CLEVELAND — Meet the new Republican Party — same as the old Republican Party.
At least on paper, the Republican Party as it defines itself under presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump is almost indistinguishable from the GOP of the last several years.
The New York businessman has made waves inside the party for an unorthodox approach to social, fiscal and national security policy that challenges decades of Republican dogma.
But delegates gathered ahead of next week’s national convention to write the party platform made few significant changes on matters that have long characterized GOP positions on domestic and international issues.
Where Trump’s stamp was added, the adjustments were largely cosmetic, crafted to acknowledge the party’s new populist leader without alienating the conservative activists who labor over the platform.
“He has really not tried to influence the direction of this platform. He has been receptive and I’ve asked him to embrace the platform that comes out from this grassroots approach,” Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming told the Washington Examiner on Monday. “I believe that he will.”
Barrasso, the chairman of the platform committee, said that he met with Trump last week in Washington to discuss the platform. The senator said he expects the committee to produce a conservative document that doesn’t alter the Republican Party’s traditional ideological profile.
Immigration could be the big exception.
Kansas delegate Kris Kobach proposed several amendments to the platform that would strengthen the language on immigration and border security. They cleared a key subcommittee and are set to receive a vote of the full platform panel on Tuesday.
Kobach’s proposals would make it the official position of the Republican Party to build a physical wall across the breadth of the southern border with Mexico; condemn President Obama’s executive immigration actions; and “make clear” that immigration policy should serve “the national interest.”
Kobach said that his amendments, particularly the proposal about the wall, are designed to bring the GOP in line with Trump, who has made border enforcement and restricting immigration major planks of his presidential campaign.
“We actually already had some wall language in 2012. But the language that we now have is more insistent and is stronger. That’s a noticeable change,” Kobach said. “It’s intended to reflect both what is desirable for our nation’s policies and what one of the central messages of our candidate is.”
Kobach, Kansas’ secretary of state, said his amendments also brings the party in line with it’s voting base, which is circumspect about liberal immigration policies, as opposed to the many elected Republicans in Washington who favor comprehensive immigration reform.
But even Kobach recognized the limits of how much change might be palatable to the full platform committee and the party writ large.
That’s why he purposely did not include in his proposal language that would have made it the official position of the GOP that the Mexican government should be forced to pay for the wall. Trump’s plan to force Mexico to pay for the wall is one of his signature policies.
“I think it absolutely is realistic but I concede that there is a possibility that it might not work. So rather than get into the specifics about payment for the wall, I thought it more important to say, we are firmly committed to a wall and it’s a real wall and it’s the whole border,” said Kobach, who has consulted with Trump on how it would be financed.
The GOP platform committee meets ever four years to hash out the party’s values and policy positions. The panel is comprised of 112 delegates elected or appointed to the Republican presidential nominating convention.
The committee is organized into six subcommittees covering social, economic and national security issues. Delegates have an opportunity to propose amendments and changes to the party platform that are then voted on by the full committee if they clear the subcommittee.
More votes are due Tuesday. But Monday’s session didn’t produce radical change. Delegates voted down several amendments — in the subcommittee and in the full committee — that would have broadened support in the platform for same-sex marriage.
The lack of change was perhaps most stark during the meeting of the national security subcommittee.
Many of Trump’s views on foreign policy are diametrically opposed to those of Republican officials and constitute a break with the party’s position on international affairs as established under President Ronald Reagan 35 years ago.
But the national security subcommittee added no language to the platform to reflect Trump’s approach, which he describes as “America First.” That includes threats to pull U.S. troops out of Asia, abandoning the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and banning all Muslims from entering the U.S.
Steve Yates, the chairman of the national security subcommittee and delegate from Idaho, said the panel purposely shied away from language or policies that would highlight intraparty divisions. Yates said the Trump campaign was supportive of this strategy.
“It was relatively mainstream material,” Yates said. “The Trump campaign itself had urged that delegates look at this as a document that can show where Republicans stand together instead of making easy targets for the Clinton campaign or willing tools in the media to show, this is where Republicans are divided.”
Political News and Political Analysis about Congress, the President and federal government. · by By David M. Drucker