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Donald Trump and the Republicans' Oz machines

As bombastic, braggartly and Brueghelian as Donald Trump is, he has performed one valuable service: he has shown how little influence the Republicans' self-appointed ideological gatekeepers actually have.

For years, a coterie of conservative groups and thinkers have worked the levers of their own Oz machines, their amplified presence grumping, growling and fuming as they pressured Republican candidates to adopt their favoured nostrums.

Now comes Toto Trump, a fluffy-haired political terrier who, ignoring the fearsome Oz facades, has pulled back the curtain on the would-be guardians of Republican ideology, revealing them as far less potent than they pretend to be.

Nowhere has the distress been louder than at National Review, conservatism's flagship journal, which is incensed with Trump over . . . well, just about everything.

"Trump is a philosophically unmoored political opportunist who would trash the broad conservative ideological consensus within the GOP in favour of a free-floating populism with strong-man overtones," the editors wrote in a cri de coeur that anchored its mid-January "Against Trump" issue, which featured 22 conservatives teeing off on the Republican front-runner.

Actually, Trump's success suggests that consensus is neither broad nor deep. Moreover, National Review efforts to torpedo Trump have bounced off his thick hull.

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They must be just as morose at the Club for Growth, the party's primary sentinel on supply-side economics. Now, Trump has proposed large income-tax cuts, with big top-rate reductions, a scheme that would balloon deficits and necessitate more budget cuts. Which is to say, he has embraced the voodoo basics.

So why the club's ire? Well, he still backs progressive taxation, and favours making businesses that repatriate offshore profit pay a tax of – gasp – 10 per cent. He once supported a wealth tax and single-payer healthcare. And he still says the United States should "take care of everybody" with coverage. So upset are the growthsters that they have been targeting Trump with attack advertisements. "He's really just playing us for chumps," concludes one. Yes indeed – call the club a bunch of trumped, stumped chumps.

Sabres have also been rattling over at the Republican foreign policy establishment, and particularly among the neoconservatives. After all, Trump has basically repudiated the interventionist foreign policy they favour. He has even gone as far as to charge that George W. Bush & Co lied to push the country into war with Iraq. His election would spell "the death knell of America as a great power", historian Max Boot warns. In early March, dozens of Republican foreign policy and national security types outlined their opposition to Trump in a public letter.

To no avail. Marco Rubio was, by and large, the neoconservatives' favourite. But on March 15, Trump ended Rubio's candidacy by trouncing him in his home state of Florida.

We can't, of course, overlook the free marketers who populate the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute – and who thought they had the Republicans locked on to a free-trade trajectory. But though Trump occasionally pays lip service to unfettered trade, his actual stance falls into the managed-trade category. He has, for example, called for – and then stepped back a bit from – a 45 per cent tariff on Chinese goods, as well as for higher taxes or tariffs on goods from US-based firms that relocate manufacturing to other countries.

That's hardly a complete list of his ideological apostasies. But despite the sound and fury of the gatekeepers, Trump's heterodox views haven't hurt him at all. Which suggests that in future the Republicans might be able to bust loose of long-time conservative correctness and sally freely forth to explore some new ideas.

The New York Times

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