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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