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A Choice Between Rhetoric and Policy?

It is becoming increasingly common to hear conservatives argue that a choice exists between President Trump’s politically incorrect rhetoric and his, and the GOP’s, policy accomplishments.

As just one example, take Hugh Hewitt’s recently tweet, in which he argues that casting a vote in the 2016 midterm elections against the GOP amounts to “emotional venting,” while voting for Republicans is to vote in favor of “serious governance.”

This argument fails on several levels, which I go through in my latest Bloomberg Opinion column.

To start, the premise of the argument is off base. The president’s rhetoric often isn’t merely politically incorrect — instead, it is often intended to divide the nation, motivated by perceived political gain. It’s a category error to include much of the president’s rhetoric with using the wrong fork during your salad course or failing to coddle fragile college students.

Arguing for a choice between rhetoric and policy also misses the reality that there is no such thing as “just rhetoric” when it comes to the president of the United States. The president’s rhetoric can move markets. Presidential statements — even on Twitter — are more similar to policy actions than some conservatives want to admit in that they can have a significant effect on attitudes and behavior.

Finally, implicit in the policy-vs.-rhetoric argument is that the rhetoric may not be so great but the policy is terrific. And we shouldn’t dismiss the president’s policy accomplishments, including judges, tax reform, and deregulation. But when you factor in tariffs, the possibility of an all-out trade war, ballooning debt and deficits, a refusal to deal with entitlements, industrial policy, and crony capitalism — well, policy still looks better than rhetoric, but it’s far from ideal.

I flesh this out more over at Bloomberg. Whether or not you agree, your comments are welcome.

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