One Year Later

On the one year anniversary of Donald Trump entering the presidential race, it is worth looking back. Before Trump, it was possible for right-leaning Americans to take comfort in the principles that inform conservatism. Ours was the side of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and ordered liberty. Theirs was the side of state central planning, coercive mandates and regulations, and identity politics. Our team was lining up a deep bench of accomplished and impressive presidential candidates, while they were talking themselves into a robotic, uninspiring and corrupt Hillary Clinton.

On June 16th, 2015 Donald Trump entered the arena and proceeded to destroy every illusion conservatives held about the Republican Party. GOP voters nominated a candidate who they believe speaks for them, someone who says out loud and in public the things they are too cowed by political correctness to say. Were this the sole explanation for Trump’s support, it would be easier to dissect: backlash against political correctness is indeed warranted and worthwhile.

Alas, the Trump movement is more than rage against the establishment machine; embedded within the celebrity-fueled movement is an identifiably left-of-center policy agenda causing consternation among conservatives. The most visible aspect of this agenda (because it is what Trump talks about on the stump more than anything else) is protectionism, the belief that free trade and the global economy have been net negatives for Americans, a view that until Trump was associated almost entirely with the anticapitalist left. Opposition to free trade is rooted in Bastiat’s timeless counsel concerning the “seen and the unseen.” As a 2013 Mercatus study declares: “The benefits of free international trade are often diffuse and hard to see, while the benefits of shielding specific groups from foreign competition are often immediate and visible.” Efficient supply chains resulting in broader access to cheaper goods are not as readily apparent as decaying towns and rotting factories. It requires only a rudimentary understanding of economics or, failing that, minimal imaginative capability, to grasp Bastiat’s meaning and thus shed the adolescent belief in government’s capacity to manage society’s problems. 

Trump is suspect on his commitment to the first two amendments in the Bill of Rights (he likely doesn’t know what is contained in the rest), which should be disqualifying for any Republican candidate for President. He advocates for higher minimum wage laws, possesses no understanding of religious liberty or pro-life sentiments, believes “the rich” ought to pay more taxes, is the definition of a crony capitalist, and is indistinguishable from Bernie Sanders on trade. His army of followers include a toxic minority of vile racists and white nationalists who have drunk so deeply the left’s cultural messaging that they proudly adopt skin-deep identity politics, clamoring not for smaller government but for a redistribution of government spoils to the white working class.

This amounts to a final capitulation to another of Bastiat’s warnings: a free society’s descent into a will-to-power fight between factions, each using an ever-expanding law to obtain spoils, applying the force of the state to expropriate from its opposition. The Trump movement is a giant white flag surrender to Big Government that effectively substitutes the Tea Party/libertarian-infused brief against Leviathan with factional populism demanding its share from “Daddy” Government.   

These painful realizations confronting conservatives and right-libertarians since Trump’s emergence lead to the depressing conclusion that the American right is not the principled defender of small government that we wanted to believe. Instead it is an angry, frustrated mob reaching for the shiniest object it can as a salve to feelings of impotence, futility and betrayal. The early Tea Party represented a return to principle, a call to reduce spending, to halt the expansion of government, and to restore the Constitutional order and separation of powers gradually deteriorating under both parties. It is a shame that such an opportunity was squandered.

And yet… while I will not vote for Trump, neither will I vote for Hillary. The progressive ethos animating the Democratic Party is orders of magnitude worse than Trumpism. Riddled with contradictions and confusion, progressivism is about deception. Secular preachers of social justice insist they have “the facts” and “science,” but actually they are nothing more than a fashionable clique of Sneetches, preening and strutting and signaling, all to convey their tolerance. Ironically, the highest virtue in the cult of diversity is conformity.

And that conformity begets a unified worldview based on lies.

The left lies routinely about guns, abortion, Islam, the minimum wage, climate change, rape culture, unemployment, healthcare, the effects of the welfare state, and much besides. I’ve no doubt that a significant chunk of Trump’s support is fueled by angry reaction to these lies. I am sympathetic. I only wish we had the good sense to hold in our minds competing truths: political correctness and progressivism are a scourge on society, and Donald Trump is unfit to be the avatar of our opposition against it.

All that remains is to enlist in our little platoons.

Hillaryious

katemckinnon

I will not be inclined to find any of this funny should Mrs. Clinton become President, as that is the day that laughter dies. But until then, and because I don’t think it possible for a vapid cipher of nothingness to con Americans into making her Queen, The Hillary Clinton Experience is an uproarious one.

The Washington Post saw fit to run a countdown clock on its website to mark the time since Hillary last took questions from the press (40,150 minutes between Q&A’s for those keeping score). Kate McKinnon has committed her considerable talent to what could perhaps become the best Saturday Night Live political caricature ever. But what makes this all such a riot is how the media is coping with it all, which is to say they don’t know how to deal with it. Should they cover her more aggressively and demand that she get involved in the daily give-and-take, if only to better prepare her for the general? Or should they adopt a satisfied detachment and remark on how savvy Clinton is to go this route considering her 100% name I.D. Right now they fall somewhere in the middle, with the more professional journalists angry at the situation and hungry to do their jobs versus the sycophants and hacks of cable news who will offer the same critique no matter what she does: “Bravo.”

It wouldn’t be this way if the Democratic Party were not so bereft of political talent and not married to a single candidate whose only virtues are her last name and gender. If Hillary had real competition the liberal press would be hounding her and demanding that she speak with the implicit message that there are other options and “we’ll spurn you in a second if you can’t convince us you’re the genuine article. We’ve done it before.”

Hubris and arrogance are not typically mined for their comedy, but man alive is Hillary funny in her entitlement. When Alex Seitz-Wald refers to your entourage as a “palace guard” on MSNBC, you might want to reexamine your methods. If I was a handler for a candidate whose sense of entitlement dwarfed her actual accomplishments, I would probably caution against her acting arrogant and above it all, especially when scandal threatens to follow you throughout. And of all the transparently self-serving no-no’s, the one that would sit at the top of my list would be Citizens United. I would say, “don’t talk about Citizens United.” All progressives loathe Citizens United v FEC but you know who really truly despises it? Hillary Clinton. That’s because the whole case was about her. Citizens United wanted to produce and air a critical documentary on Hillary Clinton in 2008, a fairly standard practice (Michael Moore, anyone?) and well within the law and of course protected under the First Amendment. But that is not how the left views speech these days. They wish to control the flow of money to campaigns by granting the FEC the power to regulate which political speech is kosher and which is not. Calling this a slippery slope is like calling the Grand Canyon a hole in the ground. They screech in terror about billionaires and disclosure and “dark money” when in reality they are saying that bureaucrats at the FEC should set the landscape for political giving. If a federal agency has the power to declare movies and books critical of politicians invalid then it is game over for the First Amendment. And I get that progressives move closer everyday to making repeal part of the DNC platform, but Hillary? Citizens United went to the Supreme Court because Hillary Clinton was unhappy about a movie made about Hillary Clinton. The Supreme Court said the First Amendment still stands and therefore it is well within the freedom of a corporation to make whatever damn political movie it pleases. Naturally, this does not sit well with Hillary and the left, but if anyone should be recused from criticizing Citizens United it is Hillary Clinton. That she went right ahead decrying big money in politics anyway (she who made $30 million in 2014 by giving speeches) shows the level of hubris and entitlement at play. Matt Welch looks at this and sees a “wonderfully clarifying campaign slogan for you: Elect me, and I’ll try to put my critics in jail!”

On CNN Jeff Zeleny offered that “this criticism was threatening to overtake her message” as he reported on the earth-shattering news that Hillary did in fact take questions from the press on Tuesday (five questions). The pros who want to do their jobs are beginning to chafe at Her Highness’ indifference to them. Jonah Goldberg suspects it may be time for the press to start punishing her.

Normally, when a politician tries to break the media’s food bowl, the media defends itself. Instead, I keep watching broadcasts that treat her gingerly. Sure, they mention how she isn’t taking questions. But they also say things like “Clinton took questions from voters” and “Clinton met with small businessmen to talk about the economy” and then they let her get her soundbites in. I can see the case, as a matter of journalistic ethics, for letting her get her message out. Though such ethics are often selectively applied to Republicans the press hates.

But why peddle the fiction that she is having authentic conversations with Iowans? When President Bush was selective about who he took questions from, the press ate him alive for it.

And Bush was far more open to the press than Hillary’s being (and he was the president). And Hillary is running unopposed which makes the press’s role much more important. Why not err on the side of the truth, particularly when the truth hurts? Every meeting with pre-selected human props should be described that way. Every “event” should be reported in hostile — and more accurate! — terms. “Mrs. Clinton held another scripted and staged event today where volunteers asked pre-arranged safe questions the scandal-plagued candidate was prepared to answer . . .”

I understand the press is liberal, but they also have a very high opinion of themselves. The Clinton campaign is making fools of them. It’s time for some payback.

One can dream.

The Laffer Era

I won’t presume to speak for “Ready for Hillary,” but it’s a fair guess that they hope to face Jeb Bush because Democrats believe they hold the ultimate trump card which has nothing to do with his name. It is “the 90’s.” The Clinton campaign is convinced that in a matchup with Bush, all they need do is trumpet the “Clinton economy” while decrying the “Bush economy.”

To borrow from Lee Corso, “not so fast.”

Let’s acknowledge that Jeb Bush is not George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton is not Bill Clinton. The odds of President Hillary pronouncing “the era of big government over” or signing a signature welfare reform are as remote as President Jeb Bush championing a new extension of Medicare or proclaiming “deficits don’t matter.” Still, it is inevitable that in a Clinton-Bush race the comparison between Bill Clinton and George W. Bush will be broadly accepted as fair. Team Clinton believes they hold an unassailable advantage because they act like Bill Clinton was the sole progenitor of the 90’s economy.

Now comes their bete noir Rand Paul poking holes in the myth. Speaking at a Lincoln Labs conference in Washington last week, Paul said “when we dramatically lowered tax rates in the ’80s, we got an enormous boom in our country, probably for two decades. Many of us believe that the ’80s and the ’90s, once the boom began, had a lot to do with lowering the tax rates.” With that explicit challenge to conventional liberal wisdom, Paul turned the comparison between the 90’s and the 00’s into a debate on whether the 90’s were really just a continuation of the 80’s.

Cue the long knives.

Jonathan Chait waded into the breach to rebut this claim, arguing in New York that “tax rates on the rich, at least at current levels, have little impact on economic growth.” Note the qualifier at least at current levels. Liberal discussion of the 90’s focuses on Clinton raising the top rate to 39.6% from 31% to the economy’s great benefit. This casually omits how Reagan reduced the top rate from to 50% from 70% and ultimately to 28% with the 1986 tax reform.

Another tactic used against Reagan is that he was a serial tax raiser who saw the light after the 1982 recession proved his initial rate reductions had failed. “For example, when Reagan cut taxes, economic conditions deteriorated thanks to high interest rates. When Reagan realized he’d cut taxes too much and reversed course, raising taxes seven of the eight years he was in office, the economy improved,” says Steve Benen of MSNBC, who can be forgiven for his ignorance due to being Rachel Maddow’s petulant blogger. The left never seem to grasp that not all taxes are created equal. For every minor increase in a payroll tax or specific targeted tax, Reagan’s legacy is indisputably as an historic tax cutter, as the tax rate that matters most for economic growth and capital investment is the top marginal rate. Investors invest in enterprises when they believe the return on their investments will bear returns sufficient to justify the risk. More capital is risked when greater returns are in the offing. When top marginal rates are high there is less incentive to invest.

The adage “capital goes where it is welcome” is a fundamental truth akin to the laws of physics. Reagan’s success in bringing down top marginal rates are, more than any other external or mitigating factor, the primary reason for the 25 year secular growth trend between 1982-2007. The dramatic rate reduction heralded a new era of entrepreneurial optimism and capital investment as individuals responded to incentives brought about by a more welcoming capital landscape. Yes, one consequence of this was that the rich got richer, but the boom in middle class standards of living as well as upward mobility (an entire new class, the “upper middle” owes its existence to this period) in the 80’s and 90’s was a straight line continuum, putting the lie to the myth that things were sour under Reagan and H.W. Bush until Clinton arrived to save the day with moderate increases in top rates. Any honest appraisal of this era must account for the steady gains in GDP, employment and overall consumer confidence which contributed to multiple quarters of 6% and 7% growth during both the 80’s and 90’s.

Because Bill Clinton did very little to reverse the Reagan revolution on taxes, and in fact bolstered it by lowering investment rates while increasing the top marginal rate nowhere near in proportion to the level that Reagan lowered it, any comparison of the 80’s and 90’s is ultimately moot. We might as well call it “the Laffer era.”

Rand and The Establishment

I imagine quite the discussion going on at the RNC and within the broader establishment organs of the party right now regarding Rand Paul. He has just spent a full year demonstrating his promise in communities not known for voting Republican, while fending off vicious attacks from both left and right over everything from his thoughts on certain legislation from 1964 to charges of an isolationist foreign policy to his supposed support for “amnesty” (the latter claim is farcical, but popular in the comments of many a conservative publication). And he has maintained his popularity and appeal throughout, capitalizing on the mainstream media’s utter confusion about what to make of him, leading to their giving him all the more free publicity.

He essentially checks all the key boxes the party brass laid out in the 2012 autopsy as far as reaching out to new voters and expanding the tent for the GOP. In May, Paul polled 29% support among Kentucky blacks in a hypothetical 2016 matchup with Hillary Clinton. His outreach is working. If the GOP nominee in 2016 garnered even 19% of the national black vote, there would not be a bigger story in America. The blight of our urban cities and the fact that national democrats have cynically perpetuated poverty and misery for millions by cultivating victimization and contempt in the black community is an enduring national disgrace, and many blacks seem open to a message of just… something, anything different. Rand has been speaking to that in earnest for a whole year. 19% could be a low estimate of the breakthrough he could have with black voters.

And the same script applies to the youth vote, only double. Rand could easily win half the nation’s millennials, partly on the strength of his message and appeal, but also because they have been mugged by progressive economic reality and are ready to hear more about uber and less about the minimum wage.

The RNC and the big money donors have to see this. And yet, there is the obvious tension regarding foreign policy, which I think is overblown and based on a caricature of who Paul is, but nevertheless is grounded in principle and is a legitimate ongoing debate. But I really wonder what many donors and establishment types are smoking when they consider how Bush or Christie or Romney or Walker or even Rubio could make a serious dent in all these voting communities who have been giving Republicans the back of the hand of late. It really can only be Paul or Cruz if you want to be bold and grow the party through a concentration on liberty and reducing government’s imprint. They are really only the ones who both get it and can articulate “it.” I have my doubts that Cruz can expand the tent as much as Rand and I suspect he would ultimately lose, though I will not protest if he is the Republican nominee because at the very least he would offer the clearest of choices and is capable of eloquently making the case for free market capitalism and deregulation.

In the end, Cruz would be a great choice but Paul is the best choice.

And for all the anti-Rand sentiment that exists on our side, I do wonder why I never really hear anyone address how else to grow the party and make the brand more attractive to the young and marginalized who have been so dis-served by the left? Who else has a plan besides Paul? The establishment needs to recognize that it can’t implement its pet policies – whether on foreign policy or immigration or tax reform – without first securing victory. And if we know one thing about politicians of every shade and stripe, winning elections is the goal, as that is the business they’ve chosen. Given this simple reality and the fact that establishment consensus rests on another simple reality that says Republicans must reach out to non-traditional constituencies if they want to win nationally again, it seems obvious that Rand Paul and the establishment (particularly the foreign policy establishment) should declare detente and act together to leverage some of Paul’s outreach into a lasting presence with new voters. That cooperation depends on the establishment’s willingness to accept that the new voters Rand is courting are attracted to him because of his libertarian outlook on many issues. “Libertarian” still scares the pants off of significant swathes of the GOP, but thankfully libertarianism is trending in the right direction in the party. Rand has already demonstrated that he can be a team player and help elect establishment Republicans. In return, the Republican party impresarios need to acknowledge Paul’s inspiring effort to conduct outreach and resolve to see him, finally, as an ally rather than an enemy.