The metamorphosis is complete.
Gone, for at least the next three months — and maybe four years or more — is the party of Ronald Reagan , free trade, big business and global interventionism.
The party that once stood by those principles is now officially led by a presidential candidate who is staunchly opposed to massive trade deals , deeply skeptical of both war and a global U.S. military presence, and who did not mention the name of the 40th U.S. president, a GOP icon and father of a modern conservative era that ended Thursday night in Cleveland.
A party run by those from the country-club and designer-necktie crew who presented detailed policy proposals has been taken over by voters more likely to wear their camouflage “Make America Great Again” ball caps to a NASCAR track — and who care little about wonky plans. That collective disinterest was indicative in Trump’s bold-but-vague Republican National Convention acceptance speech, which ran 1 hour and 16 minutes.
The tone of Trump’s coronation speech and that delivered four years ago by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney shows just how much the party of George H.W. and George W. Bush, both Yale graduates, has changed in just a few years.
Romney left the stage in Tampa, Florida, after telling delegates that a “united America” that is “a nation of immigrants” would revive the economy and revive the American dream. Romney urged his countrymen to trust “the best within each of us.”
Four years later, Trump delivered a downtrodden assessment of America that one might expect to hear about a failed state. Rather than saying the U.S. would find better days because of its citizens, Trump asked his countrymen to trust what he believes is the best within one man: Donald Trump.
For instance, he told delegates “no one” knows the U.S. political system better than him, making him uniquely qualified to “fix it.” And about stopping more attacks on police officers, Trump again pitched himself as a one-man-fixer: “When I take the oath of office next year, I will restore law and order in our country.”
And who is going to alter longtime trade policies? “I am going to bring our jobs back to Ohio and to America – and I am not going to let companies move to other countries, firing their employees along the way, without consequences,” he said. Where politicians have long vowed to eliminate wasteful programs, he vowed to do it within “my first 100 days.”
“My message is that things have to change – and they have to change right now. Every day I wake up determined to deliver for the people I have met all across this nation that have been neglected, ignored, and abandoned,” Trump said, casting himself as a champion of both middle-class and lower-class Americans.
“I have visited the laid-off factory workers, and the communities crushed by our horrible and unfair trade deals,” Trump said. “These are the forgotten men and women of our country. People who work hard but no longer have a voice. I am that voice.”
Minutes later, the new GOP standard-bearer vowed he will “build a great border wall to stop illegal immigration , to stop the gangs and the violence, and to stop the drugs from pouring into our communities.”
At one point, the delegates assembled in Cleveland chanted, “Build the wall!”
Selling himself as the “law-and-order” candidate to Hillary Clinton ’s proposal of “mass immigration” and “mass lawlessness,” Trump vowed that under his administration, “illegal border crossings will go down. Peace will be restored.”
Trump blamed “decades of record immigration” on stagnant wages and slowly recovering unemployment rates. And he used the prime time address to make call for an immediate suspension of immigration from “any nation that has been compromised by terrorism,” a proposal that even Republicans have criticized.
“We don’t want them in our country,” he said to loud applause. He also vowed to end the catch-and-release program, under which new illegal immigrants are not arrested and deported.
Trump’s central message was that voters should embrace his vow to strictly enforce existing laws and bring new approaches to everything from negotiating trade deals to “destroying” the Islamic State to building his border wall to stop illegal immigration . He promised to renegotiate the controversial North American Free Trade Agreement.
Four years ago, Romney called the United States “a nation of immigrants.” He also declared Americans always have lived “optimistic and positive and confident about in the future,” adding “that very optimism is uniquely American.”
There was very little optimistic about the sweeping speech Trump delivered Thursday in Cleveland , including his assessment that American airports are in “third-world condition.” Notably, however, he did not disclose how he intends to pay for a massive infrastructure overhaul while also slashing taxes for middle-class families and businesses.
John Feehery , a Republican political strategist, said Trump’s ascendancy says “a lot about the voters and their frustration with the status quo, and with politicians, and anyone with elected experience.”
He called Trump the “first politician to understand and capitalize on the power of social media.”
His takeover “is the revenge of the low-information voter, meaning people who are extremely frustrated with the political class,” Feehery said. “Policy papers don’t really matter to them, and Trump has been very effective at speaking to the desires and fears of the voters.”
Lou Barletta , a Pennsylvania GOP congressman who has enthusiastically endorsed Trump, says Republicans in the recent past have been focused more on courting the business community than working-class voter.
But Trump is different.
“He’s changing the party in a way that people see Republican principles are good for business and good for workers,” said Barletta. “Trump has been able to connect the dots on that.”
Barletta would know: he represents a heavily working-class district in that included parts of northeast Pennsylvania.
“Trump is singing their song when he talks about bringing jobs back to America,” he said.
Other GOP politicians, including a list of lawmakers who spoke at this week’s convention, seem to be plotting a return to a more traditional Republican Party like the one Romney led before his loss to President Barack Obama. But, even if Trump loses to Clinton , is that possible?
“I don’t think it can ever go back,” Feehery said. “It’s been changing over the last decade. Romney didn’t understand that and he didn’t win. It’s no longer an ideologically pure party. … It’s a party that’s angry and populist and wants change and wants change now.”