by Jeffrey A. Rendall
At the end of his lone presidential debate opposite President Jimmy Carter in 1980, Ronald Reagan looked straight into the television camera and famously asked the American People, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”
Republicans and conservatives need to similarly ask today, “Are we better off than we were two years ago?” For it was two years ago on August 6, 2015 that Donald Trump took the stage in Cleveland, Ohio with nine other Republican presidential candidates to debate publicly for the first time as a member of the GOP presidential field.
That particular forum is perhaps best remembered for Trump’s initial testy exchange with moderator Megyn Kelly (of Fox News back then), but from the very start of the program it was clear the “outsider” New York businessman’s presence would change the dynamic in the party.
The day after the debate I wrote at ConservativeHQ.com, “Trump delivered perhaps the most unconventional ‘performance’ in a debate that we’ve ever witnessed – and his presence literally forced all the other candidates to get serious about staking out and defending their positions.
“In one way or another, Trump dominated the debate from the opening moments. When he failed to take the pledge to support the eventual Republican nominee, everyone assumed (or should assume) that he was talking about Jeb Bush.
“In that sense, Trump – again – tapped into the mood of many conservative voters throughout the country who are fed up with the establishment. How many of you would pledge, today, that you would automatically vote for Jeb Bush if he wins the nomination?”
It’s funny how the passage of time changes our perspectives. Two years ago conservatives were terrified we could be on the brink of reliving another establishment electoral nightmare by having Jeb Bush as the lead name on the 2016 Republican ticket. After all, Jeb seemed to fit the GOP’s presidential candidate stereotype perfectly: he was a blueblood legacy aspirant, enjoyed the full-throated support of the party establishment and also the backing of its elite fundraising apparatus.
Sure, Trump was leading in the polls and occupied the center of the stage (a position he never relinquished even when he briefly fell behind fellow outsider and now HUD Secretary Ben Carson two months later) at the first debate but the attention back then was really on Bush and the other establishment candidates, namely Marco Rubio, Chris Christie and to some extent, Scott Walker – you know, the ones who the pundits said had a realistic chance to eventually win the nomination.
No one took Trump seriously. Even when he quarreled with Kelly over his past treatment of women the media passed it off as little more than an attention-grabbing stunt by an outsider candidate who would certainly fade and wouldn’t figure a lick in the race once Republican and conservative voters settled down and got sincere about choosing a candidate.
Shortly after the event Trump made his “Blood coming out of her wherever” comment (in reference to Kelly’s questioning) and even some members of the conservative media were quick to jump permanently off the Trump ship, primarily because they believed he was a loutish flash-in-the-pan celebrity clown with a big mouth and wouldn’t compete with the real candidates once the voting began.
Erick Erickson wrote at RedState, “I’ve been very sympathetic to Donald Trump because so many of the people who have led the party astray refuse to even treat him as a legitimate candidate.
“But I also think that while Mr. Trump resonates with a lot of people with his bluntness, including me to a degree, there are just real lines of decency a person running for President should not cross.
“His comment was inappropriate. It is unfortunate to have to disinvite him. But I just don’t want someone on stage who gets a hostile question from a lady and his first inclination is to imply it was hormonal. It just was wrong.”
The “invite” Erickson mentioned was to the RedState gathering which was taking place concurrently with the controversy over Trump’s post-debate comments. It was all so “new” back then; no one quite understood Trump, his penchant for drawing media attention and his willingness to go outside the lines to make a point.
Trump’s popularity with the GOP primary voters forced political pros to take him seriously as a candidate, yet there were efforts – literally almost up until Election Day – to stop his candidacy. He then defied all the experts by beating Hillary Clinton in the Electoral College and subsequently was sworn in as president in January.
Fast forward to now, two years after the first debate and Trump’s formal introduction to Republican politics. Even today there are many elements of the establishment that are still rejecting him, not taking him seriously and trying to make the case that his cause is illegitimate. They complain Trump is not “presidential” and an embarrassment in the White House.
Even when Trump has taken perfectly legitimate actions as chief executive – like firing the FBI Director, who serves at the president’s pleasure – he’s been attacked by the forces of the establishment and the leftist media.
And there are unceasing calls for more investigations, potential impeachment and primary challengers for him. One common theme in all of this: Trump fights back.
Anna Giaritelli of the Washington Examiner reported, “A [New York] Times article from the weekend stated Vice President Mike Pence and other Republicans are planning a 2020 run if Trump does not seek a second term.
“Pence denied the report as ‘disgraceful’ and called them an ‘attempt by the media to divide this administration.’
“’Hard to believe that with 24/7 #Fake News on CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, NYTIMES & WAPO, the Trump base is getting stronger!’ Trump wrote in another media-related tweet.”
Recent polls revealed a slight dip in Trump’s overall favorability rating but it is true that the president’s base of populists and conservatives does appear to be holding steady and they’re not about to abandon him just because the media, establishment elites and Chuck Schumer say they should.
Some have even foreseen a “civil war” resulting if Trump were removed from office due to the trumped-up Russia accusations or the naked “find anything damaging” investigation of special counsel Robert Mueller.
Roger L. Simon wrote at PJ Media the other day, “I do not exonerate Trump completely in all this. He has not been as sophisticated a leader as he needs to be — shooting from the hip in too many instances and making poor judgments in the hiring department on occasion. That he is ‘just a businessman and new to politics’ is not a good excuse, especially when he has told us he has been dealing with politicians for years. He almost seems, oddly, naive.
“Still, compared to his adversaries, Trump is St. Francis of Assisi. Although nowhere near as entertaining, they are acting out like the lunatics in Milos Forman’s ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.’ The reason, I think, is they feel threatened in ways they never expected to be. Hardly anyone working there, Democrat or Republican, thought Washington would ever change, nor did they want it to — even when, perhaps especially when, they pretended otherwise. The gravy train was too good.”
Which returns us back to the basic question: are we better off than we were two years ago in the less turbulent days prior to Donald Trump’s emergence?
If you polled the eternally discontented so-called conservative #NeverTrump contingent the findings would probably equal near 100 percent “no.” These people are mostly just gatekeepers for the old neoconservative establishment that doesn’t want to let go of the George W. Bush years.
For those who supported Trump from the start or eventually came to respect him for the absolute threat to the ruling class status quo that he is, the tally would again be near 100 percent “yes.”
It would be easy to conduct a straight statistical analysis on the question which would show Trump figured positively in not only winning the presidential election against the awful Hillary Clinton, but also in helping Republicans retain their senate majority through his surprising (to some) wins in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania (which carried the re-election bids of Senators Ron Johnson and Pat Toomey, respectively).
So objectively speaking, the answer is an emphatic “yes” – we are better off in terms of party representation at the federal and state levels.
But perhaps the most important factor in the “Are we better off?” equation is the new attitude Trump brought to the GOP and to government. The stagnation that’s plagued Washington for decades has been broken by Trump’s insistence on real results and a different way of thinking.
Ronald Reagan would have approved, for he would have seen that yes, as conservatives and Republicans we are definitely better off than we were two years ago.
Reprinted with permission from ConservativeHQ.com