How We Are Already Failing in the Trump Era

Let’s start with this: One of the supposed upsides to Pres. Trump was that he was going to be a disruptor.  He was going to shake things up in DC and maybe rattle people’s confirmation biases.

If anything, despite the sturm and drang of the past few months, the opposite has happened.

Yesterday’s thesis, which may have been obscured by sarcasm for some readers, was that: (1) the MSM, after a day or two of supposed self-reflection, decided to become even more partisan and less accurate than usual; and (2) in response, the Right has defaulted largely to the idea that the MSM is wrong about everything, which is an extreme and potentially blinding reaction.

To wit, the MSM’s treatment of investigations into any connections between people in Trump’s orbit and Russia has been histrionic and frequently far beyond what is supported by the known evidence (of which there is very little in public).  The most recent of these irresponsible stories claimed three CNN journalists, as it should be in a biz that demands accountability from others.

OTOH, the MSM’s coverage of the internal dysfunction of the Trump administration — and the problems this has caused for a GOP Congress too used to taking its marching orders from GOP Presidents — has been broadly accurate.  In addition, the Right cannot credibly cherry-pick the results of polls it likes (e.g., about the Russia probes distracting Congress and the White House from issues votes care about) and dismiss those it does not like (e.g., Trump’s anemic job approval).

Focusing on the daily Punch-And-Judy Show featuring Jim Acosta and Sean Spicer may follow the old adage that “great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; [and] small minds discuss people.”  It may even get ratings when the cameras are on.  But it probably doesn’t move many votes.  Dems idiotically talking about impeachment may drive GOP turnout in 2018; the MSM broadcasting them is at best incidental to this dynamic and likely a net benefit to the GOP.

Insofar as I’m fond of noting the parallels to date between the Trump and Clinton administrations, the latter’s scandals and pseudo-scandals were a much-discussed, but mostly irrelevant part of the era’s overall political dynamic until the Lewinsky scandal blew up.

Rather, the GOP took advantage a series of unpopular Clinton policy initiatives (as with Obama in 2009-10).  The Contract With America was poll-tested and focus-grouped to ensure the GOP was running on a platform of strongly popular proposals in 1994.  Clinton himself survived as the internet boom boosted the economy and swelled the Treasury.  He also decided — under GOP pressure — to keep his campaign promise on welfare reform, and to do business with the GOP on occasion before the Lewinsky scandal.

So let’s say you are of the mind, based on the current hard data, that the Russia investigation’s impact will be about the same as the claims that George H. W. Bush flew in an SR-71 Blackbird jet to Paris to interfere with the Iranian hostage negotiations — with perhaps a Scooter Libby-esque charge or two of minor figures misleading investigators along the way.  If so, you should be quietly smiling at those inside and outside the MSM wasting their political capital on it. (Sen. Pat Toomey is on point here.)

OTOH, the Right should be concerned about the poll suggesting that people think the investigations are getting in the way of getting important things done (unless you’re sticking with the “polls are always wrong” thing, though no one really is; I’ve seen harsh media critics sharing this poll).  Insofar as trying to make the investigations go away would backfire spectacularly (see, e.g., the Comey firing), the emphasis here should be on getting things done.  And those things should be — dare I write it — popular.  It is politics, after all.

This week, the GOP Senate is going to try to pass its healthcare legislation (at the moment, that may not happen).  The roughly similar bill passed by the House is by most accounts unpopular.  It’s not even wildly popular among Republicans.  Pres. Trump had a party when the House passed their version, which he has since called too “mean.”

Moreover, even by a fairly balanced analysis of the Senate bill (such as by Yuval Levin), it’s only marginally better than Obamacare and the House bill as policy.

I would suggest that if people don’t see a substantial improvement in the individual market by 2018 or 2020, the GOP will get what it deserves.

Again, voters went for Trump in significant part because he was the real “change” candidate in a “change” election.  In this sense, he was the latest in a chain going back probably two decades.  George W. Bush narrowly won and held a GOP Congress for six years based mostly on the idea of people looking for post-9/11 stability.  But since 2006, midterm elections have tended to be wave elections rebuking the party holding the White House.  And Trump is at least as big a departure from Obama as Obama was from Bush.

These are the elections of the Information Age, the Post-Industrial Economy and the Post-Great Recession Economy.  Voters — particularly the Obama-Trump voters who comprised about two-thirds of Trump’s victory — are not getting what they want out of politics.  They keep voting for change and keep getting more frustrated at the lack thereof.

Will Obamacare Lite — and its likely results — will fill the bill for these voters?  I doubt it.  And even if corporate tax reform winds up better on a policy basis than the healthcare bills (and I think it’s needed), is anyone confident it will be either popular with or beneficial to those voters in ways that are visible in their lives?  It had better, as you can bet the Dems will use corporate tax reform as a major exhibit when they go for lefty economic populism in 2018 and 2020.

Given the structural advantages the GOP has in 2018, this should be their opportunity to forge and maintain their majority.  And for the purposes of today’s posting, I’m agnostic over how populist versus how conservative that coalition should be.

But what we see instead is the GOP largely going thorough the same old motions, with Trump lacking the talents to stop them or to avoid wallowing in increasingly self-created problems.  Dems are also going through the motions, as their identity politics proved too big an obstacle to any opportunity they may have had to engage Trump on issues like infrastructure and trade.

The non-Left media is also often going through the same old motions, heavily criticizing the MSM, which itself is mostly going through its same old partisan motions.

The difference is that everyone is being more overwrought about going through the motions, which is likely what voters will notice about the Beltway remaining stuck in these old grooves instead of the big new challenges of a changing economy and culture.  Everyone thinks they are retreating to the safe path, when it’s really just the familiar one.

No, I’m not doing the “no labels,” post-partisan shtick here either.  I’m just noting that for all of the talk about the need to renew the parties internally on a policy level (ongoing for years), no politicians are really doing it and the major media on both sides doesn’t push it.  And we’re in a political environment that has been punishing both parties for not doing it.

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I Wish I Knew How to Quit You, MSM

What more do Republicans want from the MSM, anyway?

For decades, Republicans have wished that the establishment media would simply drop the mask.  What was so irritating, it was claimed was not so much that the MSM leaned left, but they were dishonest about it.  They pretended to be neutral and objective while slanting the news leftward.  It was argued that it would be preferable to return to the days openly and honestly partisan media.  The “objective and neutral” pose was really just a recent, phony exception to the historical rule, it was said.

Well, hasn’t the MSM obliged?  For over a year, hasn’t it been a gushing firehose of argumentative anchors, pugnacious pressers, snarky chyrons, and self-righteous slogans?

Are you not entertained?

For decades, Republicans have hoped that the MSM’s biases would become self-discrediting.  And for at least a year, the MSM has obliged, producing a seemingly uncommon number of stories, generally reliant on anonymous stories, that turned out to be inaccurate or wrong.  Public trust in the media is at a historic low.  People don’t even have much trust in their own preferred news outlets.

The MSM have been giving the Republicans exactly what they asked for, and then some.

So why are Republicans still so upset and so obsessed with the MSM?

It can’t be the MSM’s slant.  As noted above, the historical reality of partisan media is undeniable.  (Republicans can’t secretly be totalitarian on this point, can they?)  It can’t be the MSM’s influence.  They’ve never been less influential.

And They’re Wrong About Everything!  Republicans should be dancing in the streets.  After all, the polls are wrong; who would be so ridiculous as to rely upon the polls? (Except the ones that confirm my priors, obvsly.)   Pres. Trump is not 13-15 points underwater in his job approval rating; he’s actually wildly popular and always has been.  Indeed, he really won the popular vote had it not been for all those illegal votes.

The Trump White House is not riven with backbiting and dysfunction; just ask people in the know.  All of those sub-cabinet positions the MSM claims are unfilled are actually filled with Trump loyalists, busy making good on Stephen Bannon’s effort to smash the administrative state.  Again, just ask people who know the applicants.  Accordingly, the cloud of pseudo-scandal ginned up by the MSM cannot interfere with filling those slots.

The MSM is wrong about everything.  So Trump supporters should know that they are going to get every bit of the populist governance for which they voted.  Contrary to the lying MSM, Trump cancelled that DREAMer amnesty, just like he promised he would.  Mexico will still be paying for our border wall; the solar panels will bring in a budget surplus.  The U.S. is not preparing for more war in Afghanistan or sidling up to a proxy war in Syria, so don’t listen to those in the media suggesting otherwise.

The MSM is wrong about everything.  The GOP Congress is running like a well-oiled machine, and has been since Inauguration Day.  The GOP is going to make good on its long-standing promise to repeal Obamacare, no matter what you’ve seen in the media.  Trumpcare can in no way be called “Obamacare Lite.”

In fact, Republicans are laying down a marker: Trumpcare implementation is going to be great and people will love it.  Trumpcare Enrollment Day will become a national holiday, celebrated by pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, BBQ, bonfires and illuminations from sea to shining sea.

No matter what the MSM reports, just remember: They’re Wrong About Everything.  They have given the GOP a yuge gift.  Republicans need not care about the MSM anymore.

Republicans are winning.  Republicans are winning so much they will get tired of all the winning.  Believe me.

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Does Trump Hurt the GOP in the Midterms?

This is a silly question over a year away from the midterm elections. Yet many are asking it at the conclusion of a round of Congressional special elections highlighted by Karen Handel’s victory over Jon Ossoff in the overhyped and overspent run-off election in Georgia’s sixth district.  And there are many theories; the latest Commentary podcast gamed out seven different scenarios.

The one in which I am most interested, set forth by David Harsanyi (and others), goes something like this:

What if Republican voters who don’t particularly like Donald Trump are also able to compartmentalize their votes? What if they dislike Democrats more than they do the president? What if, rather than being punished for Trump’s unpopularity, local candidates are rewarded for their moderation? This, of course, would be a disaster for Democrats. And Tuesday’s run-off election in Georgia’s sixth district shows that it might be possible.”

Of course, this theory interests me in large part because it tends to confirm many of my biases.  I harp on the fact that down-ballot GOP candidates generally outpolled Trump in 2016, frequently with a different “map” than Trump that relied more on suburban college-educated whites.

Charlie Mahtesian can write about “The GOP’s Suburban Nightmare,” but if you read it closely, he’s writing much more about how poorly Trump did in the ‘burbs, not the Congressional party of Rubio, Toomey, Johnson, etc.  Indeed, in GA-6, Tom Price far outpolled Trump before being tapped to be HHS Secretary.

And as I’ve noted more than once, John Judis — a progenitor of the Emerging Democratic Majority theory — had figured out prior to the 2016 cycle that the GOP was having great success with middle-class voters in the so-called “office economy,” a success not limited to white voters, either.

Moreover, I’ve written quite recently about the nature of the GOP coalition and suggested that conservatives could wind up regaining control of the party from its Trumpier factions.   So naturally, I am interested in the theory that the GOP might do well in 2018 running its traditional GOP candidates in relatively traditional campaigns.

But one of the reasons I set up this blog was to work through my own thinking and challenge my own biases.  And this theory, appealing though it may be, has its weaknesses.

For example, Harsanyi asks:

We already know that an electorate can be happy with a president and dislike his party. Why can’t the reverse be true? Barack Obama, for example, carried healthy approval ratings for the majority of his presidency, yet voters decimated his party over six years. What if there’s a faction of Republican voters who don’t like Trump but still don’t like Obama’s policies?

Obama was less popular than we remember.  Pres. Obama’s job approval numbers went underwater in late June 2010 in remained there through year’s end.  And they were underwater during the entirety of 2014.  Indeed, Obama was also pretty flat for his 2012 election, in which he became the first POTUS since 1944 to receive fewer electoral votes and a lower popular vote percentage in his reelection.

The second part — positing GOPers who don’t like Trump but also don’t like Dems — seems on much firmer ground.  You can hear this theme from people in GA-6.  And it’s why some Dems are grumbling about House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who personified more than Ossoff what GOP voters in GA-6 were voting against.

Harsanyi also notes that the midterms, unlike the specials, will feature mostly GOP incumbents, which is one of several structural advantages the GOP will have going into the midterms.  But as Nate Cohn also notes at that link (and Dave Wasserman did on Twitter), the Dems’ over-performance in these special elections ought to have GOP candidates concerned that their margins for error — or victory — may be much smaller with Donald Trump as the face of the party.

I don’t want to place all of that burden on Trump per se.  Just as I caution people not to attribute Trump’s 2016 success entirely to him when there were many other factors helping him, I would caution people not to blame Trump entirely for the fate of the Congressional GOP in 2018.

As Jay Cost has noted: “The moment a party achieves total control of the government is the moment just before power begins to slip through its fingers.”  Historically — and unsurprisingly — voters hold the party in power accountable (even for things not entirely within its control).

Moreover, presidential approval at the time of the midterms seems related to the scale of losses in initial midterms.  Trump’s already low net approval could be deadly if it continues to deteriorate (though the fact that he’s never been really popular argues for less of a fall than other Presidents).

The GOP ought to be preparing for this.  Indeed, it’s why I suspect they will want to make Pelosi (assuming she survives) their boogeywoman, and why they will want to stoke hysteria that a Democratic House would impeach Trump.

But already resorting to the Democrats’ 1998 anti-impeachment playbook — and running against the media — is (like most Trumpian politics) a base strategy.  It does not suggest a party confident of convincing swing voters on the GOP record, should there be one.

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What Might Be Done About Big Corporate Activism

Yesterday, I argued that the trend of Big Businesses, particularly tech giants, to pressure state and local governments into progressive social policies was not due so much to globalism as it was a symptom of the general political climate.  But I also acknowledged the concern that freedom of speech and religion may be trampled by these corporations’ use of economic power for political ends.

So what might be done about it?  Several things come to mind, some of which are more conservative in nature, and some of which are more populist.

The most immediate idea would be counter-boycotts of companies that engage in this sort of activism.  I have been more open to boycotts than some conservatives — given the right circumstances.  But it may not be a consistently effective tactic.

Take for example the uproar over New York’s Public Theater anti-Trump-themed production of Julius Caesar.  I tend to think that economic pressure tactics here were and should have been more effective than the stage-crashing by alt-right mopes.  The target is limited and you would think that supporting assassination porn is not all that politically defensible.

Yet the results were mixed. Bank of America and Delta Airlines have pulled sponsorship from the Public Theater, but Time Warner’s CEO defended his company’s financial support for the theater. (I suspect that media companies are unlike others and they come up again below.)

The second-most immediately occurring idea would be to try to restrain corporate speech.  I think this would be a bad idea for several reasons.  First, I think Citizens United was correctly decided.  Second, I think it would be difficult to convince the conservatives on the SCOTUS that Citizens United was wrongly decided.  Third, even if you could sway conservative Justices, I think the liberal Justices would then pivot to defending corporate speech on the basis of stare decisis and correctly accuse the conservatives of being activists for momentary gain.

The second-most immediately occurring idea is if the economic power of Bigness is the root of the problem, a populist approach would be to seek reform — or threaten to reform — antitrust laws.  Google is under antitrust scrutiny in Europe, but not here in the U.S.  Ben Domenech has noted the dominance Facebook and Google are asserting over the digital infrastructure of ad networks.  I’d note that Facebook’s foray into “Instant Articles” represents a similar attempt to assert control over news distribution in general.

Google, Facebook, and Amazon all face potential antitrust scrutiny under the Trump administration.  There is ongoing speculation over whether Trump’s nominee to head the Federal Trade Commission will be Google-friendly or a Google-skeptic.

Beyond this, the more populist of the GOP could try to forge a coalition with the lefties who have been complaining about media consolidation for years.  More broadly, populists could propose antitrust reform to move the law away from its current focus on economic efficiency (currently accepted by the SCOTUS, based on the writings of Robert Bork and Richard Posner) and return the field to focus more on political concerns like market concentration.

I am personally not a fan of these more ambitious steps.  As a conservative, I tend to agree with the current judicial focus on the benefit or harm to the consumer in such matters.  Also, it’s possible that increased antitrust pressure will prompt tech companies to become even more involved in politics (this was certainly the case with Microsoft, which had little presence in DC before the feds went after them).  Nevertheless, there is a bipartisan disdain for “corporate media” that could be exploited, and in my experience virtually no one likes their cable or satellite provider (I’ve been lucky on this score, tbh).

Lastly, there is my hobby-horse: education reform.  Primary education in America generally does a lousy job teaching civics (and has for a very long time).  Secondary education was convinced by Leftists to largely stop teaching the value of Western Civilization, thus providing young adults a mix of post-modernism and job-training.  It’s a system designed to produce people who think exactly like a tech CEO.  Of course, reform isn’t an easy or immediate fix.  But if you want to treat the disease instead of the symptoms, it will have to be done at some point.

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Globalism is Not Why We Hate Each Other

The Federalist’s Ben Domenech recently published an interesting piece titled, “Globalism And Why We Hate Each Other.”  RTWT. A thesis of the column is that the people bothered by globalism generally are not as concerned with trade as they are with the increasing tendency of big businesses, particularly tech giants, to pressure state and local governments into progressive social policies.

I agree with this in part and disagree in part.

I agree that the problem is a real phenomenon.  Two summers ago, near the start of the 2016 campaign, I attended a dinner that included a number of Millennials who worked for companies like Uber and Groupon.  At least a couple of them were Redditors and big fans of Sen. Bernie Sanders.

During our friendly dinner talk, these Millennials expressed their opposition to the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, upholding the free speech rights of corporations.  They weren’t moved by my defense of the decision on the merits, but they did pause when I noted the way the tech sector — the companies likely dominating the future — had thrown their weight behind same-sex marriage and other progressive social issues.  You could almost see the wheels turning in their heads as they calculated the political advantage.

But is this problem one of globalism?

Domenech argued:

One of the frequent blind spots for economic libertarians, speaking as one who has personally dealt with this log in the eye, is a tendency to allow principles of how economies work and the beauty of trade to make us ignore perceived threats animating people who value more than just the power to buy and sell. The gigantism encouraged by our modern globalist system has many perks across many industries. But it has also given rise to a global corporate elite. This elite tribe of globalists share certain values: they are more tolerant of regulation, insomuch as it drives out competition; they are more welcoming of government expenditure, insomuch as it buys their products, builds their needed infrastructure, and subsidizes their hospital systems; and they care little about the subjugation of rights to speech and religion, so much as it makes their ability to sell in certain markets inconvenient.

In addition to recognizing the problem, I agree that it’s necessary to account for the fact that our politics does not revolve solely around the concept of economic efficiency.

That said, look again at the identified values of the globalists and ask yourself, “What about these values is new for Big Business?”

Big Business has recognized the value of regulation to suppress smaller competitors for about as long as there has been regulation of Big Business.  For example, during Teddy Roosevelt’s administration, meatpacking conglomerates were heavily involved in and supportive of regulations that disadvantaged smaller packers and butchers.  Similarly, the steel industry sought government assistance in price-fixing.

Crony capitalism did not become suddenly popular in the past few years, or even as the result of the globalization that wave that I would trace to the mid-1970s.  For example, the appetite of Big Business for government spending can be seen in what Ike called the military-industrial complex.

In addition, Big Businesses have long encouraged state and local governments to compete over the tax breaks and other forms of subsidy they will be offered to locate factories and offices in particular jurisdictions.  The populists who flocked to Trump’s protectionist proposals similarly tend to defend their states and localities for playing these games.

The final supposed “value” — a lack of interest in freedom of speech and religion — is perhaps the most interesting case.  Again, I do not think Big Business has been particularly interested historically in these issues.

Moreover, this lack of interest — like the other listed values — has historically been considered a reflection of the idea that a corporation’s “values” are rooted in the maximization of shareholder value.  In this context, what do we make of the apparent hypocrisy of corporate giants that advocate for LGBTQ issues here while doing business in countries where being LGBTQ remains unlawful and occasionally subject to the death penalty?

I would suggest it means that many of these corporations (or key officers within them) have concluded (rightly or wrongly) that elevating LGBTQ issues over religious and speech issues in America maximizes shareholder value.  And this has little to do with globalism.  The corporate duty to maximize value is rooted in domestic law.  Also, largely non-global corporations like the NCAA and NASCAR have supported LGBTQ causes (though the latter did not threaten a boycott as the former did).

Rather, the corporate behavior here seems to reflect the fact that we live in a free country where corporations can pursue value-maximization in this way, either on their own initiative (based on their estimates of current and future domestic market conditions) or because free citizens petition them to do so.

Indeed, Domenech followed up his piece on globalism with one on the effectiveness of boycotts as a political tactic.

In this follow-up, Domenech observed: “In an environment in which everything’s political, the ability of corporate brands to skirt these types of pressures becomes nearly impossible.

Agreed.  But progressivism’s penchant for totalitarian impulses exists without any direct link to globalism.  The motto that “the personal is political” was popularized by American feminists in the 1960s and the concept predates the motto by years.

Of course, none of this negates the offense people may take when they see Big Business exercising its economic power to service these totalitarian impulses.  And you might argue that Big Media has been complicit in the march of cultural progressivism that fuels these impulses.  But the politicization of Big Business is ultimately a subset of the Left’s politicization of everything, a symptom rather than a cause.

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President Stage-Crasher

Reading about the dopes who twice stormed an anti-Trump version of Julius Caesar in NYC, I am struck by what a nifty metaphor it is for the current political moment.

To be sure, I have written about the shallowing of the conservative movement creating a vacuum that has been filled by self-promoting and counter-productive provocateurs.  And I have argued that responsible conservatives would be better served building a more principled and disciplined civil rights movement to press its issues while marginalizing said provocateurs.

Neither of those things, however, changes the fact that there is an audience for this sort of stage crashing.  And there may be no better example than Pres. Trump.

Indeed, Trump is a sort of funhouse mirror version of the theater protesters.  He is the man from the performing arts who was cheered for (figuratively) crashing political stages: CPAC (after writing some checks), debate stages, and ultimately the world stage.

Trump was and is legitimately on those stages, but the source of his appeal to many was playing to the perception that he was not.  He was the “outsider,” the “disruptor,” the man onstage who “wasn’t supposed to be there,” the man representing those in the audience angry with the content of the show.

Trump’s candidacy was many things, but one of those things was a protest of the cultural hegemony of the establishment, including the establishment of the party he joined only a few years prior.  Like the Caesar stage crashers, he was cheered by some for making it his mission to ridicule the people and groups on his core voters’ enemies lists, for getting in people’s faces and “telling it like it is.”

Now that Trump is President, it is convenient for people to forget that “telling it like it is” involved: questioning the citizenship of Pres. Obama and Sen. Ted Cruz; accusing Cruz’s father of being part of the JFK assassination; insulting former a P.O.W., Sen. John McCain; attacking a Gold Star Family that spoke at the Democratic convention; accusing a judge of bias based on his Hispanic heritage; offering to pay the defense costs of supporters who committed battery at his rallies; and so on.

It was equally apparent that “telling it like it is” did not involve knowing much about public policy, including the policies he was supposedly advocating.  Even when the policy was fairly simple, like his border wall, “telling it like it is” included the ridiculous-on-its-face claim that Mexico would pay for its construction.

Trump’s apologists engaged in a series of rationalizations for this.  They claimed he was fighting political correctness, though his broadsides were often ad hominem, not based on issues.  They pointed to Trump’s concept of “truthful hyperbole” (after years of mocking the idea of “fake, but accurate”).

They claimed the media took Trump literally, while his supporters took him seriously.  His supporters were never really pressed to explain why they took seriously a candidate who was so manifestly unserious in the way he went about his business, perhaps because the answer was obvious: many didn’t really care.  A stage crasher doesn’t need to be able to present a play of his or her own.

Occam’s razor suggests Trump survived all the things he said because that’s what many people wanted to hear, and survived his ignorance because it was beside the point.  He was the man onstage talking smack, extending his middle finger to a hostile audience.  And that is largely how many continue to see his function today.

Why else did Trump supporters largely shrug off the news that on his signature issue of immigration, Trump was rescinding Pres. Obama’s Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) program (already enjoined by the federal courts), but not junking the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program for so-called “Dreamers” who arrived in the U.S. as children?

Ann Coulter has been one of a very few criticizing Trump for this, and that’s likely because she suspects Trump will disappoint and as a career provocateur wants to be running the torches-and-pitchfork concession when everyone else figures it out.

Trump’s policy now looks very much like what Sen. Marco Rubio proposed during the 2016 campaign.  Granted, there was good reason to distrust Rubio on the subject of immigration.  Then again, Trump generally has a very casual relationship with the truth and even floated the idea of a “touchback amnesty” during the campaign.

The simplest explanation of why so few care about the continuation of DACA (or cared about Trump’s prior advocacy of a touchback amnesty) is that for many, the policy wasn’t really important.  What was important was that an outsider had taken the stage to vent about the Mexicans.  Much like the keyboard commandos who claim we’re in a civil war, it was always more about the primal scream therapy for those whose politics are defined by who they oppose, rather than by what they support.

Ann Coulter may in a small minority, but she is not the only person with a complaint:

Was it?  I suppose I generally thought Trump to have less interventionist and more pro-Russia leanings than some of his GOP rivals.  OTOH, I also considered his dishonest claim to have opposed the Iraq invasion from the outset, and his nonsensical proposals to bomb Iraq’s oil before taking it as indicative of the thought he invested in foreign policy.

The foreign policy establishment was simply another group Trump found it popular to protest.  I doubted he was committed to any particular policy Syria or the Middle East because it was fairly apparent how little he knew about the situation in Syria and had not even thought through the likely consequences of supporting “safe zones” there.  And as with immigration, most of his supporters don’t seem to care about Trump’s shift as Hemingway does.

It’s also why — despite general public opinion among Republicans — Trump will continue to use Twitter to fuel scandal narratives that benefit his foes, instead of driving his daily messages and overall agenda.  Trump largely delegates policy to his cabinet, to Congress, to the military.  Trump, by his own actions, seems to view his job as using his platform to stoke grievances and allow his core supporters to vicariously vent about everyone on the enemies list.

Of course, the big difference from the Caesar crashers is that the stage-crasher-in-chief won the right to occupy center stage, fair and square.  It remains quite unlikely that the Democrats will manage to remove him from the stage early.  Yet Trump is frequently stage-crashing his own administration.  I wonder how the audience will react to a few more years of it.

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Does Trump More Accurately Reflect the GOP Coalition Than Elites Do?

Friday’s posting received a fair amount of discussion on Twitter over the weekend, due to Jay Cost, John Podhoretz and Rich Lowry (thanks, gents).  Although I was chiefly concerned with whether conservatives should stick with the GOP, an interesting side point — or assertion — was made by Avik Roy:

I tend to agree with this in some ways, but not in others. And much depends on how the terms are defined.

On Friday, I agreed with the general proposition that conservatism can be a tough sell for many Americans.  And to quote myself: “It’s been plain for years that Republicans aren’t big on decreasing government spending outside foreign aid and welfare; but Trump made this inconvenient truth impossible to ignore.”  I’d even add that part of Trump’s appeal to voters during the primaries was in his seeming rejection of George W. Bush’s more interventionist foreign policy (whatever Trump may be doing now).

OTOH, referring again to “The Five Types of Trump Voters,” as I did on Friday, I would note that attitudes toward Hillary Clinton were one of the four big issues distinguishing Trump voters from non-Trump voters.  Among the two largest segments of “Trumpier” voters — American Preservationists (20%) and Anti-Elites (19%) — nearly half had positive views of Clinton in 2012.  That view — held by approximately one-fifth of Trump voters — was probably not a general view of the GOP coalition.

Similarly, top Democratic Party strategists now believe Obama-Trump voters effectively accounted for more than two-thirds of the reason Clinton lost.

It is probably fair to say that Obama voters and those favorable to Hillary in 2012 are not all that representative of the GOP coalition.  I suppose you could argue for including such people in a GOP coalition, but they were not there before.

Eakins also noted that during the most active stretch of the 2016 GOP primaries, Trump won only 36% of the vote.  He had the lowest percentage of internal party support for a GOP nominee (below losing nominees like Mitt Romney and John McCain) in decades.  That weakness didn’t stop Trump from winning the Electoral College, but it is not a sign that someone represents the GOP coalition particularly well.

Moreover, as I have noted on several occasions, down-ballot GOP candidates generally outpolled Trump, frequently with a different “map” than Trump, appealing less to working-class whites and more to college-educated whites.  As I’ve also noted, John Judis — a progenitor of the Emerging Democratic Majority theory — charted the GOP’s overall improvement with white voters, but particularly college-educated white voters, back in 2015.

While it’s true that that the Democratic Party has been conceding working-class white voters since 1992 (at least), if people want to say Trump did disproportionately well with this group, it is difficult to simultaneously argue that the excess non-college educated whites were part of the existing GOP coalition.

Of course, all of the above may be true and it may still be possible to argue that Trump is nonetheless more representative of the GOP coalition than GOP elites.  But this argument depends on how you define the Republican elites.

Trump might be more representative of the GOP coalition than the elite conservative commentariat (though National Review, for example, has been hawkish on immigration for years).  He may be more representative than the party’s donor class (though he often seems comfortable with or acquiescent to their priorities).  And Trump is moving to assert influence and control over the party apparat in key states.

But it is difficult to say that he is more representative than the Congressional party which (as noted above) generally got more votes than he did.  Granted, the Congressional party has the flexibility to offer Charlie Dent and Mark Meadows to different constituencies, whereas a President must appeal across districts and states.  But a pattern so consistent, including demographically, tends to suggest approval of those elites at a higher level than Trump.

Even then, it might be argued that his agenda is more popular than that of Congressional party (which is ostensibly influenced by the commentariat and the donors).  The problem with this is that Trump’s success generally tends to show how little voters care about the details of policy in the first instance.

This, in turn, makes the entire issue of who is more representative of the GOP coalition a questionable exercise.  Trump delegates much to a relatively conventional cabinet that often seems to be on a different page, and his failure to nominate people at the sub-cabinet level tends to cede influence to the permanent bureaucracy.  The quality of the White House staff is such that Congress must take the lead (such as it does) on major legislation.  In this environment, does it matter how much more representative Trump may be?

The answer may be “yes,” if you’re thinking about the future, as I was.  But then you’re back in Friday’s discussion of whether anyone, including Trump, can maintain the coalition he assembled.  Even if you assume Trump got elected by being more representative of the GOP than the elites were, maintaining a particular broad coalition is difficult for any President, let alone any potential successor.

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The GOP Crack-Up That Won’t Happen. Probably.

Let’s try to end the week on a glass half-full note, shall we?

Kevin D. Williamson has a piece up at National Review sparked by Bill Kristol’s ostensible proposal to start a new conservative political party.  In fairness, as Williamson does not link to Kristol, note that he’s apparently referring to a Kristol tweet mocking Trump Chief of Staff Reince Preibus for extreme sycophancy, followed by a Twitter poll — and we should remember that Mr. K’s troll game is strong.  So the debate here is perhaps not entirely serious, but good fodder nonetheless.

Williamson argues that globalization poses a problem for a conservative party and more broadly that Americans do not want what conservatives are selling.  Sadly, Williamson is likely correct in many respects.

The good news is that a new conservative party is unnecessary.  The snarky version of this is that a mostly ineffectual conservative faction in the GOP is largely interchangeable with an ineffectual conservative third party, except that it would free up the GOP to be even less conservative and likely shift national politics leftward on balance.

The less snarky version involves looking at what Emily Eakins of the Voter Study Group calls “The Five Types of  Trump Voters.”  As the title suggests, Eakins found that there really is no monolithic bloc of Trump voters, but five clusters: American Preservationists (20%), Staunch Conservatives (31%), Anti-Elites (19%), Free Marketeers (25%), and the Disengaged (5%).

I won’t go through this analysis in detail, though I do (if only for entertainment purposes) want to quote part of the description of American Preservationists, who tend to be the popular stereotype of Trump voters:

“These Trump voters lean economically progressive, believe the economic and political systems are rigged, have nativist immigration views, and a nativist and ethnocultural conception of American identity.

“Although American Preservationists are less loyal Republicans than other Trump voter groups, and nearly half had positive views of Clinton in 2012, American Preservationists comprise the core Trump constituency that propelled him to victory in the early Republican primaries.

“American Preservationists have low levels of formal education and the lowest incomes of the Trump groups—and non-Trump voters as well. Despite being the most likely group to say that religion is “very important” to them, they are the least likely to attend church regularly. They are the most likely group to be on Medicaid, to report a permanent disability that prevents them from working, and to regularly smoke cigarettes. Despite watching the most TV, they are the least politically informed of the Trump groups.”

As noted above, this demographic is only one-fifth of Trump voters.  Eakins found that overall, “Trump voters hold very different views on a wide variety of issues including immigration, race, American identity, moral traditionalism, trade, and economics.”  Moreover, “[f]our issues distinguish Trump voters from non-Trump voters: attitudes toward Hillary Clinton, evaluations of the economy, views about illegal immigration, and views about and Muslim immigration.”

This study, interesting in itself, also suggests why a new conservative party is unnecessary, even if the clusters Kristol likely favors only constitute 56% of Trump’s voters.

As Jay Cost noted shortly after the election:

Cost went on to note that even FDR’s coalition of urban ethnics, Western populists, and Southern segregationists did not hold up for as commonly thought.

Sean Trende elaborated on similar ideas in The Lost Majority.  In the introduction to that book, Trende faulted pundits who looked at presidential coalitions and failed to recognize they were tenuous and dependent on unique historical circumstances, not durable majorities conjured up through the force of personalities.

With this backdrop, we can better assess the future of the GOP versus some offshoot conservative third party.

Is Pres. Trump’s coalition is likely to be long-lasting?  The diversity found in even the four major clusters would tend to argue against it.  That large segments of the coalition are comprised of people who were favorable to Hillary Clinton in 2012, but became disenchanted with her suggests the potential for poaching by good Democratic politicians.

Indeed, given the rockiness of the past few months, it is far from obvious that Trump — who succeeded largely by instinct and improvisation — possesses the sort of political skills that may be required to maintain his own coalition.  This is not necessarily a yuge knock on Trump; Cost and Trende would tell you it’s a very difficult task even for the best of politicians.

Furthermore, as Eakins notes: “The 17 candidates who competed for the Republican primary nomination remind us that when Republican primary voters had other options, many chose someone other than Trump. In the early primaries held during February and March, Trump garnered only about a third (36 percent) while a majority (64 percent) of Republican primary voters cast their ballots for Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, or one of the other candidates.”

Thus, for those who despair of the current state of the GOP, the solution is not to start a third party.  The solution is to recognize that heterodox Presidents generally do not change the basic ideological bent of their parties in the medium-term.

Trump too shall pass.  Find the promising politicians who might assemble the next coalition.  Conservatives will need to focus on an agenda that is principled, but targeted to that next, better coalition.  That’s almost certainly easier blogged than done, but given the number of GOPers who outpolled Trump in their states or districts in 2016, it should be doable.

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The Alexandria Shooting and the Rules of Political #WAR

Per the New York Times: “A lone gunman who was reportedly distraught over President Trump’s election opened fire on Republican members of the congressional baseball team at a practice field in this Washington suburb [Alexandria, VA] on Wednesday, using a rifle to shower the field with bullets that struck four people, including Steve Scalise, the majority whip of the House of Representatives.”

And to underscore that this shooting differs from the 2011 shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, this from Politico:

In the hours after Wednesday morning’s shooting, one big difference emerged between Giffords’s assailant [Jared] Loughner and James Hodgkinson, who critically injured House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La) and four others before being shot by police. Whereas Loughner’s history of failed military service, run-ins with the law, and mental health records indicated a paranoid, mentally ill man without clear political intentions, the history of yesterday’s shooter indicated a man who had set out deliberately to harm Republican lawmakers.”

Nevertheless, these shooting incidents spur a lot of discussion that has become routine, so let’s fast-forward through some of it.

The first iteration is usually rights-talk, because contemporary America loves rights-talk. I support the First and Second Amendments to the Constitution, but they would remain the supreme law of the land even if I did not.

So let’s move directly on to the issue of responsibilities, the question of what we should make of the fact that inflammatory political speech may occasionally trigger someone to violence.  And both Left and Right should find food for thought from this shooting.

The Left has a problem.  When they let prominent pundits like Paul Krugman, Andrew Sullivan and Markos Moulitsas falsely blame Sarah Palin for the Giffords shooting (with the NYT Ed Board walking right up to the line at the time, and right over the line last night), for the rather cliched and innocuous act of putting bullseyes on a map of targeted Congressional Districts, they let their ghoulish desire for a momentary political advantage trap them in a situation like this one.

Indeed, since the Giffords shooting, the Left has gotten worse on the relationship of speech to political violence.  Increasingly, Leftists majoring in Totalitarian Studies at progressive universities and colleges like Oberlin, Duke and Middlebury are parroting Toni Morrison’s adage that “oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence.”

This is profoundly illiberal.  I have previously quoted Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker:

It is not merely that an assault on an ideology is different from a threat made to a person; it is that it is the opposite of a threat made to a person.  The whole end of liberal civilization is to substitute the criticism of ideas for assaults on people.”

Gopnik was referring to the Islamist reaction to and attacks on Charlie Hebdo, but the point is equally applicable here.

The Right also has a problem.  To be sure, it is difficult to not experience at least a frisson of schadenfreude at the Leftists being forced to reckon with their disgraceful behavior in the aftermath of the Giffords shooting.  It will be tempting to wallow in that schadenfreude.

This is a temptation which should be resisted.  The Alinskyite tactic of making one’s opponents live up to their own standards is far more defensible when holding people to high standards.  Reinforcing the Leftist idea that people may be blamed for the violence of others lowers standards and fuels the vicious cycle of escalation of the current political moment.  It is possible to attack hypocrisy without becoming part of it ourselves.

The Alexandria shooting also reveals something important about the #WAR faction of the Right.

It is one thing to refer to the “culture war” in America, as this is fairly standard political hyperbole.  It is another to speak of a culture war, a “civil war,” a “cold civil war,” or a “Flight 93 election” to describe an existential event, as the #WAR folks do.

To claim that any such “war” is existential is to implicitly suggest that political violence must follow.  If conservatives are being assaulted on college campuses, if the House Majority Whip is shot, are these not violent acts of actual war?  And if the fate of America rests in the balance, is violence not to be expected or tolerated in return? (see, e.g., those so-called conservatives who defended then-candidate, now-GOP Rep. Greg Gianforte’s assault of a journalist.)

The answer, incidentally, is “no.”  Confront most of the keyboard commandos and radio radicals about their “war” rhetoric and they will almost immediately concede that they don’t mean, you know, “war war.”  The argumentum ad masculinum quickly goes limp in the face of true violence.  The West Coast Straussians aren’t getting gang tats and cruising the mean streets of Berkeley in an Escalade, looking to mow down the antifa.

The #WAR faction, despite their chest-puffing, is committed to doing little more than the supposed elite girly-pundits attending their Beltway cocktail parties and covert Stonecutters meetings.  The #WARmongers aren’t getting ready to shoot their AR-15s, they’re getting ready to shoot off their mouths, just like virtually everyone else.  Except everyone else isn’t a phony blowhard about it.

Inasmuch as the wi-fi warriors have now been caught with their Big Boy Pants down, perhaps people of good will — Left and Right — can focus on discrediting the idea that words and ideas are political violence, or justify it.

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The Right Catches Impeachment Fever

I don’t mean to single out Byron York, whose thoughts on impeachment are increasingly common in conservative media; he presents them well.  There is growing interest in the narrative that the Democrats are absolutely bent on impeaching Pres. Trump and will do so should they regain control of the House of Representatives in 2018.  But York adds the crucial caveat at the end of his analysis:

“In the end, though, it all depends on the facts of the Trump-Russia case. If there are piles of new and damning evidence that emerge between now and November 2018, that will certainly encourage some Democrats to run on impeachment. But if Trump-Russia is still a story in which a reasonable person could determine that the president did nothing to warrant removal, then Democrats face a danger in appearing over-eager to bring down Trump. One could even imagine Republicans using the issue against Democrats, charging that the only plan they have if elected in 2018 is to impeach the president, as opposed to, say, trying to improve the voters’ lives.”

Well yes, if piles of incriminating evidence mount, some (or more) Democrats would raise impeachment as an issue.  But the more significant part here is about the Republicans, though it is so far conservative media primarily stoking the idea that the GOP can run a midterm campaign based around the idea that Democrats will impeach Trump if they win.

This notion has been fueled by polls like the one from Politico/Morning Consult showing 43% of registered voters want Congress to begin impeachment proceedings.  And that seems like a high number, but Dem pollster Peter Hart notes it’s difficult to tell how much those results are simply reflecting disapproval of Trump (43% is right around Trump’s “strong disapproval” number).

The fact is that extremist views are frequently inflated in public polling for this reason, including Birthers, Truthers, and those who thought George W. Bush and Barack Obama were the Antichrist.

Moreover, the Democratic party apparat, unlike its base, realizes that they cannot retake the House by focusing on impeachment (again, absent a change in the facts of the case).  They know that voters care much more about the economy, healthcare and other issues.  In Virginia’s Democratic gubernatorial primary, the hot-on-impeachment candidate, Tom Perriello, lost rather soundly.  In the special election for Georgia’s 6th CD, Jon Ossoff is not hot-on-impeachment.  At the moment, Dems know they aren’t going to win swing districts campaigning on impeachment.

However, fanning the idea that Democrats are all about impeachment may be appealing to the media, as audience size is driven by conflict and appeals to the niche market of political junkies who get a rush from thinking of politics as war.  The more you are marinated in political media, the more likely you are to think the Trump-Russia probe is all anyone is thinking about, when only 12% rate it as a top issue.

Nevertheless, impeachment fever is also appealing to the claque of conservatives for whom the opposition is a constant excuse for avoiding discussion of the merits of the Trump administration and the Republican Congress to date.  And it’s an idea that may become more appealing to a Republican Party looking for boogeymen to rally their base in the event that they fail to deliver on the major legislation they promised in 2016 (and prior cycles).

The result would be to tie both the GOP and a swath of the conservative media even more tightly to Trump and his (mis)fortunes.  I would call that a tragedy, had Trump’s successes not already revealed just how little the party was tethered to an overarching philosophy.  With so little commitment to ideas, it would not be surprising to see them rally to the most powerful man in the room, even at great risk to their own fortunes.

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