Paul Ryan And Jack Kemp Vs. Donald Trump: The GOP At A Crossroads

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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A recent piece at Breitbart sounds almost Trotskyist in its call for the GOP to be a “pro-worker party,” but their most interesting move is to accuse Rep. Paul Ryan of being “the staffer who had aided Jack Kemp and William Bennett in their crusade against Proposition 187.”

In case you haven’t been paying attention, populist forces on the Right are attempting to strangle the baby in the crib — to dissuade Ryan from seeking the speakership.

My guess is it’ll work. Ryan doesn’t even want the gig. And who could blame him?

To discredit Ryan, they’ve invoked the name of his old mentor, former Rep. Jack Kemp. Yes, that Jack Kemp — you know, the same guy who introduced Ronald Reagan to supply-side economics, giving Reagan the last missing ingredient — optimism — he would need to win the presidency.

I know; what a Commie!

Ryan may or may not be heir to Kemp’s legacy (I was one of the first to call out his pattern of unconservative votes), but the attacks on him only serve to illustrate how far today’s populist strain has shifted from Kemp’s conservative philosophy to an angry, protectionist (borderline nativist) style of populism in which Donald Trump is considered a conservative hero.

Along those lines, has a book ever been timed better than the one written by Morton Kondracke and Fred Barnes about Jack Kemp? The duo are taking advantage of the opportunity, too:

“[Kemp] was the antithesis of Donald Trump in practically every way except high energy,” Kondracke told Newsmax TV. “So I think he would be perfectly appalled. He would want the Republican Party to be concentrating on ideas that would make life better for ordinary Americans.”

Kemp would disagree with Trump on “many, many things,” Fred Barnes continued. “Starting with immigration and particularly deportation and things like that, eminent domain, I can think of many things. But the difference between Jack Kemp and other Republicans today — and certainly with Donald Trump — is that Kemp was a uniter.”

(Stay tuned for my interview with Kondracke on a future episode of the Matt Lewis & The News podcast.)

I’ve long had a theory that a lot of folks in this populist camp (not all, but many) became involved in politics fairly recently — as a reaction to 9-11, or to Obama’s election and/or the rise of the tea party (which technically began before Obama’s election). My point here is that these are not typically folks who have a coherent conservative worldview, but rather, frustrated Americans who are reacting to some recent event.

Few of these people were active in politics when Kemp was helping invent Reaganomics — or when he was working (perhaps in vain) to prevent the GOP from becoming a sort of European-style right populist party.

Why would they have any reverence for them now?

*** Note: Stay tuned for my upcoming podcast with Mort Kondracke. And check out Jack Kemp: The Bleeding-Heart Conservative Who Changed America — and pre-order my new book Too Dumb to Fail: How the GOP Betrayed the Reagan Revolution to Win Elections (And How it Can Reclaim its Conservative Roots).