Being anti-establishment is so hot right now.
In an election cycle where the ugly “E” word was effectually branded to the likes of Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio like a scarlet letter, it has perhaps been more prudent for Republican candidates to distance themselves from their GOP counterparts in Washington than from their rivals on the left. Donald Trump, with his promise of “fundamentally changing” the Republican Party, constructed his entire primary campaign on the distinction between himself and impotent, do-nothing congressional Republicans like John Boehner and Mitch McConnell.
In a previous article, I surmised that the silver lining of a Trump candidacy was that it could indeed be the necessary impetus for blowing up the inept Republican establishment. After all, the Trump revolution is nothing if not a populist movement and, much like the Tea Party movement that sent the likes of Eric Cantor and Bob Bennett to the unemployment line, the groundswell of anti-establishment fervor could at the very least serve to unseat a few of the party’s more incompetent figures, right?
Wrong. 2016 may be an election year, but it appears that someone forgot to tell Trump’s anti-establishment zealots that this includes elections other than the one for the Oval Office. In last night’s GOP primary in Kentucky, none of the four incumbent Republican congressmen on the ballot came even close to losing their jobs (two of them ran unopposed). Rand Paul, who once referred to the presumptive GOP nominee as an “orange-faced windbag,” came away with 85% of the vote in his senatorial primary. In my home state of Georgia, next week’s GOP primary has all the excitement of an evening this summer at Turner Field (for you non-baseball fans, try reading a dictionary cover-to-cover for a similar experience.) Senator Johnny Isakson, as big of an establishment stooge as they come, faces primary challengers in the form of a minister and a teacher whose combined political experience reaches the Fayette County school board. Isakson may win by a larger margin than Paul. And in Wisconsin, where Sarah Palin has already prophesied that Speaker Paul Ryan’s political career will come to an end due to his hesitation in jumping on the Trump bandwagon, Ryan appears to be in crisis as he clings to a mere 64 point lead over his primary challenger Paul Nehlen.
All of this occurs in spite of the fact that nearly half of Republican primary voters claim to be angry with Washington politics and with a congressional disapproval rating that hangs near 80%. So what gives? Well, according to a piece by Shane Goldmacher at Politico, the “Trump revolution” is largely composed of GOP voters who generally don’t bother to show up for primaries. In spite of record turnouts in states like Iowa and Florida for the Republican presidential primary, the number of voters who had voted in recent general elections numbered at 95 and 94 percent, respectively. In short, Trump’s support has come in large part from those who don’t know or don’t care about who their congressman is or what he is up to on Capitol Hill. Trump supporters are more concerned with coronating their new vulgarian king than with affecting real change where it matters most.
So Trump supporters ought not be surprised if their new, “fundamentally changed” Republican Party seems quite similar to the old one. After all, they are the ones who forgot to change it.