Watching the GOP convention, you could be forgiven for believing that almost all the brightest stars in the Republican firmament are Trumps.
Members of the Trump family were among the best, most high-profile performers. During the first two nights of the convention, the hall began to empty as soon as the Trumps left the stage, its energy and purpose sapped by the departure of the animating family.
The Trump phenomenon began, in part, as a revolt against a dynasty (the Bushes), and here we are celebrating a cult of personality with the family in the starring role (and one of the patriarch’s sons, Donald Jr., already marked out for a future political career).
Charles Hurt of The Washington Times, an early adopter of Trumpite populism, couldn’t contain his enthusiasm for the ascendancy of people who are rich and famous thanks to their relationship to someone else who is rich and famous: “Behold! A new American political dynasty is born!”
Whatever this sensibility is, it isn’t small-”r” republican. Which isn’t to take anything away from the Trumps, who have proven themselves talented and winsome platform speakers. They did their family proud.
Yet this is a strange standard for a political party. The GOP campaign feels a little like an exercise in what the great social scientist Edward Banfield, in his classic study of a backward town in Italy in the 1950s, deemed “amoral famialism.”
Banfield described how each family’s focus on its own narrow interest made it impossible to build social trust. The rule was, “Maximize the material, short-run advantage of the nuclear family; assume that all others will do likewise.”
Certainly this has been Donald Trump’s M.O. throughout his business career — where he has extended no undue consideration to anyone outside the charmed circle of his family — and his politics has some of the same hallmarks.
The Trumps are reckless with the dignity of their supporters. They forced loyalists to go through ridiculous contortions to insist that there was no plagiarism in Melania’s speech, until finally issuing a mea culpa.
If his family has thrived at the convention, a party stalwart like Paul Ryan has struggled to fit in. The speaker of the House gave an adorable speech from a warm-and-fuzzy alternative reality where Republican voters had endorsed latter-day Jack Kemp-style Republicanism this year
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has as much claim to be a member of the extended Trump family as any beloved valet, yet didn’t seem to realize or care that in his indictment of Hillary Clinton, he condemned positions shared by Trump (warm regard for Vladimir Putin, a hands-off policy in Syria, support for an opening to the Castro regime in Cuba).
When Ted Cruz declined to endorse Trump in relatively gentle terms at the end of his speech — his call to vote your conscience would be a truism in any other context — he was nearly shouted from the stage. No one seemed to mind that the rest of his speech was a recitation of conservative orthodoxy, much of which is a matter of indifference to Trump.
Indeed, for a Trump convention, the Republican gathering was relatively bereft of celebrations of Trump’s immigration restriction, protectionism and a noninterventionist foreign policy that would accommodate dictators and, in all likelihood, outsource the military campaign against the Islamic State.
Even the speeches of Donald Jr. and running mate Mike Pence sounded decidedly un-Trumpian notes. It was welcome to hear Donald Jr. say that “freedom requires a limited government,” but it’s a sentiment much more associated with the heretical Ted Cruz than with his father.
One reason for the (deservedly) fierce attack on Hillary Clinton at the convention is that opposition to her is the only political glue holding together Republican officeholders and their party’s nominee. It’s a testament of her weakness that Trump is competitive — and in the hunt for a resounding victory for Trumps everywhere.
Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.