James Comey is Deluded About Trump's Influence on RepublicansRoundup
tags: Republican Party, James Comey, Donald Trump
Julian Zelizer, a CNN political analyst, is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author and editor of 25 books, including the New York Times best-seller, “Myth America: Historians Take on the Biggest Lies and Legends About Our Past” (Basic Books).
During an interview with CNN’s Poppy Harlow, former FBI Director James Comey blamed Trumpism for conservative distrust toward the FBI. Comey explained that he wasn’t very concerned about the agency in the long term, though, predicting that at some point the “fever” would certainly break.
His comments reflect a common misconception, namely that former President Donald Trump’s ongoing support within the GOP is some sort of aberration that revolves around the person rather than the party. Instead of talking about the electoral coalition that propelled Trump into power, and which currently makes him the leading Republican nominee for reelection, the conversation continues to revolve around the former president himself. This perspective has informed much of the coverage of the Republican primaries — with ongoing discussions about whether one of the nominees will be able to bring Trumpism to an end by knocking out the top nominee.
To understand Trumpism, it is important to look at who comprises the GOP base. As Ronald Brownstein has so well documented for CNN, Trump’s popularity is rooted in the rural White base of the Republican Party. And in a recent piece for The Atlantic, Brownstein examined how the Republican majority in the House in 2023 generally represents districts with older, non-college educated, lower-income, White voters.
The reason Trumpism has been so influential is that many of the ideas it espouses mesh well with the sentiment in this electorate. The kind of conservative anti-establishment populism that Trump has promoted, which is nationalistic, nativistic, distrustful, disruptive and deeply hostile to the social and cultural changes that have taken place since the 1960s, has strong appeal with many Republican voters.
It is true that political parties can change dramatically. Historians, for instance, have traced the long-term shift within the Democratic Party that started in the 1940s, as southern Democrats who opposed civil rights and unionization gradually drifted from their party and flocked to the open arms of a Republican Party that was increasingly conservative and willing to appeal to opposition toward civil rights legislation.
For its part, the Republican Party gradually moved away from the liberal northeasterners, such as Nelson Rockefeller and Jacob Javits, who had been major forces in pulling the GOP toward the center, and veered sharply to the right, culminating in Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980. Reagan brought the kind of conservatism that in 1964 (when Lyndon B. Johnson defeated Republican Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona in a landslide election) was considered far too radical for the White House.
But these kinds of changes take decades to happen. They are not the result of one candidate winning or losing, nor are they some sort of short-term spell that parties go through and come out of.
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