Why GOP Bigwigs Fear Trump

A desperate Republican establishment is going all out to stop Donald Trump who has rallied the GOP “base” that the bigwigs have long manipulated and sold out, explains ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

The Donald Trump phenomenon and the suddenly frantic efforts within the Republican Party to try to stop Trump have led some observers to believe American politics are at a major inflection point, one where a familiar line-up of political parties and their backers could be substantially revised. Even some commentators who generally support the Republican Party are talking seriously about the possibility of the party breaking up.

There is some valid basis for such talk, given that this party has come to embrace positions and interests that have no business sticking together. The political coalition has more or less worked, but it has not rested on substantive logic. So a destabilizing iconoclast with just enough political cleverness, as Trump has, can expose the artificiality of it rather easily.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Foreign policy is not the main front on which the exposure is taking place, but it may be among the first places where exposure becomes too obvious to ignore. Neoconservatives, whose realization of their earlier plans, culminating in the launching of a major offensive war in the Middle East, was made possible by infiltrating the foreign policy of a Republican administration, already are looking for a new home. That process may accelerate if Marco Rubio loses the Florida primary.

The fragility of this part of what has been the Republican coalition is demonstrated by how little Trump has had to do to cause the neoconservative alarm bells to sound. He has not even advanced a coherent alternative foreign policy to shoot down. All he has done is to stray slightly from neoconservative orthodoxy: pointing out that the Iraq War was a big mistake and — even though Trump declares himself to be a strong supporter of Israel — committing the sin of suggesting that impartiality would be advisable in a U.S. attempt to help to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

An even bigger disjunction represented by the Republican Party is between the economic interests of a wealthy elite and the fears, xenophobia, and social-issue fixations of the hoi polloi whose votes the elite relies on to put its preferred economic policies in place. Not only is there no logical, substantive connection between these two aspects of what has come to be the Republican agenda; the economic policies are contrary to the interests of most of the ordinary citizens who are casting the votes.

In an era of secular stagnation with insufficient demand, many of those voters would be better off with fiscal policies different from what typically has been in the Republican agenda. The basic divide underlying this part of the Republican disjunction is between the one percent that provides the money to political candidates and that portion of the 99 percent that is the target of the campaigns that this money finances and who have been voting for those candidates.

Trump, by not being beholden to the donors of money and making a big deal out of the fact that he is not, has been well placed to start tearing down some of the curtains that have covered this divide within the party.

The extraordinary political turmoil we are witnessing is not, as some of the stop-Trump activists would like us to believe, a contest of Donald Trump versus the Republican Party. Trump’s candidacy has functioned as a catalyst, but the energy for the turmoil ultimately comes from collision of matter and antimatter that have been the different elements of the Republican coalition.

That this is more about the party itself than about Donald Trump is reflected in how it has only been very recently that many within the party have started excoriating Trump, with most of those same people not having seen fit to do so earlier. The same Mitt Romney who made an anti-Trump speech this week was delighted to have Trump’s endorsement in 2012.

In the current campaign, it was only a few debates ago that some candidates (most notably Ted Cruz) were treating Trump with respect because they hoped to get his backers when his campaign finally failed. It was only after it became apparent that the campaign was not failing that the excoriation began in earnest and the race to the bottom reached the gutter that the contest for the Republican nomination is now in.

Fareed Zakaria sums up well what has been going on here: “Republicans have fed the country ideas about decline, betrayal and treason. They have encouraged the forces of anti-intellectualism, obstructionism and populism. They have flirted with bigotry and racism. Trump merely chose to unashamedly embrace all of it, saying plainly what they were hinting at for years. In doing so, he hit a jackpot.”

Robert Kagan, although he is one of the named targets of Zakaria’s criticism (for having downplayed the anti-intellectualism that Sarah Palin represented in the 2012 campaign), is, now that he is one of the first of the neoconservative fraternity to jump ship, at least as blunt in describing how Trump is not hijacking the Republican Party but instead is “the party’s creation, its Frankenstein’s monster, brought to life by the party, fed by the party and now made strong enough to destroy its maker.”

Kagan asks, “Was it not the party’s wild obstructionism — the repeated threats to shut down the government over policy and legislative disagreements, the persistent calls for nullification of Supreme Court decisions, the insistence that compromise was betrayal, the internal coups against party leaders who refused to join the general demolition — that taught Republican voters that government, institutions, political traditions, party leadership and even parties themselves were things to be overthrown, evaded, ignored, insulted, laughed at?”

That is in addition to what Kagan describes as “the party’s accommodation to and exploitation of the bigotry in its ranks” and “the Obama hatred, a racially tinged derangement syndrome” that has portrayed the President as “not only wrong but also anti-American, un-American, non-American.”

The ingredients would seem to be in place for a major transformation of American politics and the American party system, perhaps equivalent to the Republican Party’s own displacement of the Whigs in the 1850s. But several other factors are likely to prevent that from happening.

One is the constitutional structure and electoral system in the United States, with an executive led by a strong president and a first-past-the-post method of electing members of Congress. In some other advanced democracies, perhaps with a parliamentary system and elections that use party lists and proportional representation, a crisis as severe as the one currently afflicting the Republican Party would very likely lead to the party’s break-up and the formation of new parties and new coalitions — somewhat like what happened to Italy’s Christian Democrats in the mid-1990s. But in the United States the electoral mechanics are stacked against even an ad hoc third party candidacy.

Another factor is that with the deepened and intensified partisanship in American politics, party identification has increasingly become for many people a major part of self-identification. It is a cultural thing as much as a political or economic thing. This pattern is sustained not only by what political parties themselves say and do but also by ideologically defined talk radio and other self-selected media exposure.

Despite the fact that party membership in the United States is in many respects a very loosely defined status — most Americans do not carry a party membership card in their wallets — viewing oneself as a conservative or liberal or Republican or Democrat is for many as much a part of self-identification as religion or ethnicity is for people in many other countries.

A very important factor in sustaining the Republican coalition has been, to be blunt, how poorly most citizens understand important issues. Donald Trump may be the only candidate who openly acknowledges how much he loves having voters who are poorly educated, but he is hardly the only one to rely heavily on the thought processes, such as they are, of that demographic. Most voters do not understand Keynesian economics, and the Republican establishment relies on the fact that they don’t.

Neither do most voters, who may have heard enough to get a sense of how dysfunctional Washington and especially the U.S. Congress have been in recent years, follow the legislative process closely enough to attribute the dysfunction to a particular political party engaging in what Kagan calls “wild obstructionism.” One can say all one wants about which party a segment of the population ought to support as being in that segment’s best interests, but what matters politically is what those citizens believe, or misbelieve.

Accentuating all of this is how much beliefs among the American public that are relevant to public policy — even purely factual beliefs about what is, and not just what ought to be done — have become corollaries of party identification. This is basically a tribal phenomenon, in which people believe certain things because the elders of the tribe to which they belong tell them to believe those things.

In the United States many beliefs are held largely because elders (i.e., politicians, assisted by the priests of talk radio) in the tribe (i.e., political party) with which a citizen identifies say it is so. A vicious and self-referential circle is sustained, in which political parties are able to hold on to most of their followers even amid a party crisis because the parties inculcate beliefs that lead the followers to view that party, rightly or wrongly, as being in their best interests.

In a post-Citizens United world this has become all the more true with respect to the ability of moneyed interests to buy the ads and finance the campaigns that sustain the beliefs.

Polling repeatedly has demonstrated major party-based divisions in American perceptions even when the question is factual rather than asking for a value or a preference, and even when there is no obvious aspect of the demographics other than party identification that should lead to the beliefs involved.

This is true, for example, of factual questions relating to climate change. Polling shows that self-identified Republicans and especially conservative Republicans are much less likely than Democrats to believe that the planet is warming up within our own lifetimes and that human activity is the major reason. This difference cannot be explained by the personal experiences of the respondents, and for the vast majority it cannot be explained by any careful looking at the relevant climate science. The different beliefs exist because prominent figures in the Democratic and Republican parties are saying different things on the subject and thus providing cues for their party adherents to follow.

It would be good for the Republic if the current Trump-induced turmoil in the Republican Party did lead to a shake-up of the American political system in which that party as we know it today went the way of the Italian Christian Democrats — but with an outcome after the dust settles that is a better fit for the American body politic than the outcome in Italy (which has produced its own partial counterparts to Donald Trump in the persons of the tycoon/playboy Silvio Berlusconi and the entertainer/comedian Beppe Grillo).

A good outcome for the United States would be one that yielded a responsible center-right party whose agenda corresponded more closely to the interests of its followers than the current Republican Party does and that would offer a principled and informed opposition to liberal programs rather than relying on obstructionism and obscurantism.

Besides being good for the Republic, for this political scientist the transition would be fascinating to watch. But it’s probably not going to happen.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

17 comments for “Why GOP Bigwigs Fear Trump

  1. Jack
    March 19, 2016 at 20:28

    America is way over due for better government.

    Government that represents the people in a way whereby ALL people may prosper….not just the Elitists Billion & Trillionaires……excuse my spelling !

    Stroking ego’s thru narrow party affiliation is……adolescent ! America…..we are better than that …..GROW UP people.

    The best path for America is not Right wing or Left….It’s common sense..Mr Trump is the embodiment of common sense…..even if he does lie 10% of the time.

  2. nubwaxer
    March 12, 2016 at 19:05

    bogus, every complaint about trump only makes him stronger and that’s exactly what all republicans want.

  3. Colin Douglas
    March 11, 2016 at 19:59

    I think BHO is anti-American, un-american, and non-American, and it has NOTHING to do with race. My family is living proof. I am sick of hearing that accusation. I just look at what the man does and says and at the gang that surrounds him. I do not understand how people as intelligent as you can be so blind to all that. God help America.

  4. SSS NNN
    March 11, 2016 at 18:15

    “…that taught Republican voters that government, institutions, political traditions, party leadership and even parties themselves were things to be overthrown, evaded, ignored, insulted, laughed at?”

    Sorry for your confusion here Mr. Kagan. As one of those “voters” you look down on let me give you a little clue. THE
    FEDERAL GOVERNMENT taught me all that and more. The false flags of Oklahoma City, Sandyhook and Boston,
    the scams like Obamacare, TPP and obscene waste on things like the F35…yes we are WELL taught thank you.

    We plebs actually lump ALL politicians together anyway…all crooked to some extent…all dishonest. We are tired of this
    game and folks like you who patronize….

  5. March 11, 2016 at 11:18

    Let’s be blunt: the left deserted white male voters eons ago. They struggle to find someone who will represent them.

  6. March 11, 2016 at 11:16

    The Big Wigs don’t own Trump which is why they fear him. Ditto in spades with Sanders. Our darling oligarchy want to rule us with total impunity and outsiders are not welcome.

  7. PokeTheTruth
    March 10, 2016 at 18:51

    What the American people must demand on all federal ballots is the choice for “None of the Above”. The election for that office would be declared null and void if the count exceeds the count for all other candidates running for office. New candidates would appear on the ballot who aren’t required to have an allegiance to either the Republican “red” team or the Democratic “blue” team. The American people will be motivated to vote should this powerful option of rejecting all candidates becomes available and is a check against the supremacy of political parties since they have become an anathema to good government.

    The country also needs to elect the Speaker of the House of Representatives as a separate balloted position. The speaker wields great power and controls the flow of legislation in the House of Representatives and is second in line to the presidency. Such high office demands the people’s consent until the rules of the House are changed to remove the speaker’s partisan power to move bills through committees and relegates the position to a manager of congressional workflow as it was when the nation was founded.

    All congressional offices would be vacant at the conclusion of their respective terms including the sitting President of the United States if no candidate or incumbent exceeds the tally for “None of the Above”. This is not a political disaster as some would think since the bureaucracy is still in place to provide administrative duties such as dispensing social security funds, paying Medicare claims, the military, etc. for the budgeted year. America has enough laws, statutes, regulations in effect that a few months (if it takes that long) without a functioning legislature would not be catastrophic for the nation.

    The real power of democracy is when the majority of people recognize their individual liberties and freedoms are being sacrificed to political parties and special interest groups so they can continue with their self-serving corruption. The people must have this option to reject the electoral system completely and that can only be peacefully accomplished by counting “None of the Above”. We must end the elitists reign of terror and debt servitude by reclaiming our democracy in totality.

    Dissolve it, start over!

  8. Carroll Price
    March 9, 2016 at 21:54

    We have the internet and sites like Consortium News and the Unz Review to thank for awakening the American people to what has been going on in this country for the past 60 years. For without the internet, Donald Trump’s message, as true as it is, would have, long ago, been dismissed as the wild ravings of a lunatic.

  9. Uncle Sam's Comeuppance
    March 9, 2016 at 12:10

    Both parties have been selling out the American public and country itself in increments over decades — and the public is well aware of it at this point though many foolishly cling to their party affiliations as if one party is better than the other– when they both represent corporate and special interest fascism.

    Trump is the wild card and the establishment hates uncertainty that they can’t control or manipulate. Many will vote for Trump in an attempt to thwart the established “order”. There is a danger with Trump, as he seems to become more intoxicated with success and says more outrageous things with more success in a self-feeding cycle.

    Could he be smart enough to be playing the voters and system itself while planning on ignoring some of the crazy policies he’s advocating — like a typical politician?

  10. Bob Van Noy
    March 9, 2016 at 09:54

    Thank you Paul Pillar for the timely summary of our new reality. And thanks to Consottium News for still being here to inform us. Joe Tedesky, I’m always with you. There is a sort of new reality that Paul Pillar and Fareed Zakaria are describing that underscores our interesting times. For me the Clinton agenda has never been clearer, Bill is transparent as ever but Hillary is clearly a dangerous neocon so that her close association with the Kagans is increasingly apparent. She truly is a “Goldwater Girl”. A political add like LBJ ran (mushroom cloud) against Goldwater is again unfortunately appropriate. The Kagans have an agenda, but they only share it people they choose. Hillary is the news. She seems to be willing to arm and support anyone who wants to fight and that makes her a natural ally of Republicans like Dick Cheney, John McCain and Lindsey Graham, warhawks all. A Clinton administration would be Bush III or Goldwater revisited.

  11. Sally Snyder
    March 9, 2016 at 08:46

    Here is an article that explains who is really in control in Washington:


    Sadly, it doesn’t really matter who we vote for, the United States is under control of powers that exist outside of Congress and the President.

    • Clark
      March 14, 2016 at 15:10

      Sally, your a savvy lady. You’re absolutely right. God bless. Don’t know you, never seen you, but you’ve an admirer, because it appears you’ve some brains with knowledge. Excellent requisite for any voter or citizen.

      “The world is governed by personalities very different to what people that cannot see further than their eyes, believe”
      – Benjamin Disraeli – (British Statesman)

      “Behind the October Revolution there are more influential personalities than the thinkers and executors of Marxism”
      – Lenin –

      “The one who cannot see that on Earth a big endeavor is taking place,an important plan, on which realization we are allowed to collaborateas faithful servants, certainly has to be blind”
      – Winston Churchill – (33 Degree Freemason)

      “… in politics nothing is accidental. If something happens, be assured it was planned this way”
      – Franklin D. Roosevelt – (32 Degree Freemason)
      We shall unleash the Nihilists and Atheists, and we shall provoke a formidable social cataclysm which in all its horror will show clearly to the nations the effects of absolute atheism, origin of savagery and of the most bloody turmoil. Then everywhere, the citizens, obliged to defend themselves against the world minority of revolutionaries, will exterminate those destroyers of civilization, and the multitude, disillusioned with Christianity, whose deistic spirits will be from that moment without compass, anxious for an ideal, but without knowing where to render its adoration, will receive the pure doctrine of Lucifer, brought finally out in the public view, a manifestation which will result from the general reactionary movement which will follow the destruction of Christianity and atheism, both conquered and exterminated at the same time.

      Illustrious Albert Pike 33°
      Letter 15 August 1871
      Addressed to Grand Master Guiseppie Mazzini 33°
      Archives British Museum
      London, England

      All we have to do is read their script and can learn what is now happening is not just a spontaneous act of history.
      Mr. Trump will be President and many of his voters will deeply regret it. On the other hand, Ms. Billary would be another horrible 4-8 years of the same. So, the end is in sight of these game antics.

  12. Chet Roman
    March 9, 2016 at 00:22

    “party identification has increasingly become for many people a major part of self-identification.”

    Yes but the growth of the independent voter, which is now a larger voting block than either party, is an indication of the dissatisfaction with both parties.

    Let’s face it, while Trump is a bit of a clown, he does address issues that the public is concerned about and sometimes speaks truth to power. He’s the only one that refuses to demonize Putin, believes that trillions of dollars were misspent in the ME, actually called Pres. G. Bush a liar and his wars stupid, clearly stated that the 9/11 attack occurred on Bush’s watch, says the TPP is terrible for the general population and terrifies Wall Street.

    While his rants are sometimes racist, the underlying issue he is addressing is economic and in a stagnant economy it resonates with the working class. He addresses cheap labor flowing freely across the border, trade policies that send jobs overseas and favor the 1% and Wall Streets control of the economy. It’s not surprising that a large number republican voters are supporting him. I wouldn’t be surprised that if he gets the nomination that many democrat voters would find him, at the very least, more honest than Hillary. I suspect that the apparatchiks and machinery of both parties will stop his rise but a little creative destruction of the corporate one-party system masquerading as a two party system might be in order.

  13. James lake
    March 8, 2016 at 18:46

    Good to see the website back up.
    Trump using a bull horn instead of the silent whistle that past republicans (and democrats with the super predator) have used.
    It’s crass and vulgar but as the writer States its shaking up politics.
    Watching this from the UK i wonder about the impact of a trump presidency on Europe as he doesn’t seem interested in continuing the neo con policy of world domination,
    Europe might just have to think for itself and define there policy to suit Europe not the US geopolitics. We may get peaceful relations with Russia without US interference

    • Gregory Herr
      March 8, 2016 at 19:58

      Get rid of your flunky Cameron and bring in Corbyn– a good way to start thinking for yourselves and get peaceful relations with Russia to boot.

  14. Lavern Smith
    March 8, 2016 at 17:17

    Someone should inform neocons that us Democrats don’t want them back. And some of us think neocons should be labeled a terrorist group an banned altogether.

  15. Joe Tedesky
    March 8, 2016 at 13:48

    Infotainment coupled with Atwater Rove strategies have brought us this current version of Republicanism. To make matters worst the Clintons have hijacked the Democrats into the corporate fold. Although a Sanders presidential run may hold out some hope, Hillary’s party influence could be too much for Sanders to win anything meaningful for him to claim the Democrate’s nomination. I also have my doubts that most Black Women are voting for Hillary. Honesty in the American voting system is lacking integrity, and that is just a fact too hard to bear.

Comments are closed.