The Republican Party establishment is caught in an existential paradox.
Without Donald Trump’s populist and nationalist 2016 campaign, the GOP likely would not have won the presidency. Nor would Republicans now enjoy such lopsided control of state legislatures and governorships, as well as majorities in the House and Senate, and likely control of the Supreme Court for a generation.
So are conservatives angry at or indebted to the apostate Trump for helping them politically in a way they previously could not help themselves?
For a similar sense of the paradox, imagine if a novice outsider such as billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban had captured the Democratic nomination and then won the presidency — but did not run on either Bernie Sanders’ progressive redistributionism, Barack Obama’s identity politics or Hillary Clinton’s high taxes and increased regulation. Would liberals be happy, conflicted or seething?
For now, most Republicans are overlooking Trump’s bothersome character excesses — without conceding that his impulsiveness and bluntness may well have contributed to his success after Republican sobriety and traditionalism failed.
Republicans concentrate on what they like in the Trump agenda — military spending increases, energy expansion, deterrence abroad, tax and regulatory reform, and the repeal/replacement of the Affordable Care Act — and ignore the inherent contradictions between Trumpism and their own political creed.
But there are many fault lines that will loom large in the next few years.
Doctrinaire conservatives believe that unfettered free trade is essential, even if it is sometimes not fair or reciprocal.
Establishment Republicans (privately) argue that cheap imports into the U.S. at least kept inflation low. If our trade partners dump state-subsidized products into the U.S., it is to their long-term disadvantage, not ours.
In this mainstream Republican view, the role of a superpower is to endure trade deficits to help its less powerful allies and keep the global order prosperous and stable.
But Trump’s idea of “fair” trade trumps “free” trade.
Trump is not…