President Donald J. Trump is the most popular Republican leader since at least President Ronald Reagan. The grueling fights he has endured against the Democratic Party, fake news media, deep state, Hollywood celebrities, and other cultural cancers have strengthened his bonds with conservatives who see him as the champion for whom they have yearned for decades.
President Trump has restored a certain swagger to the American Right. This self-confidence had been missing as the Bushes, John McCain, and Mitt Romney sucked the life out of the Grand Old Party. Trump also has attacked the Left with a seldom-seen effectiveness, essentially becoming a human kryptonite that brings Democrats to their knees.
Often lost in the euphoria of the Trump movement, though, is what will follow the President, and who will be the standard bearer who can build upon his legacy and its lasting imprint upon America.
Trump’s governing style offers both benefits and drawbacks. Chief among the latter is his unpredictable philosophy. On Monday, bringing the GIs home from Syria will Keep America Great. On Tuesday, fresh troops head to Saudi Arabia, for possible war with Iran. On Wednesday, protecting jobs for native-born Americans is the central pillar of the MAGA agenda. On Thursday, the key to economic growth is the importation of Third World electronic engineers to boost the profits of the tech giants and their monopoly platforms that de-platform Trump supporters.
Here is the mega-question for MAGA-era conservative intellectuals: Will Trumpism be a flash in the pan, or will it permanently revolutionize the American Right? While “Make America Great Again,” “Keep America Great,” “Make America Even Greater,” and “America First” are all excellent slogans, they need substance behind them in order to yield post-Trump staying power. Trump’s forceful personality has triggered a political realignment, but it must be a starting point, not a finish line.
Congressman Matt Gaetz (R –Florida) is a leader who provides a coherent policy framework for the MAGA agenda. To him, “America First” isn’t just a new brand to repackage stale neoliberalism within the Republican Party. He actually wants to move the GOP permanently in a nationalist, conservative direction. This shift is vital, to save the GOP and USA from extinction.
Gaetz displayed remarkable foresight and political acumen when he voted with all but two Republicans in favor of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s resolution limiting President Trump’s war powers on Iran. One of only three Republican lawmakers to support the California Democrat’s measure, this move certainly was unpopular among Gaetz’s solid-Right base. His vote reportedly has put him on the outs with the White House, which surely is angry that Gaetz chose to undermine Trump’s authority.
But the President, like many of his devoted supporters, is missing the point entirely.
Gaetz understands that war and peace are much larger than President Trump or today’s tensions with Iran. Gaetz’s concerns involve the endless conflicts in which the United States has been bogged down since just after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. These Middle Eastern wars have grown increasingly unpopular with everyone, beyond perhaps the Fox News faithful. From Bush in Afghanistan and Iraq, to Obama in Libya and Syria, and now Trump with Iran, the President essentially has assumed unilateral authority to wage war. This is not how the Founding Fathers designed this Republic.
Unlike Sen. Rand Paul — who denigrated Trump’s fatal drone strike against Iranian General Qasem Soleimani and opposes war with Iran — Gaetz does not approach war prevention as a non-interventionist ideologue, but rather as an “America First” pragmatist. Gaetz vocally defended the Soleimani strike, but understands that any further escalation could create another trillion-dollar quagmire. Thus, President Trump, like all other commanders-in-chief, should be restrained by the Constitution.
While Gaetz’s position might cause him some immediate political damage, it will bolster his long-term credibility. His vote shows that he is in tune with popular sentiment on this issue. A recent survey found that 71 percent of Americans want to avoid war with Iran. Gaetz avoided the “Let’s go to war!” fervor that caused Republicans to support the disastrous Iraq mission, a conflict that President Trump has called the worst blunder in U.S. history.
The anti-war candidate has won the last three presidential elections, and that is likely to happen again in 2020. Gaetz understands that forever wars cannot be part of the America First movement. This makes him the top choice to become its standard bearer after President Trump flies Air Force One on his final, beautiful, very special trip to Mar-a-Lago.