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Toward a Trump Republicanism

Michael Barone on

Donald Trump's surprisingly good State of the Union speech got a record 70 to 75 percent positive approval rating from those who watched. Even if you discount (as you should) for the Trump haters who can't bear to watch him and chose another of their 100-plus cable channels, that's not chopped liver.

If they'd watched, their reactions would undoubtedly have been as sour as those of the Democrats in the chamber who stayed slouching and frowning in their chairs even after some patriotic lines.

White House staffers hinted that the speech would be nonpartisan, a reach out to Democrats from a president whose consequential first-year accomplishments -- judicial appointments, tax cuts, regulation repeals and rewrites -- were conventionally Republicanism.

The speech didn't live up to that billing, though it should not be forgotten that Trump's willingness to sign legislation giving "dreamers" a path to citizenship, together with other immigration law changes, is a genuine move in that direction.

Rather, what I think we're seeing is a reshaping of the character of the two major political parties, the emergence of Trump-Republican and anti-Trump-Democratic parties from the dried husks of the parties of George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

Back in the 1990s, I wrote an article for Irving Kristol's The Public Interest in which I divided parties that had emerged over the 150 years of electoral democracies in various countries into four types -- religious, liberal (classical free market liberal, that is), socialist and nationalist.

 

The Bush Republican Party leaned free market liberal on economics and religious on culture. The Clinton Democratic Party leaned mildly socialist on economics and liberal on culture. Both were quietly nationalist.

Trump is different. He has embraced the causes of religious conservatives -- as anomalous as that may be, given his persona -- but you didn't hear much about that in his State of the Union address.

He has abandoned much of free market Republicanism. You heard no mention of the national debt, no hint of reforms in Social Security or Medicare entitlements. House Speaker Paul Ryan, sitting behind him, must realize with sadness that these are non-starters in the Trump presidency.

You did hear a lot about the new tax law, formerly known to Democrats and mainstream media as the "tax scam," how it's producing wage increases and bonuses for those at the low and modest ends of the income scale, and how paychecks will rise when the IRS' new withholding schedule goes into effect in two weeks.

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