The circus comes to Cleveland

Perhaps Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter said it best: “Lately it occurs to me what a long, strange trip it’s been.”

Members of the Republican Party are on their way to Cleveland, where they will — despite movements to the contrary — choose Donald Trump as their nominee. Let that sink in. The Republican Party will choose a man who, as recently as March 2012, wasn’t registered as a Republican.

There is plenty more than can and has been written about Trump — from talk of small hands to racial and gender slurs to, worst of all, far too few policy positions. But his rejoining the GOP, ending more than a decade of party hopping, is significant.

Don’t get me wrong: I understand his vexation. After all, I am a former Republican turned Democrat turned “I don’t want nothing to do with either of y’all.”

The front of the Quicken Loans Arena, site of the Republican National Convention in downtown Cleveland July 13, 2016.
The front of the Quicken Loans Arena, site of the Republican National Convention in downtown Cleveland July 13, 2016. (Rick Wilking/Reuters)

Ninety-five percent of politics is gamesmanship, and it is tiring to move your token in circles around the board. It is why I prefer conversations to demonstrations, and policy to politics. It’s also why I’m disenchanted with Congress, the White House, the state legislature and Terrace Hill.

Iowa’s and the country’s moral compass rests on a political magnet, forever directing progress toward circus tents on the extreme left or right. This week we navigate to Cleveland, temporary home of the extreme right big top. While there, Republicans will crown a malcontent as king and solidify their own demise.

No, it won’t be a physical death. The big top won’t literally be burned to the ground. Think of it as a regime change. Republicans will soon be led by a man who, like myself, was disgruntled enough by the party to leave it. Now he gets to realign it to his own image.

Look back to the primary — before handlers attempted to rein in Trump’s off-the-cuff campaign style — to see what this realignment may mean for the GOP.

Trump, of course, wanted voters to remember his personal wealth and business background. In the beginning, this was to separate himself from others in a large field, but Trump also made direct appeals to working-class Americans, especially those who have been repeatedly hit and bruised by global economics. He spoke of protecting Social Security, Medicare and veterans’ benefits. He objected to free trade and war.

While pointing at his own big bank account, he lamented the presence of money in politics. He previously favored single-payer health care systems, pledging during the primary to dismantle the Affordable Care Act while ensuring everyone has health insurance.

Medicare, Trump said, should negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies, echoing a Democratic Party position. He repeatedly put Wall Street tax breaks on the hot plate and, in his book, derided the government for making a profit on loans for higher education.

Political parties aren’t wholly stagnant things. They gradually shift and sway under the influence of time, triumph and tragedy. Even so, foundations, generally based on economic mindsets, remain rooted.

Look beyond the well-publicized juvenile name-calling and nativism rhetoric and what you’ll find is Trump taking aim at that foundation.

This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on July 16, 2016. Photo credit: Rick Wilking/Reuters