Judging from its convention this week, the Republican Party is overdue for rebranding, the way a real estate developer might rebrand a hotel or golf resort. It’s the Trump Party now.
Every presidential convention is a celebration of the party’s nominee, but this one focuses lavishly on the stupendous figure of President Donald J. Trump: his supposed authorship of the economic recovery that began under Barack Obama, his self-described success in stopping the coronavirus that continues to kill 1,000 Americans a day and his heroic role as “the bodyguard of Western civilization,” as one speaker put it.
That, plus the bleak future that awaits America if Democratic nominee Joe Biden wins the election: nothing but “rioting, looting and vandalism,” to quote Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son and political heir apparent.
What’s missing? Almost any connection to the Republican Party that existed before 2015, when Trump descended a gilded escalator at Trump Tower in New York and turned the GOP on its ear.
Almost no one has mentioned Ronald Reagan, the most consequential Republican in the last half-century. No appearances by Republicans who represent strains of conservatism that might compete with full-throated Trumpism, with the possible exceptions of Kentucky Sens. Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul.
But there are many, many Trumps: Not only the president and first lady, but five Trump children, a daughter-in-law and a girlfriend — enough to provoke speculation about a family dynasty. There are other potential heirs to the Trumpist throne, too, including former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo.
One other element is missing: For the first time in the GOP’s 166-year history, there’s no official political platform. Instead, delegates adopted a one-page resolution declaring that the party “will continue to enthusiastically support the president’s America First agenda” — whatever he decides it should be.
Party insiders said the decision to skip a platform was easy. The party’s main purpose is supporting Trump’s reelection, so there was little to debate.
But there was also a practical consideration: Trump often changes his position without warning, and nobody wanted to support a plank that suddenly became (to borrow a phrase) politically incorrect.
Besides, little evidence suggests that Trump has a second-term agenda beyond “more of the same” — more trade wars, more immigration cuts, more rollback of Obama-era regulations, more tweet storms.
He’s been asked several times by friendly television interviewers to articulate a vision for his second term, and each time he has fumbled for a response. On Fox News this week, he answered this way: “I will strengthen what we’ve done, and I will do new things.”
That doesn’t mean the Trump Party has no agenda. In lieu of a platform, the president’s campaign issued a cursory two-page checklist of second-term goals.
Economic priorities include “Create 10 million new jobs in 10 months” and “Create 1 million new small businesses,” but no hint of how to achieve those ambitious goals except for tax cuts.
Under the heading of “Eradicate COVID-19,” the campaign promises to “develop a vaccine by the end of 2020” and “return to normal in 2021” — worthy goals but far short of anything you could call a plan.
The agenda boils down to four more years of unchanged conservative policies on taxes and deregulation, plus an unremitting culture war. There’s no offer of new ideas or innovation, no promise of change or evolution.
That’s fine for dyed-in-the-wool Trumpists. Most voters know what the president stands for by now, and the vast majority of Republicans say they like it.
But that doesn’t offer much to undecided voters, including wavering Republicans and independents who backed Trump in 2016 but have drifted away.
That has implications for the kind of campaign Trump will wage in the final 10 weeks of the race. He isn’t trying to persuade anyone that he has fresh ideas. He’s bent instead on stoking the zeal of his most fervent supporters and warning wobbly Republicans that the Democratic alternative is a socialist revolution.
“They want no guns, they want no oil and gas, and they want no God,” Trump thundered Monday in a mendacious caricature of the Democratic platform. (Yes, the Democrats have one.)
Back in the days of Reagan, Republicans prided themselves on being the party of ideas. This year, they are the party of Trump and nothing more.