Postmodern Conservative

More Stage 2 Thinking on Trump

So there have been many stage-2 analyses of Trump. Here is a summary of that mode of analysis: Trump remains a blowhard with genuinely repulsive schemes. But this should be a teachable moment for a party too much under the thumb of a complacently oligarchic donor class. This, of course, is the criticism of the GOP so cogently given by our Peter Spiliakos, who has been  more forthright in speaking his mind along these lines than the various reform conservatives.

Here’s a particularly revealing summary of the Republican blindness:

In the wake of 2012, perhaps some Beltway Republicans thought that an ideal Republican presidential candidate would run on something like the following in 2016: more guest workers, further cuts on capital-gains taxes, a vague celebration of the values of entrepreneurship (say, by trumpeting Uber), a gradual increase in the Social Security retirement age, Medicare reform, an abandonment of social issues, anti-Obamacare rhetoric, and hawkish talk about international affairs. While some of those issues might be valuable, they do not get the GOP to a majority. And while a party running on this platform might gratify the sentiments of some corporate donors, this policy constellation does not help Republicans where they most need it: among the working class and disaffected voters.

That constellation of issues is not enough to win. Not only that, it doesn’t deserve to be enough to win.

For a particularly clueless stage 2-light (at best) analysis, read Stephen Moore in The Weekly Standard: The cause of Trumpism is people’s discontent with Obama’s anti-growth policies. The solution, contrary to Trump, is pro-growth policies. Adopt them, and that’ll be the end of Trumpism. It turns out that, to get elected and turn America around, the supply-side-and-nothing-but Republicans don’t have to change anything they think or do. I’m not going to fall victim to Trumpism and call Mr. Moore a loser. I will say he’s not so astute when it comes to what’s going on right now.

I have nothing against Uber. It’s a free country. But it’s also not an exciting new birth of freedom, part of “the freedom that works,” for most Americans. I took cabs when I was in San Francisco — consistently excellent and super-speedy service graced in a couple of cases by real characters ironic about their city’s bad government. For one thing: I would rather stick my arm in the air than pull out my smart device to get the help I need. And most cab drivers are admirable immigrants trying to actually make a good living by working long hours. I don’t deny for a moment that cab service would be better if regulations were more minimalist and sensible.

In San Francisco among the conservative political scientists, I didn’t see enough stage-2 thinking. They were, of course, justly disgusted by Trump’s low-rent populism. But they were mostly convinced that the process itself would solve the Trump problem. He never will command anywhere near a majority of Republican voters, and he can be taken down by truthful attacks on his character as revealed in his demagogic rhetoric. That might be or even is likely true. But that doesn’t solve the problem Trump highlights. The Republican nominee who campaigns on the issues blocked out above will never command a majority of American voters. Nor, to repeat, deserves to.

I think I heard Carly Fiorina say that, when it comes to immigration, there are three points of reform: 1) Secure the border not in the sense of building of a wall but by really getting a handle on who’s coming in and who’s already here. 2) Changing our immigration policy with our real needs in mind, and that means more — but not unlimited — legal immigration. 3) Putting those already here (as well as, of course, those who come in legally), with certain exceptions, on the path to citizenship. Maybe she’s morphing into the genuine stage-2 candidate.

Well, there’s a lot more to say along these lines. But, hey, it’s Labor Day!

Peter Augustine LawlerPeter Augustine Lawler is Dana Professor of Government at Berry College. He is executive editor of the acclaimed scholarly quarterly Perspectives on Political Science and served on President George ...


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