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GOP's Boulevard of Broken Dreams

Francis Wilkinson writes editorials on politics and U.S. domestic policy for Bloomberg View. He was executive editor of the Week. He was previously a national affairs writer for Rolling Stone, a communications consultant and a political media strategist.
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Admittedly, the Republican Party has difficulty arriving at a consensus these days. But conservatives are getting pretty close to one on the matter of who bears responsibility for the party's riotous Donald Trump fiasco. They have met the enemy, and, sure enough, it's them.

"The Republican Party created Donald Trump," said former RedState blogger Erick Erickson, "because they made a lot of promises to their base and never kept them."

Veteran activist L. Brent Bozell III was all over that argument back in April 2015. "Republicans promised conservatives the moon in 2014 and have given us the shaft throughout 2015," Bozell wrote.

Ratcheting up the culpability, the conservative Washington Times wrote that Republican leaders not only "made promises they couldn’t keep," but that they "had no intention of trying to keep."

That's a tough charge, but South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham copped to it at a Republican debate in September, saying, “I’m tired of telling people things they want to hear that I know we can’t do."

Repeal Obamacare. Ban abortions after 20 weeks. Overturn presidential executive actions on immigration. Cut spending on Democratic constituencies. It turns out that Republicans oversold and underdelivered.

Given the sunny trajectory of Trump's new career, the GOP's realization might be too late. But at least the lesson has been learned.

Just kidding.

Marco Rubio is the party's last best -- O.K., only -- hope to arrest Trump's ascension to top of the jungle gym and salvage Republican orthodoxy. Rubio has lost four consecutive GOP contests, suggesting sizable pockets of resistance within the Republican base. It might be worthwhile to review his campaign in light of the party's recent confessions.

Rubio has promised to "repeal and replace" Obamacare so many times that he could be excused for believing it's already gone. He attacked Trump last week for having no real plan for health care. But as Paul Waldman pointed out in the Washington Post, Rubio's own "plan" is simply a reprint of an op-ed essay espousing three main principles. Obamacare isn't really a law at this point anyway. It's the de facto health-care system of the U.S.

Rubio is essentially promising to repeal "War and Peace" on his first day in office and replace it with a couple of paragraphs in which Napoleon is defeated faster and better and without pre-existing conditions. 

Likewise, Rubio has promised to cancel the Obama administration's "ridiculous deal" on Iran's nuclear program and "reimpose sanctions on Day One" of his presidency. This fits with the Rubio rigmarole about Obama knowing "exactly what he's doing" as the president pursues what the Florida senator characterizes as a lifelong dream of weakening the U.S.

But sanctions on Iran were multilateral, and indeed must be to have bite. Rubio has no power to force Europeans to reimpose sanctions that they were delighted to lift. And his capacity to reformulate a deal to which the U.S. is but one of several parties is at best highly speculative. Maybe Rubio has Trumpian negotiating skills and a secret plan. If not, he's offering -- how did Bozell phrase it? Ah, yes, "the moon."

Rubio has variously promised to end Obama's executive actions protecting undocumented immigrants, eliminate federal funding for sanctuary cities, win the war on Islamic State and pass a tax plan that "treats everyone on an even playing field," which suggests he is contemplating a plan other than the one he has actually proposed, which heavily frontloads benefits to the very wealthiest.

Every candidate makes some promises that won't, or can't, be kept. It's the nature of a sketchy business. Rubio has taken to calling Trump a "con man" on the stump and it's hard to dispute the label. While Rubio offers dubious promises, boldly stated, Trump suffices with an occasional Tweet and an assurance that everything's gonna be great.

It's unclear why a Republican electorate that is purportedly feeling burned by empty promises should turn its lonely eyes to such an obvious deception. Maybe the analysts are wrong. Maybe what Republican voters want are promises even more extravagantly bankrupt than what they're accustomed to. Rubio's problem in that case is that he remains slightly tethered to reality. And the man has no red cap. 

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Francis Wilkinson at fwilkinson1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Katy Roberts at kroberts29@bloomberg.net