the Republican party’s attorney general – had its best minds draft long legal memoranda to argue that torture is not a crime.
Similar remarks apply to the war in Iraq, and to the way the administration dealt with 9/11. The Republican party did not act alone in these projects, but neither did the national security state. The national security state persists from one administration to the next. Over decades it demonstrates a remarkable degree of autonomy, ever since Eisenhower warned that it had developed a remarkable degree of autonomy while he was president.
Nevertheless, the party in power can act in collaboration with the national security state, or the party in power can take a stand opposed to the national security state’s interests. Under Bush and Cheney’s leadership, the party collaborated so closely with the state that the two institutions seemed to act as one unit. The dishonesty and criminality became a seamless enterprise.
To return to current commentary on Republican presidential candidates: we need a sense of proportion. Donald Trump is a blowhard. Blowhards have big egos. Let Rush Limbaugh and Donald Trump get in a room together to have two one-sided conversations, like a round of Row, Row, Row Your Boat. Life is but a dream means you can’t let yourself become too serious.
When you’re on the stage and people want you to be outrageous, sober behavior does not fill the bill. People expect their political entertainers to operate out at the boundary between the serious and the unserious. Political entertainers want people in the audience to ask, “You can’t be serious?”, and not be sure about the answer. Limbaugh has been in the business a long time. Trump is an apprentice.
So when we hear commentators say that Trump is ruining the Republican brand, we ought to remember what counts as serious, sober behavior in politics. Torture is serious. Starting wars is serious. Lying about political crimes like 9/11 is serious. Recall our estimation of the Republican brand, before Donald Trump decided he wanted to run for president in 2016. For that matter, recall our estimation of the Democratic brand before Hillary Clinton decided she wanted to run for president. Democrats fostered the national security state as well, minus the blatant torture. People cheer Trump because he clearly can’t stand either party. Neither can voters.