The View from Election Day
I wanted to write this on Election Day to capture what I believe are the most important takeaways from these topsy-turvy months of campaigning -- and to do so free of the giddiness that accompanies victory or the pain that comes with defeat. I wanted to examine the contest between Trump and Clinton, and what it means for Republicans and conservatives of all stripes and commitment levels without getting caught up in the inevitable post-election drama, post-mortems, and Monday morning quarterbacking.
It is not quite true that Trump started a movement. That movement started eight years ago with Rick Santarelli’s plea for some kind of tea party-like intervention to stop the Obama and Big Government insanity that had taken hold of the country. When I started the San Francisco Tea Party in February 2009, I had no animus towards the GOP or George W. Bush or his administration. I saw the Tea Party more as the conservative conscience of the GOP and the guardian angel for our founding documents, their underlying political and economic philosophies, and historical justifications.
Contrary to popular misconceptions perpetuated by the entirety of the leftwing and some establishment Republicans, the Tea Party attracted people from all walks of life, all demographics, all political persuasions, all educational levels. Our melting pot was a reflection of the broader American melting pot.
While most Tea Partiers did not embrace Trump during the nominating process, once selected, most Tea Partiers hopped on the Trump train. As time passed, Tea Partiers understood that this really had very little to do with Trump, the greatly flawed man, and more to do with a return to basics for this country -- security, prosperity, liberty, and civil society. The overlap between what the Tea Party had been clamoring for and what Donald Trump not so much promised, but talked about openly in the public square -- without reservation -- was palpable to anyone watching: a return to constitutional governance, limited government, lower taxes, fewer regulations, balanced budgets, and a secure homeland.
Although immigration and national security were not the primary issues on which most tea party groups initially focused, in time it became clear that the nation could not return to constitutional governance and limited government and address the multitude of issues with regard to taxes, regulations, jobs, education, energy, healthcare, entitlements and deficits, if the nation was not secure and its borders were left unprotected.
As distasteful and often bumbling as the Trump campaign might have been, it was always less about the man and more about the people -- the unheard masses, the silent majority, everyday Americans. This could not have been more obvious than when he usurped Clinton’s “I’m With Her” and morphed it into “I’m With YOU.” He might not be a slick talker or a proven politician, but this was brilliant -- certainly more enlightened than anything the GOP has come up with since Bush ‘43 called Kerry a flip-flopper. So is “Drain the Swamp.” So is always referring to Clinton as “Crooked Hillary.” Trump expressed the truth in easy-to-remember slogans, with few words -- tweetable soundbites. As I said earlier, I had no animus towards the GOP when I started the Tea Party, but I did not have any respect for the nonexistent marketing savvy of our GOP leaders. As we twice witnessed with Obama, politics in modern America is really marketing by another name.
And while I concede that Donald Trump comes across as egotistical, arrogant, and self-absorbed -- characteristics NeverTrump detractors are quick to point out -- I’m not sure these are really disqualifiers to be president given that the same could be said of Hillary and Obama.
Trump was, and hopefully still will be, in some capacity, our voice. He has the media know-how and access few possess. He served as the conduit to express our needs, feelings, desires, and perceptions. The press rarely paid any attention to the Tea Party and, when they did, it was usually biased and unkind, insulting, and unfair. Few politicians and even fewer pundits paid the Tea Party any heed. Many who rode Tea Party coattails into office turned their backs on the very people who gave up money, time, and energy to campaign for them. When promises are ignored -- not even addressed -- and votes are cast that fly against everything we expect from our conservative elected officials, it should come as no surprise that we would support someone who is able to capture the limelight and says “I’m here and I’m listening.” Maybe he was our Frazier Crane. And maybe we are more like Abraham who put his faith in a voice who told him to murder his son and then called it off by saying “Henani” -- I am here. Only this time the voice called out to millions of alienated Americans from the glitz of Fifth Avenue and the seediness of A-City, and it had an unsavory past, a gruff personality, and yeah, really weird hair.
Don’t misunderstand me. I am in no way likening Trump to G-d or any sort of Savior -- far from it. But he won the faith of millions simply by listening; simply by being here; simply by speaking on our behalf. He is unafraid to say what needs to be said or to fight back when we aren’t being dealt a fair hand. This type of strength and commitment obviously counted for more during this election cycle than a presidential demeanor, a lifetime of political experience, neatly packaged policy statements, and an umbilical attachment to the teleprompter.
No, Trump didn’t start the movement, but non-Tea Party Trump did take the Tea Party movement to its next level -- the White House. The Tea Party gave the GOP the House in 2010, maintained and increased that victory through 2014, and handed it the Senate in 2014. Now -- through Trump and his original gaggle of supporters, aided by Republicans, Independents and Democrats who “get it” -- the Tea Party has given the GOP a real shot at the White House.
No matter the outcome of the election -- whether we are cheering or throwing our Trump signs in the trash -- the movement has legs, wings, and a mouth. It even has history on its side. And the movement offers every day Americans a great bargain: the most freedom with the least amount of government intrusiveness. If Trump is president, we have to hold his feet to the fire. If he’s the wrong guy, we work hard to get a better guy in next time. If Clinton is president, we have to take this movement to the next level -- a serious conversation for another time.
As for the GOP, reconciliation among the various factions is unlikely. The Tea Party movement tried for eight years to work with the GOP, to be a part of the GOP, to be its better angels. Republican elites chose instead to use the Tea Party to gain victories in the House and Senate, then discard it like trash -- lumping a few bad apples in the Tea Party, like Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, in with the whole bunch. Trump and the support Trump gained from conservatives throughout this election cycle, has just been another Akin-like embarrassment for GOP elites.
Moreover, the daily onslaught of articles lambasting Trump supporters in magazines that had previously been mainstays for our cause and our sanity -- National Review, The Weekly Standard, and Commentary -- are not easily forgotten or forgiven. Rather, they brought to light the great elephant in the room: that there is little commonality between moderates and constitutional conservatives in the GOP, certainly not enough to sustain its journey through rough waters fighting for the soul of America.
This is not water under the bridge, but a river so swollen with conflict that reconciliation is elusive. It is more likely that the moderates will keep the GOP and a third party will emerge that attracts constitutional conservatives. Trump may be the de facto leader of that party or he might be the impetus for one. Either way, if we want to make America great again, we will have our work cut out for us.
So, if you are crying in your beer or clicking your heels on E+1, only one thing is certain: this battle has only just begun.
This article and the results of this election -- whatever they may be -- are dedicated to my beloved Mother, Ruth Ullman, who was a Trump supporter way before I was. In our last conversation before G-d abruptly took her from me, she asked “Sal, do you really think Trump can do it? Do you think he can be President?” At the time, I scoffed but conceded under certain circumstances it could happen. I had no intention of voting for him at the time, but proudly cast my vote for him.