“Why did we lose this war?” asked James Burnham of Vietnam in 1972. One reason, he wrote, was that “We failed—that is, our leadership failed—to comprehend this Indochina struggle as one campaign or sub-war in a global conflict. Since we did not set it within its global frame of reference, our leaders could neither develop a comprehensive strategy to win it nor make it comprehensible to the American people.”
On July 18, 2015, about a month into his long-shot campaign for president, Donald Trump famously attacked John McCain. “He’s not a war hero,” he said. “He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.” Campaigning in Iowa that summer, Trump mocked Jeb Bush for being “low-energy.” In February 2016, Trump said Bush’s brother, the forty-third president, had lied in order to invade Iraq. When Mitt Romney attacked Trump the following month, Trump responded by calling the 2012 Republican nominee a “choke artist.” On his path to the 2016 GOP nomination and then the presidency, Donald Trump positioned himself at odds with the leadership of the party he sought to command.
I’ve spent the last two weeks teaching a course on the history of the conservative intellectual movement for the Hertog political studies program. This is the second year Hertog has offered the course, but the first time under President Trump. I like to think I offered the students, all of whom were intelligent, well spoken, and impressive, a complete story. There was a beginning and middle
Where do you start?
With the president who undercuts, insults, lambastes his attorney general, but does not fire him?
With the White House press secretary who resigns from his job only when he faces the prospect of reporting to someone he does not like?
With the White House communications director who tells a reporter he’s planning on firing a staffer, then backtracks, then has the staffer resign?
The other day Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania explained why Republicans are having such trouble with health care. Speaking at a town hall during the July 4 recess, Toomey said, “I didn’t expect Donald Trump to win. I think most of my colleagues didn’t. So we didn’t expect to be in this situation.”
President Trump delivered one of the most important speeches of his young presidency on Thursday. Billed as “Remarks to the people of Poland,” the address was as clear a statement as we have heard of Trump’s nation-state populism. This philosophy, which differs in emphasis and approach from that of other post-Cold War Republican presidents, is both enduring and undefined.