After all, isn’t Donald Trump’s political appeal a kind of cartoon version of Richard Nixon’s? Nixon was the most consequential Republican in America for a long time, arguably from the Hiss-Chambers hearings in 1948 until his resignation from the presidency more than a quarter-century later; a candidate who ran five times for national office, four times a winner and losing only once, possibly as a result of stolen votes in Illinois and Texas; a politician who invented the Silent Majority and laid the basis for the emergence of a governing Republican majority; a president whose achievements pale beside those of our beau ideal, Ronald Reagan. But no Nixon, no Gipper.
Now, in 2015, we seem to be replaying history in fast forward. What took 16 years, from 1964 to 1980, is now happening in a matter of 16 months. The Tea Party was in a way a replay of the Goldwater movement—a visceral, deeply felt, and in many ways justified rebellion against the pretensions and depredations of big government liberalism. Both rebellions fell short of attaining the presidency. Both were followed by a less constitutionalist but perhaps more wide-ranging revolt against the cultured despisers of American patriotism and traditions—the first of which produced the Nixon ascendancy over several tumultuous years, the second of which has fueled the Trump phenomenon over several rambunctious months.
The Nixon era was followed, after a short interlude, by Reagan. The task today is to ensure that the Trumpian moment is followed—with no interlude, and with time telescoped—by a neo-Reaganite victory, one that builds on what is best in the Tea Party and what is healthy in Trumpism to create a politically viable governing conservatism.