For the GOP, a pickle of a plat­form

Cecil Whig - - OPINION - Ruth Mar­cus

— How do you write a plat­form for a party whose can­di­date’s po­si­tions span the un­for­tu­nate gamut from nonex­is­tent to of­fen­sive to flatly at odds with those of the party?

Such is the thank­less task con­signed this year to Sen. John Bar­rasso. The Wy­oming Repub­li­can is a Yale-trained or­tho­pe­dist with a vo­ra­cious ap­petite for his­tory (he’s cur­rently im­mersed in a Ulysses S. Grant bi­og­ra­phy) and a po­lit­i­cal junkie’s love of game and country (Bar­rasso hasn’t missed an in­au­gu­ra­tion since his fa­ther, a Penn­syl­va­nia ce­ment fin­isher, took him to John F. Kennedy’s).

Bar­rasso ex­hibits a wonk’s in­cli­na­tion for pol­icy specifics (he just hosted sur­geon and writer Atul Gawande to speak to fel­low se­na­tors on health care) that puts him more in the “sweat the de­tails” spirit of Hil­lary Clin­ton than the de­tails-shmetails ap­proach of Don­ald Trump.

Bar­rasso is, in short, the anti-Trump. Not in the sense of be­ing op­posed to the nom­i­nee — he isn’t, al­though, like most of his GOP Sen­ate col­leagues, he scarcely ex­udes en­thu­si­asm for Trump.

But where Trump has dis­pensed cam­paign cash to both par­ties, veers from stance to stance, and dis­plays a hum­ming­bird’s at­ten­tion to specifics, Bar­rasso is res­o­lutely con­ser­va­tive and se­ri­ous about the en­ter­prise.

And in a conversation with The Wash­ing­ton Post editorial board the other day, Bar­rasso pre­sented the plat­form-writ­ing ex­er­cise — it will take place in Cleve­land the week be­fore next month’s con­ven­tion — as a mech­a­nism both for defin­ing a party reel­ing from the Trump phe­nom­e­non and for ed­u­cat­ing its nom­i­nee.

So, I asked, does the plat­form mat­ter in the age of Trump?

“It does to me. It does to the party,” he replied. “It re­ally is who we are, what we be­lieve in, what our val­ues are. That’s why I think it mat­ters now more than ever.”

Specif­i­cally, Bar­rasso con­tin­ued, “it mat­ters in terms of be­ing in­struc­tive to our nom­i­nee for pres­i­dent. I’ve talked to him and asked him to em­brace it and I be­lieve that he will.”

How in­ter­est­ing to un­der­stand the plat­form as an in­struc­tional doc­u­ment ... for the top of the ticket. One il­lus­tra­tion of that needed in­struc­tion came as we pressed Bar­rasso on the ques­tion of whether, as he sees it, Trump — and his calls for a wall on the Mex­i­can border, de­port­ing il­le­gal im­mi­grants, and bar­ring and pro­fil­ing Mus­lims — rep­re­sents Repub­li­can val­ues.

“To me, tone mat­ters,” Bar­rasso said. “I’m from Wy­oming. We tend to be re­spect­ful, pos­i­tive, in­clu­sive, and that’s what I would like to see in the plat­form.”

Yes, but. When speak­ing with Repub­li­can politi­cians and elected of­fi­cials, it is al­ways, yes, but. They talk tone and re­spect, yet they have to deal with the re­al­ity of a nom­i­nee of un­par­al­leled vul­gar­ity and of­fen­sive­ness.

“I have con­cerns with a num­ber of things our nom­i­nee has said,” Bar­rasso al­lowed. “It’s not the way I would say them.” On one level, this is an in­fu­ri­at­ingly mild re­buke to Trump’s provo­ca­tions.

On an­other, I con­fess some sym­pa­thy for Bar­rasso et al. It’s easy for folks like me to de­mand that they re­nounce Trump. It’s much harder when you’ve got an elec­tion com­ing — not just for pres­i­dent — and a party to hold to­gether.

And so, the plat­form, an ex­er­cise that fea­tures qua­dren­nial hur­dles. On the Repub­li­can side, th­ese in­clude lan­guage on abor­tion and gay rights, the lat­ter par­tic­u­larly in­ter­est­ing be­cause this will be the first plat­form writ­ten since the Supreme Court’s rul­ing on same-sex mar­riage.

But the Trump phe­nom­e­non height­ens the chal­lenge for the 112 del­e­gates cho­sen to as­sem­ble the doc­u­ment.

First, whether and how to in­cor­po­rate — re­spect­fully, no less — Trump’s trade­mark po­si­tions. Will the plat­form men­tion the wall? Call for mass de­por­ta­tions? En­vi­sion an im­mi­gra­tion ban, how­ever tem­po­rary?

Sec­ond, even as­sum­ing those is­sues can be elided through art­ful draft­ing, how to rec­on­cile Trumpian stances — against free trade, against en­ti­tle­ment re­form — with long-stand­ing, and con­flict­ing, GOP doc­trine?

The 2012 plat­form lauded free trade agree­ments for hav­ing “fa­cil­i­tated the cre­ation of nearly 10 mil­lion jobs” and lamented the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s “de­plorable ... slow­ness” in com­plet­ing pacts — in­clud­ing the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship that Trump now de­nounces. It em­pha­sized the need to “re­struc­ture” en­ti­tle­ments, in­clud­ing rais­ing the Medi­care el­i­gi­bil­ity age. Trump has vowed to “save So­cial Se­cu­rity and Medi­care with­out cuts.”

How to har­mo­nize th­ese po­si­tions? The plat­form, Bar­rasso said, quot­ing his Wy­oming col­league, Sen. Mike Enzi, an ac­coun­tant, should be seen as “a sales brochure, not an au­dit.” Even with­out hav­ing to meet gen­er­ally ac­cepted ac­count­ing prin­ci­ples, that is one hard job in this year of Trump.

Ruth Mar­cus is a syn­di­cated colum­nist. Con­tact her at ruth­mar­cus@wash­


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