When the protagonist in Ira Levin’s novel, The Stepford Wives, begins to suspect that other women in her Connecticut town are robots, she surmises:
That’s what they all were, all the Stepford wives: actresses in commercials, pleased with detergents and floor wax, with cleansers, shampoos, and deodorants. Pretty actresses, big in the bosom but small in the talent, playing housewives unconvincingly, too nicey-nice to be real.
Which brings to mind the viral video of Mitt Romney reacting to his Twinkie birthday cake. Lack of ample bosom aside, Mitt is a great example of someone playing a housewife unconvincingly, too nicey-nice to be real. He is a Stepford-Wife Republican.
The problem with Republicans is that for too long they came off like bad actresses selling detergent. It probably started in 1980, when Ronald Reagan won the Republican nomination against the establishment candidate who had called his tax cut plans “voodoo economics.”
In the name of civility, or comity, or some other such thing, Reagan selected his vanquished opponent as his running mate. George H.W. Bush was many things, but Reagan Republican was not one of them. He learned to act the part, but always robotically.
“Read my lips, no new taxes” was his Skull-and-Bones-y way of mimicking the bravado of a barroom brawler, but he did not really mean it. It was pandering to the Republican base, which he would abandon the second the nightly news started airing stories about how the failure to raise taxes would hurt children.
True courage does not mean rising from one’s deathbed to break a campaign promise. It requires facing down even “but-what-about-the-children?” criticism when honor requires it.
Bush was never going to hold fast to what he considered voodoo economics when faced with blanket “think-of-the-children” media coverage.
Stepford-Wife Republicans are politicians whose highest ideal is acceptance by the media. During their passive-aggressive quarter-century reign, they did tremendous damage to the real lives of people in the Reagan coalition. By 2016, the base was fed up, and purposely selected the least robotic candidate.
Donald Trump, in contrast to the GOP’s prosthetic enhancements, was real and spectacular. His Twitter rants were refreshing. They got him elected to the presidency.
The value of this connection was lost on the mythmakers paid to cast Republican pandering as profiles in courage—the NeverTrumpers. They were in the business of using words to twist things into end-all-be-all outrages, and they did not appreciate a New York real estate developer showing up to ask, “Who cares?”
Peggy Noonan won a Pulitzer Prize in 2017 for the critical distance she kept from Trump during the primaries and the general election. In her new role as a scold, she would question Trump’s masculinity over his Twitter use, for not acting more like Gary Cooper, John Wayne, and Henry Fonda. Not the real-life versions, mind you, who could themselves be crass and clipped. But the on-screen versions, who delivered sweeping lines that moved armies to defeat fake Germans in two world wars.
Noonan’s pique over Trump perfectly illustrated conservative punditry’s misunderstanding of political courage between 1988 and 2016. Fresh-from-surgery John McCain, registering the deciding vote to save Obamacare even though he had promised to repeal it, was a great man in NeverTrump’s view.
True courage, though, does not mean rising from one’s deathbed to break a campaign promise. It requires facing down even “but-what-about-the-children?” criticism when honor requires it.
By that measure, no politician in America exhibits more courage than Donald Trump. Both sides are against him. The Left, for standing athwart their preferences and policies. The Right, for enacting their preferences and policies without first paying tribute to them.
Trump has been lambasted by powerful cultural forces to the point where others, Peggy Noonan among them, had long since signaled surrender. Who can forget Jon Stewart’s profanity-laced rant against Noonan for daring to cite the seriousness of President Obama’s IRS scandal?
There was not a peep out of her after that, as I recall. She knows her place. The Republicans who emerged from the hollers of West Virginia in 2016 would have preferred a Twitter tirade. With Trump, they finally got one.
The easy thing for Trump would have been to sue for peace once in office, Bush-like. Ride the faith of the sincere to the presidency and then mildly scoff at them when he got there. Then Peggy Noonan could have written about how he was a quirky bit of Americana who deserves our support and respect for his complete deference to Paul Ryan on all things.
Instead, Trump does things like, well, try to use Twitter to buy Greenland, for example.
Mitt Romney’s Twinkie birthday cake was made from Soy Protein Isolate, Polysorbate 60, Soy Lecithin, Soy Flour, Cellulose Gum, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Artificial Flavors, and Sorbic Acid—and 30 other similarly sounding ingredients. The Twinkie is a product so overprocessed that its name is synonymous with treacly dreck. It is a good-looking, sweet-tasting Stepford-cake that isn’t really real.
Trump stands out by never permitting himself to be overprocessed. The 5 a.m. tweets make a more genuine connection than any focus approved slogan from high-powered consultants ever could. It is smart politics. Maybe not in Washington, but where it counts: Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Greenland—assuming he can work it into the Electoral College by next year.