The GOP's obvious Donald Trump ruse: They don't hate his ideas, they just hate his optics

This week provided evidence anew that the GOP's anti-Trump crusade is motivated by politics, not principle

Published April 1, 2016 7:18PM (EDT)

Donald Trump   (Reuters/Jim Bourg)
Donald Trump (Reuters/Jim Bourg)

He has said that Megyn Kelly had "blood coming out of her wherever" and suggested that Ted Cruz's wife is ugly. Then, this week, in a town hall with Chris Matthews, Donald Trump was pressed on what his newfound "pro-life" sentiment entailed as a policy matter. He responded that women would likely have to once again terminate pregnancies in “illegal places” if his desired prohibition on abortion took effect, and that those who did so should be punished. Pro-choice Americans were obviously horrified. What was more interesting, and telling, was the anti-abortion advocates awkwardly rushing to distance themselves.

Insisting that the anti-abortion movement wants “what is best for the mother and the baby,” March for Life Education and Defense Fund President Jeanne Mancini stated that “no pro-lifer would ever want to punish a woman who has chosen abortion.”

Trump offered an uncomfortable reminder that the anti-abortion movement is fundamentally about controlling and punishing women, and that outlawing and restricting abortion necessarily leads to more women getting injured and dying. This at a time when abortion clinics are closing nationwide amidst a wave of newly restrictive laws passed thanks to women’s health being exploited as a pretext.

There’s a lot to find terrifying about Trump. The call to close the border to Muslims. The misogyny. The description of Mexican immigrants as rapists and murderers. The incitement to violence. But what really rattles the Republican establishment is that that he vocalizes the hateful red meat, which the establishment has dished out to its base for years, in the all-too-honest language in which the base is fluent. That and his economic and foreign policy heresies, and the fact that he's a rich guy in trashy nouveau riche garb, appealing to the rabble's worst arriviste pretensions.

Jeb Bush slammed Trump for his “divisiveness and vulgarity” and threw his support behind Ted Cruz, who he called a “consistent, principled conservative”—a principled conservative who recently called for “law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods.” If Bush’s concerns had to do with Trump’s substance rather than his lack of social graces, he might have also condemned Cruz for picking notorious Islamophobe Frank Gaffney as a foreign policy advisor, a conspiracist who has claimed that Obama is "America’s first Muslim president" and that the Missile Defense Agency’s logo “appears ominously to reflect a morphing of the Islamic crescent and star with the Obama campaign logo.”

Trump wasn’t the first one to mainstream extremism in the defense of oligarchy, as the National Review’s diatribes on the disfavored candidate makes clear. Erick Erickson complains that “Trump aggressively supported universal health care,” and “favored wealth-confiscation policies” and “abortion rights.” William Kristol complains that he is “the very epitome of vulgarity,” a boorishness of the sort that would never pass muster at the finest country clubs. Andrew C. McCarthy worried that he “did not know the key leaders of the global jihad.” How will he know who to drone?!

The conscientious establishment was missing in action when the late Justice Antonin Scalia compared gay sex to bestiality and incest, and when John McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate (“Hockey Mom knows best,” Kristol gushed). Likewise, when Mitt Romney said that nearly half of the American people are hoplessly “dependent on government” and thus on the Democratic Party as well, the only problem was that the comment was caught on tape by an uppity bartender.

More to the point, where were they when George W. Bush invaded Iraq? Offensive words are bad. Imperialistic wars are, well, mass murder. And it would be nice to think this was just a Republican problem: where was Hillary Clinton, who is hitting Trump from the right on foreign policy and on Israel, on Iraq, and on welfare reform, which was premised on the pathological demonization of poor black women?

Trump’s phantasmagoric rise is rooted in a widespread belief that the political establishment of both parties is cynical and corrupt. They’re right. Trump would be a nightmare, and is already dangerously inflaming the most violent xenophobic undercurrents in American politics. But the bipartisan establishment shouldn’t wonder why working-class people are angry. They have only themselves to blame. Regressive economic policies pursued on behalf of the super-rich have put countless Americans into crisis, and establishment Republicans have always preferred that Mexicans, black people and Muslims take the blame.

By Daniel Denvir

Daniel Denvir is a writer at Salon covering criminal justice, policing, education, inequality and politics. You can follow him at Twitter @DanielDenvir.

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