Instead, Trump was a consequence of the shifting dynamics in the United States — and specifically within the GOP — that allowed an anti-establishment candidate to rise to power and act on his worst impulses while in office.
In simpler terms, Trump was gasoline on the proverbial fire.
Rather than laying out policy plans to address issues facing everyday Americans, the rejectionist wing of the GOP was more interested in airing grievances, stoking anger and settling political scores. In contrast, I spent most of my days focused on doing my committee work, serving my district’s interests and largely avoiding national media attention.
However, Boehner and I could not ignore the threat these extremists posed to our party. At the time, government was divided. President Obama and US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid were the most powerful Democratic voices in Washington DC. The only check on their liberal agenda was the House Republican majority. Together, both sides would need to engage in difficult negotiations and ultimately compromise to govern effectively.
But there was one glaring problem. For many of these rejectionist members, compromise was tantamount to capitulation or surrender. In fact, several of these members referred to me as the leader of the “Surrender Caucus.” What earned me that label was my willingness to fund the government, prevent a catastrophic default on America’s full faith and credit, vote for emergency assistance to victims of Hurricane Sandy, enact a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act that included protections for LGBT Americans — and other sins too numerous to mention.
As Boehner often said, “If I don’t have 218 votes, I don’t have s**t.” And his inability to keep the Republican caucus united meant he was often left as the very kind of leader he warned against. “A leader with no followers is just a guy taking a walk,” he’d quip to me. But he was absolutely right — the party was fracturing, and there was no clear sense who would emerge as the new leaders.
Yes, so much of the story of the transformation of the Republican Party has been built on fear — fear of fringe colleagues, fear of fringe elements of the base and fear of fringe primary challengers. Sound familiar? No one could exploit fear better than Trump himself.
In 2016, Trump turned fear into the highest form of political power. And these intransigent fringe GOP elements, who were very good at telling Boehner what he could not do, suddenly had the keys to the castle.