The Corner

When Politicians Are More Savvy than Pundits

I’ve been surprised to see several thoughtful conservative pundits decry the GOP candidates’ unanimous rejection of a hypothetical budget deal offering a ten-to-one ratio between “real” spending cuts and increased taxes. Here on the Corner, Kevin Williamson said, “Chalk one up to the crazies.” At Commentary, Peter Wehner was also blunt: “If taxes cannot be raised under any circumstance — then we have veered from economic policy to religious catechism.”

A favorite tactic of law professors is to ask utterly unrealistic (and often quite wild) hypotheticals designed to push students’ arguments to their “logical extreme.” Law students tend to play along, earnestly and enthusiastically explaining why their preferred legal doctrines would survive alien attacks, plagues of locusts, and gravity-free environments. After the first few fruitless debates, I instituted a personal policy of objecting. When given a wild hypothetical, I’d try to respectfully explain that legal principles exist in a real world and that all tests of such principles should also exist in the real world. In short, an extreme hypothetical not based in any form of recognizable reality wasn’t a “logical extreme,” it was just a debating point.

And so was Bret Baier’s debate question. It was a trap, pure and simple. The whole exchange took about 30 seconds, leaving the candidates unable to ask their own, clarifying questions. What do you mean by “real” cuts? Real versus the CBO baseline or real versus a zero baseline? Are they front-loaded or back-loaded? What is being cut? Are we gutting defense but not touching high-speed rail? Has there been structural entitlement reform as a part of this “deal”? As for the tax increase, are we talking about increased marginal income tax rates (what most people think about when they hear the words “tax increase”)? Or are we talking about, say, phasing out the ethanol subsidy? Oh, and never mind that no such deal has ever been struck in modern history (especially if the cuts are truly “real”), nor is such a deal even on the table in Washington.

Some listeners may have heard an interesting question that could lead to a fascinating debate. But I guarantee you this is what the candidates heard: “I am right now asking you a question based on an utterly unrealistic (and undefined) hypothetical that could very well cost you the campaign. I’m going to do it in about 20 seconds, and if you stand out from the crowd, I’m going to give you — at most — about two minutes to explain yourself before an annoying bell sounds the death knell of your hopes and dreams.”

The candidates were right to raise their hands, and the response to Bret Baier’s question tells us little other than the candidates are opposed to raising taxes and unwilling to commit political suicide. 

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Most Popular

Politics & Policy

The Sinking Collusion Ship

The entire Trump-Russia collusion narrative was always implausible. One, the Washington swamp of fixers such as Paul Manafort and John and Tony Podesta was mostly bipartisan and predated Trump. Two, the Trump administration’s Russia policies were far tougher on Vladimir Putin than were those of Barack ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Problem with Certainty

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays. Dear Reader (Including those of you having this read to you while you white-knuckle the steering wheel trying to get to wherever you’re going for the ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Worst Cover-Up of All Time

President Donald Trump may be guilty of many things, but a cover-up in the Mueller probe isn’t one of them. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, attempting to appease forces in the Democratic party eager for impeachment, is accusing him of one, with all the familiar Watergate connotations. The charge is strange, ... Read More

Theresa May: A Political Obituary

On Friday, Theresa May, perhaps the worst Conservative prime minister in recent history, announced her resignation outside of number 10 Downing Street. She will step down effective June 7. “I have done my best,” she insisted. “I have done everything I can. . . . I believe it was right to persevere even ... Read More
PC Culture

TV Before PC

Affixing one’s glance to the rear-view mirror is usually as ill-advised as staring at one’s own reflection. Still, what a delight it was on Wednesday to see a fresh rendition of “Those Were the Days,” from All in the Family, a show I haven’t watched for nearly 40 years. This time it was Woody Harrelson ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Democrats’ Other Class War

There is a class war going on inside the Democratic party. Consider these two cris de couer: Writing in the New York Times under the headline “America’s Cities Are Unlivable — Blame Wealthy Liberals,” Farhad Manjoo argues that rich progressives have, through their political domination of cities such as ... Read More

The Deepfake of Nancy Pelosi

You’ve almost made it to a three-day weekend! Making the click-through worthwhile: A quick note about how National Review needs your help, concerns about “deepfakes” of Nancy Pelosi, one of the most cringe-inducing radio interviews of all time, some news about where to find me and the book in the near ... Read More

America’s Best Defense Against Socialism

The United States of America has flummoxed socialists since the nineteenth century. Marx himself couldn’t quite understand why the most advanced economy in the world stubbornly refused to transition to socialism. Marxist theory predicts the immiseration of the proletariat and subsequent revolution from below. ... Read More