“I think it sounds like Michelle Obama,” argued a California delegate named Noel Irwin Hentschel. “We’re trying to tell people what to eat? We’re supposed to be the party of individual freedom.”
Another delegate, Andy Puzder, concurred: “I hope we don’t become the party of the food police,” he said. “As a Republican and a conservative, I would be opposed to the government taking this position.” Puzder happens to be the CEO of the restaurant corporation that owns Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s.*
The panel voted down the proposal, meaning it would not be included as one of the official tenets of the GOP’s philosophy. What might have seemed like a trivial concern had provoked a debate about serious principles, pitting public health and fiscal prudence against freedom of choice, and the interests of big business against suspicion of society’s “takers.”
In two days of platform committee debates, many such arguments unfolded, each a miniature tussle over the location of the GOP’s soul. Trump’s name was rarely invoked, and his campaign did little to influence the proceedings, but he loomed over the debate nonetheless, as the party loyalists struggled to square their activist commitments with Trump’s unorthodox platform.
What emerged was a strange and remarkable document, a true reflection of the GOP’s identity crisis. The platform, which has not been publicly released and which must still be approved by the full convention next week, softens the party’s longtime stance in favor of free trade and calls in strong terms for a wall on the southern border, both reflections of Trump’s signature positions. But attempts to soften the party’s harsh language on gay and transgender issues, on which Trump has sometimes taken a more moderate tone, were resoundingly defeated, as were attempts to tone down the document’s calls for military action, toward which Trump has been relatively skeptical.
The result was a portrait of a party being pulled in competing and perhaps irreconcilable directions. It raises but does not answer the big question for the GOP, one that will linger past November: Will Trump, win or lose, change the party forever? Has he, for better or worse, already remade the Republican Party in his image?
Whether Trump is even interested in shaping the GOP on issues is an open question. Trump met with the platform committee’s chairman, Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, last week and told him he wanted to “let the platform committee work its will,” according to Barrasso, who added, “I’ve asked him to embrace the platform, and I believe that he will.” Trump staffers were present at the platform meetings but did not attempt to intervene in the deliberations—a departure, committee veterans said, from prior nominees, who tried to work the platform committee into line with their positions. Yet the Trump campaign on Wednesday issued approving press releases noting the areas in which the platform had been “Trump-ified.”