Jeff Flake is pretty much the poster boy for country club Republicanism. Responsible, moderate, no boat rocking, no deplorables and certainly never Trump.
“It is clear at this moment that a traditional conservative, who believes in limited government and free markets, devoted to free trade, pro-immigration, has a narrower and narrower path to nomination in the Republican party” Jeff Flake
It is not entirely clear when traditional conservatives became “pro-immigration” but it is clear that conservatives in general, if they favour immigration at all, are pro “legal” immigration. As to limited government and free markets, Flake has been in Washington since 2001. Has the government been limited? Have markets become freer? As to free trade, neither W nor Obama nor the Congress of the United States has been very interested in trade.
Flake’s retirement in the face of the fact he was 15 to 20 points behind in the Republican primary suggests that Steve Bannon’s strategy of playing a bit of hardball with RINOs is working. Bannon’s agenda, which interestingly includes “legal” immigration in place of illegal, a genuine reduction in the scope of government and a recognition that unlimited “free trade” with countries which pay a tenth of American wages may not be such a good deal, is resonating amongst Republican and even independent voters. A couple of decades of economic stagnation in which poor people, black and white, stayed poor and their ranks were swelled by other people falling out of the middle class, suggests the consensus elite positions on these sorts of issues may not be working so terribly well.
Bannon was smart enough to realize that an America First agenda spoke to the needs of the American people in a way the elite solutions had long since failed to do. Bannon was also smart enough to realize that the crooked timber of Trump was strong enough to push these ideas into the civic forum. MAGA is a silly slogan but it touched people who were, in fact, better off twenty years ago before they were given the blessing of GOPe and Obama.
The Bannonite insurgency in the Republican Party rests on the simple premise that if things are not working you try to change them. Obamacare was ill-conceived at the go and relied upon illegal appropriations from the President to work at all. All Trump had to do was stop making those appropriations and, Obamacare will, slowly and likely painfully, collapse. Now, I don’t think the Republicans have any particularly good replacement for Obamacare; but its collapse will at least mean that the GOPe will not be able to vote with the Democrats to keep the Rube Goldberg structure on life support. Same story with the “Dreamers”. Simply by refusing to extend Obama’s Executive Orders for non-enforcement, the problem is kicked back to Congress where it belongs.
I don’t think Trump has been a very good President but simply by refusing to extend decisions made in the Obama era, he is reducing the harm done. For fans of limited government, as Flake professes to be, reducing Executive overreach and pushing law making to the legislative branch of the government is a very good start indeed.
Bannon recognized that voters on the right were fed up with voting for Republican canidates only to have them turn into Democrats in drag when they hit Washington. The very idea of primarying fine old GOPe canidates proves pretty conclusively that Bannon is far too rude to be admitted to any decent country club. And, as he racks up the wins, he will also increase his power in the Republican Party.
If we assume, along with the increasingly deranged media, that Trump is, at best, an entirely hollow man without a policy thought to bless himself with and with no time for the Republican Party, the defenders of the GOPe status quo are people like Karl Rove, Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan. These are not popular men nor do they have much unity of purpose save staying in office or collecting fat consulting fees. These are the great minds who brought a disgusted American People “Jeb!”.
For Bannon, wind at his back, crushing this outdated, policy free, cabal is the work of a single primary season. Two down, six, well five because Cruz gets a bye, Senators to go, a number of flakey Representatives as well. Bannon is on a roll and it is not obvious what will stop him from reforming the Republican Party into an America First, populist machine.
(And I note that the Democratic party is in even worse shape with little in the way of vision or leadership and a bunch of “woke” kids convinced that what the party needs is 24/7 identity politics with a healthy dose of really incoherent socialism to reduce the bugbear of “inequality” and promote the panecea of “diversity”. That, and Hilly and Bubba are very much in the frame for accepting Uranium One payments which look, well, rather like Russian bribes.)