The comedians Bud Abbott and Lou Costello did a routine about baseball that is a cult favorite.
In it, they kept batting back and forth the question, “Who’s on First?”
“What” was on second and “I Don’t Know” was on third. “I Don’t Give a Darn” was shortstop.
“Who’s On First” was a humorous and outlandish exchange between the two comics.
As the routine went, so politics goes today.
President Trump labels any Republican who questions his erratic and narcissistic style as a RINO (Republican In Name Only).
But what exactly is so Republican about this president or his minions on cable television that they believe they should be able to define who is, or is not, a Republican?
Is it their commitment to fiscal discipline?
The president and his followers have run up the largest increase in the deficit and debt in any three years in the history of the country.
The president and his chorus have refused to even mention — much less offer any suggestions to contain — the primary drivers of the deficit and the national debt.
Like ostriches, they stick their heads in the sand of their self-aggrandizing phrases when it comes to fixing the entitlement programs that shower funds onto the Baby Boom generation and debt onto the coming generations.
Is it their new enthusiasm for the old liberal policy of picking winners and losers in the industrial, private-sector marketplace that justifies their right to declare themselves “more Republican”?
There is probably nothing short of runaway inflation that does more damage to a market economy than to have the government pick who is going to be successful and who is not.
It perverts the fundamental purpose of a free market, which is to allow the forces of private exchange to decide the winners and losers in commerce.
The Obama administration was notoriously unsuccessful in applying what is known as “industrial policy” to the American market, especially with respect to alternative energy.
But at least President Obama, as a Democrat, was pursuing a long-held liberal belief that the government is better than the private sector at managing people’s lives, their employment sources and the nation’s economic growth.
The current president and his voracious advisors have put the industrial policy approach of the Obama administration on steroids.
Their goal is not to create a more thoughtful and caring marketplace, as was purportedly the goal of the Obama administration.
Rather the president and his industrial policy team pursue their goal out of spite and for the purpose of retaliation against companies and groups in the private sector whom the president deems unsupportive of him.
The president, as disruptor-in-chief, is casting himself as an anti-hero to the conservative, free market thinking of the past 40 years or so. He and his late-night TV advisers have set this new Republican course, which can best be called out for what it is: Failed leftist philosophy.
Is it now the new Republican cause to be the energizer of disarray in our long-held international alliances?
The president goes to the NATO meeting in London with the singular intent of insulting numerous leaders of nations that have stood by us for years.
This is the new philosophy.
“We do not need you, we do not like you personally and thus we will call you names” is the president’s foreign policy call to arms.
It is difficult to see how this “go it alone with zest” approach fits into the lineage of the Republican policies that led the nation and the world through the Cold War — and had been leading us successfully in this time of terrorism.
Americans used to view the presidency as an office from which our nation’s better self could be defined.
President Washington set this tone. President Lincoln expressed it uniquely when he spoke of “better angels.” President Reagan epitomized it when he called for us to be the “shining city on a hill” to which the world could look for hope and liberty.
In the new Republican world of Trump and Hannity and Ingraham, the language of the basement has become the language of the presidency.
There is nothing uplifting about mimicking your opponents with childish antics that would not be tolerated in a third-grade classroom, or calling those you dislike coarse names that grind down rather then raise up the dialogue of the nation.
Conservatives like William Buckley or Milton Friedman built their movement, then known as the Republican Party, on the use of language that defined polices that gave people hope and opportunity.
Such dialogue does not exist in the language landscape of this president or his mouthpieces on TV.
This president and his echo chamber depart from conservativism time and time again in their policies. The list of aberrations is almost as endless as the president’s self-proclaimed self-esteem.
But there is an end.
It is not that those who are now derisively termed RINOs have left the Republican Party.
The president, his policies and his unquestioning chanting followers have abandoned almost all the causes that made the Republican Party a conservative party.
They have left millions of Americans asking, “Who’s on first?”; Where is the Republican party?
The president and his team should take a new title unto themselves and their policies.
They should call themselves CINOs — Conservatives In Name Only. Then all would know that they really “don’t give a darn” about the Republican Party.
Judd Gregg (R) is a former governor and three-term senator from New Hampshire who served as chairman and ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, and as ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Foreign Operations subcommittee.