From the Tuesday Morning Jolt:
What Should Republicans Be Learning From This?
My friend Kurt Schlichter makes some fair points and some not-so-fair points about what the Republican Party should be learning from the rise of Trump and the mess of the 2016 campaign.
Fair point: The leaders of the Republican party, particularly during the Bush administration, lived lives that were largely insulated from the negative consequences from illegal immigration and thus didn’t see it as a priority.
Did we listen about illegal immigration? Heck, illegal immigration is just wonderful for us. We get cheaper restaurant food, cheaper houses, cheaper maids, and if we own companies we get cheaper workers. So what’s not to love, right? Except maybe you didn’t go to a university and wanted to work with your hands and found that you can’t get a job because all the companies are hiring cheap illegal alien workers. Or your truck got hit by an uninsured illegal. Or your daughter got killed by an illegal who should have been deported. Well, if you have concerns about these things, clearly you’re a racist.
Fair point: Even if free trade is a net benefit for the country, it leaves some on the losing side as companies decide to move production to countries where wages are much lower. The Republican Party doesn’t have a lot to say to these people, who feel like they worked hard and played by the rules and had the rug pulled out from under them.
We love fair trade. But what about the guy whose job that he supports his family with gets outsourced because of NAFTA? What are we supposed to tell him? That in aggregate fair trade is beneficial? Yeah, but what if you’re not in the aggregate? I don’t know the answer, but I do know that so far we’ve been telling him “Suck it up ‘cause you’re obsolete. Go retrain on computers, dummy.” Yet we’re stunned that our voters have failed to embrace our innovative two-prong approach of ignoring their grievances while heaping abuse upon them?
Kurt correctly identifies a new forgotten man, but glides over the evidence that the traditional protectionist solution, tariffs on imported goods, wouldn’t actually help the people currently suffering the worst. Our recent experience with tariffs on Chinese tires amounted to “huge costs for consumers, gains by other foreign competitors, and almost no gains for American workers, even under the most generous of assumptions.” To work, you would have to slap tariffs on all imported goods from every other nation, and while that would undoubtedly mean more work for American companies, it would also mean much, much higher costs of living.
And let’s talk about wars. Generally, it’s our base that fights wars and we haven’t won one on the ground since Desert Storm. Our base doesn’t mind fighting for a cause, but if we’re not as dedicated as they are, if we can’t even commit to win when they commit to doing the dying, why are we shocked when instead of answering the call for the umpteenth time they let it go to voicemail? And the stuff about NATO and Trump – you know, our voters are not blind. If our allies were doing their fair share, his criticisms wouldn’t resonate.
Come on. It wasn’t Republicans who declared, “the war is lost” in 2007, it was Harry Reid. It wasn’t Republicans telling David Petraeus that his progress reports in Iraq “strain credulity,” it was Hillary Clinton. It wasn’t a Republican administration pulling every combat troop out of Iraq and hoping for the best, it was President Obama. Are we really to believe that American frustrations in Iraq and Afghanistan are driven by a lack of will in the Bush administration?
For all of the arguments about how wrong the pundits are, and how out-of-touch the Republican elites have been in the past year… the main thing they were wrong about was assessing the gullibility of 45 percent of Republican primary voters. Donald Trump is as unpopular as his critics warned. He’s as radioactive among minority voters as his critics warned. Lo and behold, Trump isn’t this amazing candidate who can turn blue states red. Trump fans cheered they were getting a “fighter”; they got a guy who can’t resist insulting Gold Star parents, rips the fire marshals for turning away people, spends part of a campaign rally complaining about the air conditioning at his hotel and who spends part of July pledging to destroy the careers of Ted Cruz and John Kasich.
Its fair to ask Dan Drezner’s question: Who’s really out of touch here? Who’s really living inside an ideological bubble, convinced their ideas and worldview are a lot more popular and widely-shared than they really are? Trump fans insist their man is backed by the “silent majority” and that Election Day will surprise everyone, proving every poll showing bad news has been “skewed.” Eh, maybe. Or maybe he and his worldview and his agenda just aren’t that popular, and he’s blowing a winnable race against the weakest Democratic nominee since Michael Dukakis.
A related counter-argument: If the rise of Trump reflected the mogul tapping into the real feelings and attitudes in the country, and the failure of traditional Republican candidates to do the same, we would expect to see Trump riding high in the polls and GOP House and Senate candidates in trouble. Instead, we see the opposite, particularly in swing states. Marco Rubio’s consistently ahead in Florida, Richard Burr’s comfortably ahead in North Carolina, Rob Portman’s doing okay in Ohio, Joe Heck is looking surprisingly strong in Nevada, and up until recently the polls looked good for Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania and Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire.
What should we be learning from this election cycle? If the House and Senate GOP outperform Donald Trump, wouldn’t the lesson be that his critics were right from the start and that nationalist-populism is not more popular than conservatism? Isn’t the lesson that center-right traditional conservatism, as represented by Rubio, Portman, Ayotte, Toomey and the rest is more appealing in a general election than Trumpism?