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From a GOP platform to a MAGA platform

From a GOP platform to a MAGA platform

In 2016, there was a period of about nine months in which the Republican Party shed its traditional face as the Grand Old Party and became the party of Donald Trump and his “Make America Great Again” movement.

There was no immediate, sharp break, but a rapid evolution. Trump had led in the polls heading into the Republican presidential primary, but the party – and by extension the party’s traditional, established leaders – expected him to crash, as other populist Republican candidates had over the past six years. But he didn’t. So the establishment waited for him to lose in November instead so they could move on to business as usual. But he didn’t.

Trump entered the White House in January 2017, bringing with him elements of that traditional establishment. But by the time he ran for re-election in 2020, those people were gone, and they had been pushed out within his administration as well as within the party. The Republicans were now just MAGA.

This change is most clearly reflected in the document published every four years that sets out the official party programme.

This document reflected the party that nominated Mitt Romney in 2012. It began with a dedication that solemnly but forcefully acknowledged the “wisdom of the Framers of the Constitution of the United States, who gave us a Republic if we can keep it, as Benjamin Franklin warned.” This was a swipe at incumbent Democrat Barack Obama, whom the party and its media outlets had often portrayed as a dangerous threat to democracy.

This week, the party adopted its election platform for 2024. This year, the document is dedicated to the “forgotten men and women of America.”

The 2016 program, which fell in this liminal space between the GOP and MAGA eras, was much more like the 2012 document than the 2024 one. It was dedicated to “all who stand strong in the face of danger so that the American people are protected from it”: the military and first responders. Like the 2012 document, it listed the party officials who had guided its development and included an introduction in high-sounding language about the role of the program and the party in American politics.

In 2020, the turn to Trump was already clearly visible in the party’s platform. Actually, it wasn’t a platform, just a resolution that referred interested parties back to the 2016 platform. The platform essentially said: “The Republican Party has enthusiastically supported the President’s America First agenda and will continue to do so,” whatever that might be.

This year, the platform has a little more substance, but not much. It is also clearly not the product of the party, but of Trump himself. And in the truest sense of the word, since the reporting suggests that he determined the elements and wording of the platform.

The result is a longer document than the one presented in 2020 – but far shorter than the documents from 2012 or 2016. The platform of the Republican Party, which first nominated Trump in 2016, was more than six times as long as the platform Trump drafted for this year.

The focus of the document has also shifted. The 2012 and 2016 campaign platforms mentioned abortion more than 50 times. The 2024 document mentions it once. Of course, the 2012 and 2016 documents were longer, but even relative to the size of the two documents, abortion—an issue Trump would like to push into the background during the general election—is much less of a focus.

The same goes for other traditional Republican issues like “entitlement issues” — that is, cutting spending on Social Security and Medicare — and the national debt or deficit. Instead, the 2024 document spends much more time discussing immigration (and immigrants), and much, much more time talking about the U.S.-Mexico border.

(The graphic above excludes the 2020 document because it is so brief.)

And there is another obvious difference: the candidate himself is mentioned almost twenty times in the new manifesto. In the 2012 manifesto, Romney was mentioned only once.

Another indication that the 2024 manifesto was created by and for Donald Trump is the idiosyncratic use of capital letters. Trump’s arbitrary capitalization has long been a hallmark of his writing, from “American People” to “Deep State” to “Nation.” Generally, about 2 percent of letters in a written document are capitalized—that was the percentage of capital letters in the 2012 and 2016 manifesto documents.

In the 2024 platform document, about 12 percent of the characters are capitalized.

There’s a reason the 2024 document is so short compared to 2012 and 2016, and again, Trump’s hand is evident – it doesn’t go into much detail. It often presents vague promises without explaining what they mean or how they will be achieved, such as the claim that “Republicans support restoring classical liberal arts education.” OK?

This is typical of Trump because it is vague and, in the classic manner of a salesman trying to close a deal, tries to make his argument as palatable as possible. (Who can argue against a classical liberal arts education, when viewed in the abstract?) Party platforms are always central election documents, but generally try to persuade by providing details. Like Trump’s policies in general, this platform is unabashed about emphasizing those details.

It is indisputably the platform of the Republican Party, in the sense that the Republican Party is indisputably Trump’s party.