Has Donald Trump been good for the Republican Party?
Republicans pride themselves on being the adults in the room. The problem is that Trump is never the adult in the room.
A small contingent of "Never Trump" Republicans cannot bear to hear anything positive said about Donald Trump. A much larger contingent of "Always Trump" Republicans cannot bear to hear anything negative said about Donald Trump. If you are in either camp, you will not like today's blog post very much.
Both absolutist positions are wrong. There are good things and bad things about Trump. It is possible to think he was bad overall, while recognizing he did some good things. It is possible to think he was good overall, while recognizing he did some bad things.
The one thing that stands out to me, which is almost unique to Donald Trump, is his "America First" foreign policy. Other than Rand Paul, none of the other Republican candidates in 2016 would have pursued a non-interventionist foreign policy. I do not think Paul would have been able to make non-interventionism nearly as popular as Trump did. While he failed several times to live up to this, Trump is reflexively "isolationist," and that is a good instinct for a President to have.
Trump was a defender of due process for men accused of sexual misconduct on college campuses, reversing Barack Obama's anti-American "preponderance of the evidence" standard and bringing more fairness to investigations. Joe Biden, of course, supports Obama’s rebellion against the rule of law.
The most important thing Trump did was appoint three justices to the Supreme Court. If the leaked draft opinion stands and Roe v. Wade is indeed reversed, Trump will have accomplished the one thing that Republicans have been promising for 40 years and never got done - overturning a wicked and unlawful decision that opened the floodgates for over 60 million babies to be murdered. We should not forget Mitch McConnell's critical role in this, because this would not have been possible if he had not blocked the confirmation of Merrick Garland. McConnell's courage in the face of withering attacks was a critical moment in American history.
The importance of overturning Roe v. Wade cannot be overstated. If Trump's three nominees wind up being the key element of a 5-4 majority that overturns Roe, then that cements Trump's legacy as arguably the greatest President we have had. This does not excuse the bad things he has done, but if abortion really is the termination of an innocent human life, the President who nominated the justices responsible for overturning Roe and allowing states to protect those lives is truly a great President.
But Trump was not all good for the party, and his biggest weakness was his refusal to discipline his mouth. Even the first impeachment was largely the result of Trump's tendency to mouth off, because he could not help himself but to vent his bitterness about the "Russian collusion" issue that had dogged his campaign and then his presidency for three years. Had Trump been disciplined instead of venting his bitterness about the collusion investigation to Ukraine's leader - which was completely unrelated to the subject of the "perfect call" - that whole debacle could have been avoided.
While many of us are pleased that a Republican was willing to fight back against political attacks and smears, Trump's first instinct is to use a nuclear bomb when a flyswatter is appropriate. Trump also should have recognized that responding too often actually elevates critics who are not worthy of a full-scale attack from the President of the United States. After the Clinton Administration ended, Republicans prided themselves on being the adults in the room. The problem is that Trump is never the adult in the room.
One of the big reasons that Trump lost in 2020 was his irresponsible use of social media. Republicans admit this when they point to high gas prices and say "no more mean tweets." But it actually is very bad when the leader of the free world is unable to discipline his mouth and is prone to ranting on social media. It makes him look unstable and petty, and undermines the confidence of our allies as well as the American people. Had Trump been banned from Twitter four years earlier, the country would have been much better off.
The worst thing by far, though, was the cult-like devotion to Trump displayed by some in the Republican Party. Let's be clear: Reflexively defending and supporting every single thing Trump does is idolatry. The cult mentality reached some truly disturbing levels when cultists threatened violence and menaced people who had a different opinion. Obviously, most Trump voters are not cultists, but some of them absolutely were. As Christians, we must vehemently oppose this wickedness.
So was Donald Trump good or bad for the Republican Party? The answer is "yes." He was both. Trump could have been a much better President than he was, which makes his childishness and self-sabotage all the more frustrating for those of us who supported his policy agenda. If Trump is re-elected in 2024, we must hope that there are people around him who are not sycophants and will restrain his impulsive behavior.