Postmodern Conservative

#NeverTrump and All That

Trump's success and the failure of conservative inclusion

Ross Douthat is right to say that everybody should be counted at this moment. We are either willing to stand up to Trump or we aren’t. But I also think that many people who think of themselves as Trump’s ideological enemies are among his most effective (if unwitting) allies.

I can only speak for myself. If the election were to become, by some nightmarish set of circumstances, a choice between Trump and David Duke, I would choose Trump. If the choice came down to Trump and Hillary Clinton, then I would vote for whatever splinter-right ticket develops, or else I would write in someone’s name. I refuse to choose between a reckless, utterly opportunistic Hillary donor and Hillary herself. Don’t tell me about the judges. If you think a President Trump would appoint constitutionalist Supreme Court judges, then you should go into detox. 

Douthat writes that Trump poses a deadly challenge to Paul Ryan’s Kempian vision. That is true, but I also think that Donald Trump’s movement feeds on Ryanism. The flaws in Ryanism help produce Trumpism.

Many working people are leery of Ryan’s proposed entitlement reforms (which are also, inevitably, entitlement cuts). Ryan has done a fine job of selling those proposals, but he has made the enormous mistake of bundling his (necessary) entitlement spending reductions with a politics of high-earner tax cuts and expanded low-skill immigration. 

Entitlement reform can and should be part of a pro-wage-earner agenda. Entitlement reform plus high-earner tax cuts and expanded low-skill immigration is not a pro-wage-earner agenda. Such an agenda creates the impression that Republican elites are more interested in the interests of wealthy Americans and poor foreigners than in the interests of their own struggling countrymen. Paul Ryan’s forays into “poverty” policy don’t help much either. The vast majority of the country lives in that huge space between “you built that” and “poverty.” Ryanism hasn’t had much to say to that part of the America. 

Ryan is right to worry that Trump is insufficiently inclusive, but he fails to see how Ryanism is repulsive to potential allies. He can’t see that because he insists that cutting taxes on high earners is pie-growing optimism and that expanding low-skill guest-worker programs is good-hearted inclusion. Many people, including many decent people who identify as Republicans, don’t see it that way. A genuinely inclusive politics is one that starts with the interests and priorities of American wage earners of all ethnicities. It would start with improving the social-welfare state to encourage work (something that I believe Ryan has taken some interest in). It would mean reforming old-age entitlements to make them sustainable. But it would also mean focusing future tax relief on families in the bottom half of the income distribution rather than on the rich. It would mean a health-care plan that makes catastrophic health insurance available to those who currently get their coverage from Obamacare. It would be limiting future low-skill immigration so that we can focus on helping our current population of struggling workers of every background. The way to beat Trump is to create a better, and more inclusive, conservative reformism. That starts with recognizing how Paul Ryan’s reformism fall short.


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