A lot has been written as the 2016 Republican Presidential Campaign has unfolded about how angry Republican Primary voters are and the usual tropes have been brought out — these voters are like petulant children, they are unrealistic simpletons who are driven by thoughts and feelings that are not in keeping with the American tradition. They are unwelcoming to the millions of illegal aliens within our borders, they are demanding an end to the importation of refugees in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks, they want lower taxes, less regulation, they want the government out of the health care business, they want spending brought under control and on and on. So are the media elites correct when they characterize these voters in such starkly negative terms? In a word — no.
For decades now, Republican voters have voted for candidates who campaign on conservative policies only to be disappointed or in some cases flatly betrayed by those they elect. In 1988 then Vice President George H.W. Bush famously promised “Read my lips, no new taxes” only to proceed to break that promise in a budget agreement with Congressional Democrats just a few years later. Many point to that action as “leadership” — but for normal people who expect their leaders to honor their word it was a shocking betrayal of a campaign commitment and Bush was duly penalized in the 1992 election. In 2000 Republican voters supported George W. Bush who promised to reform Medicare and Social Security. Instead they got from President Bush the largest expansion of Medicare since its inception with the passage of Medicare Part D and a huge federal intervention in public education with the passage of “No Child Left Behind” from the party that had repeatedly promised to reduce if not eliminate altogether the federal government’s role in public education. In short the base of the Republican Party has played the role of Charlie Brown to the Lucy Presidents they have elected in the last two decades, holding out the promise of real conservative reforms only to swipe the football away upon election to office.
But the blame cannot be laid squarely at the feet of Republican Presidents. From 2000-2006 a Republican Congress acquiesced in the expansion of government while doing little outside of cutting taxes to advance any part of the conservative agenda that had been promised certainly since the 1994 Contract with America. More recently, Republicans nationalized the first midterm election after the election of President Obama with the cry of “Fire Pelosi!” amid promises to repeal Obamacare if a Republican majority was elected. And voters responded, electing a historic Republican majority to the House of Representatives. Republicans were unable to deliver without a Senate majority and so the 2014 campaign was largely waged on a promise of repealing Obamacare if Republicans were given control of both chambers of Congress. And so now as 2015 fades into history, Republicans have still been unable to move many Republican bills to the President’s desk. This is a key distinction to make — Republican primary voters are savvy enough to understand the political process. They want to see Obama forced to veto bill after bill. But instead Republican priorities have been unable to make it through the Senate. Republicans were unable to stop the President’s disastrous bargain with Iran. Essentially Republicans have appeared impotent and unorganized.
Against this backdrop it is unsurprising that voters want an unapologetic conservative who they believe will get the job done. This is undeniably linked to the support for Donald Trump. He is promising to get things done and he refuses to apologize, to the press, to political elites of all stripes and to his fellow candidates. Voters want a strong leader who will work as hard to push through the Republican agenda as President Obama has to push through a far left agenda. But when the consultant class and political elites are casting about to find someone to blame for the current agitation of Republican base voters, they need only take a look in the nearest mirror.