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The Rot Of American Party Elites

David Brooks is right: the Trumpist GOP is decaying. But so are the Democrats -- and it didn't start with Trump

What in the actual hell is wrong with these people? Who raised them? Wolves?:

Representative Trent Franks of Arizona, one of the House’s most ardent social conservatives, said Thursday night that he would resign after the House Ethics Committee began an investigation into complaints that he had asked two female staff members to be a surrogate to bear his child.

In a statement, Mr. Franks said the discussion about surrogacy came up with “two previous female subordinates” because he and his wife, who have struggled with fertility, wanted to have a child. He said he regretted that the conversations had “caused distress.”

“Due to my familiarity and experience with the process of surrogacy, I clearly became insensitive as to how the discussion of such an intensely personal topic might affect others,” Mr. Franks said.

In a furious column titled “The GOP Is Rotting,” David Brooks lets the Republican Party have it. Excerpts:

The Republican Party I grew up with admired excellence. It admired intellectual excellence (Milton Friedman, William F. Buckley), moral excellence (John Paul II, Natan Sharansky) and excellent leaders (James Baker, Jeane Kirkpatrick). Populism abandoned all that — and had to by its very nature. Excellence is hierarchical. Excellence requires work, time, experience and talent. Populism doesn’t believe in hierarchy. Populism doesn’t demand the effort required to understand the best that has been thought and said. Populism celebrates the quick slogan, the impulsive slash, the easy ignorant assertion. Populism is blind to mastery and embraces mediocrity.


Today’s tax cuts have no bipartisan support. They have no intellectual grounding, no body of supporting evidence. They do not respond to the central crisis of our time. They have no vision of the common good, except that Republican donors should get more money and Democratic donors should have less.

The rot afflicting the G.O.P. is comprehensive — moral, intellectual, political and reputational. More and more former Republicans wake up every day and realize: “I’m homeless. I’m politically homeless.”

Read the whole thing. 

He’s absolutely right, of course, and the Republicans who voted for that unpopular (see here and here), help-the-rich, deficit-exploding tax bill, rammed through at the last minute, without any of them really knowing what they were voting on, don’t deserve to remain in office. A lot of us will end up voting for them by default, because we decide for whatever reason voting for a Democrat could be worse, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Republicans are incapable of responsible government.

The rot afflicting the GOP did not start with Trump. This former Republican did not recognize his political homelessness in 2016 or 2017, but in 2008, when the rot of the GOP had become obvious and intolerable. For me, it was:

  1. The Iraq War: the sheer incompetence of it, and the inability of the GOP to learn from their disaster.
  2. The economic crash, and the role the Republican Party played in creating conditions for it (note well that the Clinton-era Democrats are also guilty of this)
  3. The Bush administration’s cronyism, as revealed in the wake of Michael “Brownie” Brown’s Katrina debacle. Look at this Washington Post report from September 2005. Excerpt:

Five of eight top Federal Emergency Management Agency officials came to their posts with virtually no experience in handling disasters and now lead an agency whose ranks of seasoned crisis managers have thinned dramatically since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

FEMA’s top three leaders — Director Michael D. Brown, Chief of Staff Patrick J. Rhode and Deputy Chief of Staff Brooks D. Altshuler — arrived with ties to President Bush’s 2000 campaign or to the White House advance operation, according to the agency. Two other senior operational jobs are filled by a former Republican lieutenant governor of Nebraska and a U.S. Chamber of Commerce official who was once a political operative.

Contra my friend David Brooks, the contempt for expertise among leading Republicans did not begin with the Trump administration.

And for that matter, let us recall that it was the best and brightest of the Republican Party’s defense and national security elite that led the nation into its worst foreign policy debacle since Vietnam. Did you see Ken Burns’s recent Vietnam documentary? Did you see Errol Morris’s fantastic documentary The Fog of War, about Robert McNamara and Vietnam? Those were Democratic Party elites, but the most important fact is that they were American elites, just as the Republican elites that led us into Iraq. And it was American elites — Republican and Democrat — that led us into the 2008 economic crash, beginning with the Clinton-era deregulation of Wall Street, continued through the George W. Bush era.

My problem with Donald Trump is not so much that he’s a populist rebuke to the GOP elites (who deserve it) but that he’s a loudmouth incompetent who’s so bad at it — and his most ardent supporters let him get away with it. This tax bill, which he embraces, gives lie to any substantive claim that Trump is a populist.

Trump’s awfulness, though, should by no means excuse the Republican Party for creating the conditions that led to his rise. Nor, for that matter, should it let the Democrats off the hook. Here’s a very good analysis by Thomas B. Edsall, a left-leaning political journalist who is always worth reading, in which the writer chides liberals to quit living in denial about how they helped bring Trump about, and perpetuate his popularity. Shorter Edsall: liberals really have declared war on the way of life that a lot of Red America values.

Yes, the GOP is putrefying. So is the Democratic Party (as Edsall’s analysis reveals). The rot began long before Donald Trump showed up on the political scene. He is both symptom and catalyst, but he didn’t start the rot.