No two men could be more different than George H.W. Bush and Donald J.Trump. Both were born into money, But that's the only similarity they shared. So how, Max Boot asks, did we get from Bush to Trump? The answer is in the story of what became of the Republican Party. First there was Newt Gingrich:
The president was determined to reduce the growing deficits that he had inherited from Ronald Reagan — and that had grown larger still because of the need to bail out failing savings and loan associations. With the nation headed to war in Kuwait, he wanted to put America’s finances in order. The problem was that in 1988 he had foolishly promised, “Read my lips: No new taxes.” Bush knew he would pay a price for breaking his pledge, but he was determined to do so for the good of the country.
The No. 2 Republican in the House, Newt Gingrich of Georgia, initially appeared supportive of a spending deal that would have limited tax increases to levies on gasoline, alcohol and other products, avoiding income tax hikes. But when it came time to announce the agreement in the Rose Garden, Gingrich stalked out. Opposition from conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats doomed the deal, forcing a temporary government shutdown. Bush went back to the table, agreeing to a small increase in the top income tax rate, from 28 percent to 31 percent. (It had been 50 percent as recently as 1986.) House Republicans still rejected the deal, but this time there were enough Democratic votes to pass the compromise.
From a fiscal conservative’s perspective, the 1990 deal was a raging success. As Bruce Bartlett notes, “The final deal cut spending by $324 billion over five years and raised revenues by $159 billion.” It also put into place stringent rules mandating that any future tax cuts or spending increases would have to be offset by spending cuts or revenue increases. Within eight years, a $376 billion deficit had become a $113 billion surplus. Yet conservatives never forgave Bush for his apostasy.
And then there was Pat Buchanan, who ran against Bush in 1992:
Bush’s tax hike was also part of the rationale for Patrick J. Buchanan’s 1992 primary challenge, which proved more damaging than anyone had expected. The syndicated columnist won enough votes in New Hampshire (37.5 percent) to embarrass the incumbent and earn a prime-time slot at the Republican convention, where he gave his fiery “culture war” speech that repulsed moderates and independents. As Jeff Greenfield has noted, many of the themes Buchanan hit in 1992 were similar to Trump’s in 2016: He denounced threats to U.S. sovereignty, railed against globalization and multiculturalism, and called for “a new patriotism, where Americans begin to put the needs of Americans first.”
In retrospect, it's easy to see that Buchanan was the precursor of Trump. One of Buchanan's most ardent backers was another Pat, the televangelist Pat Robertson. After meeting with one of Robertson's flock -- who refused to shake Bush's hand -- the president wrote this in his diary:
“They’re scary. They’re there for spooky, extraordinary right-winged reasons. They don’t care about Party. They don’t care about anything. . . . They could be Nazis, they could be Communists, they could be whatever. . . . They will destroy this party if they’re permitted to take over.”
And that's exactly what they did.
Image: The Mercury News