Friday, July 19, 2024

Analysis | From a GOP platform to a MAGA one

Analysis | From a GOP platform to a MAGA one

There was a period of about nine months in 2016 when the Republican Party sloughed off its traditional, Grand Old Party skin and became the party of Donald Trump and his “Make America Great Again” movement.

There was no immediate, sharp break but, instead, a rapid evolution. Trump had led in Republican presidential primary polls but the party — meaning the party’s traditional, establishment leaders — figured that he’d flame out as other populist Republican candidates had done over the previous six years. But he didn’t. So the establishment waited for him to instead lose that November, allowing them to return to business as usual. But he didn’t.

Trump went to the White House in January 2017 and brought with him elements of that traditional establishment. By the time he was running for reelection in 2020, though, those people were gone, supplanted within his administration as surely as they’d been supplanted within the party. The GOP was now just MAGA.

One place that shift is reflected most clearly is in the quadrennial document outlining the party’s formal platform.

In 2012, that document reflected the party that nominated Mitt Romney, leading with a dedication solemnly but pointedly honoring the “wisdom of the Framers of the United States Constitution, who gave us a Republic, as Benjamin Franklin cautioned, if we can keep it.” This was a jab at the incumbent Democrat, Barack Obama, who the party and its media organs had often presented as a dangerous threat to democracy.

This week, the party approved its 2024 platform. This year, the document is dedicated to “the Forgotten Men and Women of America.”

The 2016 platform, dropping into that liminal space between the GOP and MAGA eras, looked much more like the 2012 document than the 2024 one. It was dedicated to “all who stand strong in the face of danger [s]o that the American people may be protected against it”: the military and first responders. It, like the 2012 document, detailed the party officials who’d steered its development and included an introduction of high-minded language about the role of the platform and the party in American politics.

By 2020, the shift to Trump was immediately obvious from the party platform. It wasn’t a platform, really; it was just a resolution pointing those interested back to the 2016 platform. The platform, in essence, was that “the Republican Party has and will continue to enthusiastically support the President’s America-first agenda,” whatever that happened to be.

This year, the platform has a bit more flesh, but not much. It is also, very obviously, a product not of the party but of Trump himself. Quite literally, given that reporting suggests he guided its components and wording.

The result is a longer document than the one presented in 2020 — but a far shorter one than those in 2012 or 2016. The platform of the Republican Party that first nominated Trump in 2016 was more than six times the length of the platform Trump drafted for this year.

The focus of the document has shifted as well. The 2012 and 2016 platforms mentioned abortion more than 50 times. The 2024 document mentions it once. Of course, the 2012 and 2016 documents were longer, but even relative to the size of each document, abortion — an issue Trump is eager to move to the background during the general election — has much less of a focus.

That’s also true of other traditional Republican issues like “entitlement” — as in, cutting spending on Social Security and Medicare — and the federal debt or deficit. Instead, the 2024 document spends far more time discussing immigration (and immigrants) and far, far more time talking about the U.S.-Mexico border.

(The graphic above excludes the 2020 document since it was so terse.)

There’s another obvious difference: The new platform mentions the candidate himself nearly 20 times. The 2012 platform mentioned Romney once.

Another giveaway that the 2024 platform document was created by and for Donald Trump: the idiosyncratic deployment of uppercase letters. Trump’s random capitalization has long been a mark of his writing, from “American People” to “Deep State” to “Nation.” Generally, about 2 percent of letters in a written document are capitalized — that was the percentage of capitalized characters in the 2012 and 2016 platforms.

In the 2024 platform document, about 12 percent of characters are capitalized.

There’s a reason that the 2024 document is as short as it is relative to 2012 and 2016, and it, too, shows Trump’s hand — it doesn’t get into much detail. It often presents vague promises without explaining what they mean or how they will be accomplished, like the assertion that “Republicans support the restoration of Classic Liberal Arts Education.” Okay?

This is Trumpian because it is vague, because — in the classic manner of a salesman trying to close the deal — it seeks to make the most palatable case it can. (Who can argue with a classical liberal arts education, in the abstract?) Party platforms are always centrally electoral documents but generally seek to persuade by offering details. This one, as with Trump’s politicking in general, is unabashed in stripping those details out.

It is undeniably the Republican Party platform, in the sense that the Republican Party is undeniably Trump’s.

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