Welcome to the 25th issue of The Outsider Perspective, brought to you by The Beltway Outsiders.
Good Friday Morning! We’re over a week into President-Elect Trump’s new administration. Rumors are swirling aplenty these days on who will take top cabinet and agency positions. I’m going to stay away from those rumors in this issue. Trump is cleverly playing this like a reality TV show. It keeps the attention on him and allows him to audience-test various people and see media reaction. It also allows him to give off the veneer of party unity. But until positions are actually filled, it’s hard to measure what each person will bring. Instead, I’ll focus on the challenges his administration faces right out of the gate. Specifically, this week I’ll look at economic challenges and his campaign plans. Next week I’ll go through foreign policy storylines to watch.
Before I jump into the economic issues of the new Trump era, I want to go back into some election analysis and hit some specific ideas that died as a result of the 2016.
Election 2016: Conservatism is not dead, Demographics are not destiny, and control of America is truly up for grabs
For those who read me often, you know I am a big fan of RealClearPolitics Analyst Sean Trende. He’s second only to Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight on accurate analysis. He wrote a post-mortem of the 2016 election entitled: “The God that Failed.” In it he examines the various reasons Democrats lost the election and why their theories of the electorate came crashing down. I’m going to quote heavily from it because I believe it’s one of Trende’s better pieces. First, his set up:
The 2000 election left a Democratic Party that was simultaneously angry, dispirited and divided. Populists believed that Al Gore made a terrible mistake by embracing the “New Democrats”—what we then called a group of socially moderate, culturally cosmopolitan, fiscally cautious Democrats in the ’90s—thereby failing to excite working-class whites. New Democrats, by contrast, thought Gore’s late adoption of heavily populist rhetoric had needlessly alienated whites with college degrees, costing him the election.
As this fight wore on, two important left-of-center thinkers, John Judis and Ruy Teixeira, wrote a book called “The Emerging Democratic Majority.” Although the book is known as a demographic work, the demographics discussed so extensively in it are, in fact, subordinate to the larger goal of the book: to find a way for the two factions in the Democratic Party described above to live together, and to win. Their framework was explicitly Hegelian/Fichtean: They described the “thesis” and “antithesis” as being the populist Democrats and the “New Democrats.” Their proposed synthesis: what they called “progressive centrism.”
Progressive centrism was never thoroughly fleshed out, but the basic idea was to combine the goals of populism—harnessing the power of government to do good for the “little guy”—with the New Democrats’ recognition of markets as a powerful tool for achieving those goals. Combined with an incrementalist approach, Judis and Teixeira argued, Democrats would form a new majority coalition. This coalition would be an expansion of the old “McGovern” coalition, and would consist of working-class whites, women, African-Americans and Hispanics, as well as professional whites living in what they called “ideopolises” – high-tech areas filled with state employees and professional workers.
In keeping with the progressive view that history is something with an arc that can be predicted and even bent to our will, “The Emerging Democratic Majority” was expressly grounded in realignment theory. This view of elections holds that the arc of history moves in roughly 30-year epicycles, where the country progresses through stages where different parties hold a position as the dominant “sun” party, or the pale “moon” party (to borrow the terminology of Samuel Lubell). The Democratic majority, we were told, would emerge fully in the 2000s.
This was mostly sensible, and certainly all very defensible. If this “soft” view of the Emerging Democratic Majority had prevailed, I probably would not have spent a good portion of the past eight years arguing against it. Changing demographics are absolutely an issue for Republicans to contend with, and if Democrats had stuck to the “progressive centrism” playbook, they could have built a powerful coalition indeed.
But the “hard” version of the theory that prevailed bore little resemblance to the nuanced view promoted by Judis and Teixeira. In the wake of the 2006 and 2008 elections, books like Dylan Byers’ “Permanently Blue,” James Carville’s “40 More Years,” Sam Tanenhaus’s “The Death of Conservatism” and Morley Winograd and Michael Hais’s “Millennial Makeover” emphasized the demographic shifts, with less attention paid to the limitations the Ur-text placed upon governing philosophy. Countless journal and website articles – indeed entire websites – sprouted up dedicated to a view of American elections characterized by red outposts being swamped by a blue demographic tide. There were different variations of the argument, but the central theme was the same: Republicans were doomed to spend quite a lot of time in the wilderness.
I can fully attest to the accuracy of this history. I entered college in 2006 hot off the campaign trail after having worked for two Senate primary campaigns for Republicans in two different states. At the time, it appeared that Republicans still had a chance to hold Congressional control. No one fully saw the blue wave that was about to hit Washington DC. I had a bad position to view this change because I live in a deeply red state that threw off Democratic Party control for the first time since Reconstruction. But the blue wave hit on the national level. Republicans lost everywhere. Progressives and moderates pushed conservatives out everywhere.
When I entered college, liberals were ecstatic about this change. They were pointing to this new progressive coalition as the means by which Republicans would lose all elections in the future. After the 2008 election, this belief hit a fever pitch. Liberals believed Republicans and, more specifically, conservatism, were defeated forever. I know this because I was given Sam Tanenhaus’s seminal work: “The Death of Conservatism,” as fact. I still have a printed copy of this work with my notes all over it. I heavily disagreed with it. It was also around this time that I became acquainted with George H. Nash’s complete history of the conservative movement in America (an overview of which can be found here; my thoughts here). So as a college student about to head to law school, I had two things: 1) the firm belief conservative political philosophy was correct, and 2) that I had to defend these beliefs from a new angle. I began seriously blogging around this point on a now defunct site. I received some good reviews. My goal was to reform conservatism and return it to its intellectual roots. And to prove, emphatically, that conservatism was not dead. But fighting against liberal dogma that they’ve officially won the culture and political wars is difficult.
I still see a need for this kind of reform. Much of current Republicanism is not conservative, from a philosophical point. And this matters. And as I stated last week, though I see the Republican Party has now won complete control of Congress and the White House, I’m not convinced conservatism has joined them. Conservatism is positioned to greatly influence the current government. A different war has ended. The 15 year war conservatism has waged on whether or not the arc of history bends towards progressivism has been decided, as Trende argues:
The Emerging Democratic Majority debate increasingly became an almost theological one, whose fundamental theories became nearly impossible to falsify. As it became clear that the 2010 elections were going to go poorly for Andrew Jackson’s party, we were reminded that elections were all about the economy, even as Barack Obama’s party suffered the worst loss in a midterm since 1938. This, while economy-based models were predicting that Democrats would keep the House.
After the 2012 elections, when Barack Obama became the first president re-elected with a lower vote share than he received in his first bid, it was declared a great 10th anniversary present for the theory, notwithstanding reminders from political scientist John Sides that “a realignment doesn’t take midterms off.”
After the 2014 debacle, where Obama became the first president since Ulysses S. Grant to face two midterm waves, it became a “Known Truth” that these differences could be described by a “midterm-electorate-versus-presidential-electorate” dichotomy, notwithstanding the fact that the demographic differences between the two electorates mathematically accounted for at best a portion of the differences in outcomes, and notwithstanding the fact that, as of 2007, Judis and Teixeira arguedthat the theory actually worked much better for congressional elections than presidential ones. The 2014 elections were enough to persuade Judis to abandon the theory, although most of the other followers carried on.
But after the 2016 elections, this god is dead. While I still believe that the “soft” version of this theory, as originally described by Judis and Teixeira, has much to commend itself (Democrats looking for a path forward would do worse than to re-read the book) and continue to hold that the “Emerging Democratic Majority” is one of the most important books on elections of the past 20 years, the hard version of the theory has little merit.
It’s not just that Republicans have now won four of seven elections since the book was published, although that is, as we would sometimes note dryly when I practiced law, a “bad fact.” It’s more that it is very difficult to shoehorn into the theory this election of a 70-year-old white male with a policy portfolio that is basically the antithesis of what the “Emerging Democratic Majority” recommended. It is even more difficult to do so given that Donald Trump won in the most racially diverse electorate in American history.
Trende is 100% correct here. The consensus among liberals that they would begin to magically win as the population became more diverse completely ignores a single fact: people are more than their race. They believe more than their race. And they react as more than their race. And while I believe conservatism still has considerable work to do in the Republican Party, the fact is that is that this election provides conservatives a chance to bring conservative ideas to bear on the direction of the country once more. Conservatism is not dead. President Obama is fond of arguing that the arc of history bends towards progressivism. He based this on the theories Trende describes above. The arc of history does not bend towards a political philosophy. The arc of history is bent by those who shape it, and those people aren’t going to always be progressive.
The Left has woken up in a world in which it does not control things like it believed. History does not bend towards them, nor do they control it. This is a fearful thought for them. Progressivism bases itself on centralized power forcing “the future” into the present. The new knee-jerk reaction is that Republicans need to answer the palpable fear in the country. They need to reassure various groups who live in fear of the new President. I would agree on this point. It’s important for citizens to feel safe in their own country. But I would also counter that liberals need to stop ignoring the fear they sow. The media only recognizes the fear of liberals. For 8 years, they refused to acknowledge the fear of Trump voters. Trende describes this perfectly:
Two points demand attention. The first, which “demographics-is-destiny” types typically gloss over, is that Trump received more votes from white evangelicals than Clinton received from African-Americans and Hispanics combined. This single group very nearly cancels the Democrats’ advantage among non-whites completely. This isn’t a one-off; it was true in 2012, 2008 and 2004.
Second, you may wonder why this group voted in historic numbers for a man like Trump. Perhaps, as some have suggested, they are hypocrites. Perhaps they are merely partisans. But I will make a further suggestion: They are scared.
Consider that over the course of the past few years, Democrats and liberals have: booed the inclusion of God in their platform at the 2012 convention (this is disputed, but it is the perception); endorsed a regulation that would allow transgendered students to use the bathroom and locker room corresponding to their identity; attempted to force small businesses to cover drugs they believe induce abortions; attempted to force nuns to provide contraceptive coverage; forced Brendan Eich to step down as chief executive officer of Mozilla due to his opposition to marriage equality; fined a small Christian bakery over $140,000 for refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding; vigorously opposed a law in Indiana that would provide protections against similar regulations – despite having overwhelmingly supported similar laws when they protected Native American religious rights – and then scoured the Indiana countryside trying to find a business that would be affected by the law before settling upon a small pizza place in the middle of nowhere and harassing the owners. In 2015, the United States solicitor general suggested that churches might lose their tax exempt status if they refused to perform same-sex marriages. In 2016, the Democratic nominee endorsed repealing the Hyde Amendment, thereby endorsing federal funding for elective abortions. Democrats seemingly took up the position endorsed by critical legal theorist Mark Tushnet:
“The culture wars are over; they lost, we won. . . . For liberals, the question now is how to deal with the losers in the culture wars. That’s mostly a question of tactics. My own judgment is that taking a hard line (“You lost, live with it”) is better than trying to accommodate the losers, who – remember – defended, and are defending, positions that liberals regard as having no normative pull at all. Trying to be nice to the losers didn’t work well after the Civil War, nor after Brown. (And taking a hard line seemed to work reasonably well in Germany and Japan after 1945.) I should note that LGBT activists in particular seem to have settled on the hard-line approach, while some liberal academics defend more accommodating approaches. When specific battles in the culture wars were being fought, it might have made sense to try to be accommodating after a local victory, because other related fights were going on, and a hard line might have stiffened the opposition in those fights. But the war’s over, and we won.”
Perhaps comparing evangelicals to the Japanese in World War II was a bit much, and helped push evangelicals into a defensive crouch. Before my Democratic friends warm up their keyboards to protest “but we’re correct,” let me say that on some of these issues I agree with you! My point here is descriptive, not prescriptive. An aggressive approach to the culture wars and the sneering condescension of the Samantha Bees and John Olivers of the world may be warranted, but it also probably cost liberals their best chance in a generation to take control of the Supreme Court. That’s a pretty steep price to pay. It may well be that Democrats would be better able to achieve their goals if they were less, for lack of a better word, fundamentalist about those goals. Henry Clay famously declared that he would rather be right than president; he at least got his way on the latter.
You don’t have to go far to find more valid examples of this fear. Obama mocking people for clinging to their guns and religion (note: this was said to white Midwest voters). Clinton threatening to kill coal jobs, gas jobs, and calling Republicans her enemy. Not to mention the cherry on top where Clinton accused Trump supporters of being a “basket of deplorables,” (bringing back shades of Mitt Romney’s 47% private speech). And it’s worth noting: this long list of offenses to make voters fearful applies to people of ALL races and socio-economic classes. Failure to empathize polarizes the country even more. The fear Democrats sowed in Trump voters gave Republicans the most commanding political power they’ve had in 80 years.
As a final note here, I will also say that the Democratic Party is also not dead, nor is progressivism. The party system in America goes through ebbs and flows. Demographics are not destiny for either party. Mandates and convention wisdom are fake narratives we tell ourselves to make sense of the world. People give power to politicians to govern responsibly. Nothing else. Everything else is just a narrative by DC pundits in an echo chamber.
Looking Ahead: The Economy
There are several distinct issues I see ahead for the Trump administration. Each of which will have to be addressed by the Trump administration.
Slowing economic growth
The largest issue ahead for the Trump administration is slowing economic growth. The US needs to climb above 3% yearly GDP growth to increase wages among the working class. This isn’t just fulfilling a campaign promise, working class workers across all races have seen stagnated wage growth for the past 8 years. It’s imperative they be brought into the recovery.
The next reason it’s important to increase growth is because economists believe we have an elevated risk of entering recession. A WSJ survey of economists and analysts think we have a 22% chance of a recession in the next 12-18 months, or slightly more than a 1 in 5 chance. The reason that this risk is up from previous years is two-fold.
First, if you take a historical view of economic boom-bust cycles, we are past the average end of a boom period in the US economy. Most business cycle expansion periods last 7 – 11 years. The US recession was declared over in June of 2009. While this cycle is far from rigid or set in stone, economists and investors are carefully looking for negative data indicators. The expectation is not further growth, it’s a slowdown.
Second, there are global issues that could weigh on the US economy. China’s economy is slowing down, the Eurozone may be fracturing post-Brexit, and German banks are struggling. Combine that with the fundamental uncertainty of what could happen in a Trump presidency, the FED raising interest rates, and you get higher recession risks. All of these factors combine to say the same thing: the future is highly uncertain and many variables could suddenly change the course of the country. We need to place the country on solid economic footing.
While the legislation Trump’s administration is proposing is, generally speaking, good for the economy. It is not a guarantee of avoiding a major economic decline. Any one of the hot spots I’ve listed above could flare up and bring US growth down. Great vigilance is required to avoid these headwinds.
Repealing & Replacing Obamacare
If you ever wanted proof that the press has no idea how Trump will govern, read the myriad of views on how he will approach Obamacare. I’ve seen them all: 1) Trump will repeal and replace, 2) partial repeal and replace, 3) no repeal or replace, 4) he’ll repeal everything but the most popular areas, and 5) he’ll reform Obamacare. Even President Obama has said he doesn’t think Trump will repeal all of the law. Let’s get one thing clear: Obamacare will not survive in its current form. Change is coming. I don’t believe the fantasy Democrats have that nothing will happen. Legislation may be difficult and slow, but Trump wants something.
I think there are two scenarios for Obamacare:
First, the best case scenario for Republicans is they repeal the law and replace it with one of their own plans. The press knows very little about the GOP plans to replace Obamacare. Contrary to popular belief, Republicans have had many conservative replacement ideas. These ideas never stood a chance with Obama guaranteed to veto them. Most of the Republican plans have the most popular portions of Obamacare included in them (preexisting condition coverage, coverage until 26, …etc). Effectively, Republicans will just end up replacing Obamacare with one of their own plans (for how this may work, see Avik Roy’s work here, here, or here). Liberals will retaliate by calling it either Trumpcare or Ryancare, depending on how they attack the 2018 midterms (I suspect Trumpcare).
Second, the worst case scenario is that Trump pushes to keep ONLY the most popular provisions and NOTHING else of the law. This is a disastrous idea. I’ve seen many people argue why can’t the most popular provisions survive and nothing else. I’ll explain why. The specific provision at play is this one: forcing health insurance providers to cover people with preexisting conditions. Here’s why that’s a bad idea by itself:
If you force health insurance providers to cover all people with preexisting conditions, a noble goal, you increase the costs to health insurance providers. They have to cover more sick people who will cost more money to cover. If you have no other policy in place, then these same companies have nothing to off-set these increased costs. That’s why the individual mandate existed in the first place, to force people into the health insurance marketplace. The theory was if you forced enough healthy people to purchase health insurance, this would off-set the costs of the sicker population. Obamacare went beyond that and also created the health market exchanges to expedite the process.
The problem should be readily apparent. First, under Obamacare, the individual mandate has not been enough to force people to purchase healthcare. Which is why insurance providers have backed out of the exchanges. They can’t find enough healthy people to off-set the costs. Second, if you create a situation where there isn’t even a mandate, the pool of people who will buy health insurance shrinks even further. The people who have insurance only because of the mandate will drop it, increasing costs further to health insurance providers. This creates the “death spiral,” where costs spiral up so far that the entire industry is destroyed.
So the worst case scenario here is if the Republicans are dumb and pursue only the “good” provisions of Obamacare without the off-setting policies. I don’t think Republicans are this dumb. But they have to off-set these costs somehow. And if the off-set they choose is unpopular, you’ll see more backlash from the voting public. Just as voters kicked Democrats out in 2010 and 2014 over Obamacare, they’ll do the same to Republicans over “Trumpcare.”
I hope the best case scenario is what occurs. I’m depending on Paul Ryan for this to take place, not Trump.
Repealing Dodd-Frank: Reducing regulations on banks to spur growth
The next large legislative battle is repealing Dodd-Frank. For those that don’t know, Dodd-Frank was passed in the aftermath of the Great Recession with a stated goal of reigning in risky behavior by the banks and providing more regulator oversight. Peter Wallison in the WSJ sums it up nicely:
Signed into law in 2010, Dodd-Frank was based on the idea that insufficient regulation, particularly of Wall Street, had allowed a buildup of subprime mortgages, a housing bubble and, ultimately, the 2008 financial crisis. The Democrats who controlled the Congress elected in 2008 acted quickly to follow out the implications of this diagnosis by adopting Dodd-Frank, the most restrictive financial legislation since the New Deal.
Strikingly for such important legislation, there was no significant debate in Congress about whether the cause of the crisis had been correctly identified.
A later study, in 2014 by my colleague at the American Enterprise Institute Edward Pinto,showed that by 2008 more than half of all mortgages in the U.S. were subprime or otherwise risky, and 76% of those were on the books of government agencies. This leaves no doubt that government housing policies—and not a lack of regulation—created the demand for these risky mortgages. But by then it was too late.
It’s this last point that is key: evidence is mounting Dodd-Frank did not diagnose the problem correctly. Instead, it appears that Dodd-Frank has been nothing more than a mess of regulation. Liberals currently claim Dodd-Frank has prevented us from drifting back into a recession. They point to the fact we haven’t had a recession as proof Dodd-Frank is working. This is a fallacy, it confuses correlation and causation. It seems more apparent Dodd-Frank has increased the likelihood of a mass pandemic / too-big-to-fail (TBTF) scenario, as I wrote several weeks ago:
In a recent paper by the Brookings Institute, they suggest current Dodd-Frank regulations are making banks and investment firms harder investments and no more safer than they were prior to the 2008 recession:
“Big banks are no safer now than they were before the financial crisis, according to a new analysis by a Harvard duo that includes former White House economic advisor Larry Summers.
Not only does the paper assert that the possibility of a too-big-to-fail scenario still looms, but they also said the increased regulatory environment actually has played a part in keeping the system endangered.
“We find that a substantial part of the reason banks have become riskier and effectively more leveraged is a decline in their franchise value,” the researchers wrote in a white paper for the Brookings Institution. They added that “it appears plausible that a large part of the reason for declines in franchise value is regulatory activity and the prospect of future regulation.”
In essence, the paper argues that the regulatory pressure through Dodd-Frank and other measures has made banks a tougher investment.”
Why is this important? The Brookings Institution is a liberal think tank. The paper’s author was liberal considered by the Obama administration to head the Federal Reserve. In other words, liberal economic minds are saying regulations from Dodd-Frank are harming banks and reducing their value. They are tacitly admitting the conservative and libertarian free market critique of Dodd-Frank for the past 8 years. The CNBC report goes on to add the following:
“Banks have underperformed the market by a wide margin since the policy came online in July 2011. In the period since, the KBW Nasdaq Bank Index is up about 50 percent, while the broader S&P 500 has risen more than 95 percent.
The authors, though, say their research on risk, volatility and expected returns calls “into question the view of many officials and financial sector leaders who believe that large banks are far safer today than they were a decade ago.””
Critics of Dodd-Frank have long argued it has unduly hampered and killed the competitive landscape of banks and investment firms. GE completely got rid of their investment division because of Dodd-Frank regulations. And in the end, Dodd-Frank is unlikely to prevent the very harms it seeks to end. The result is more bloated bureaucracy and regulations. Less room for investment and growth.
The result of Dodd-Frank is that it’s done nothing to prevent a recession nor will it do anything to alleviate a bailout scenario. In fact, the TBTF problem is still likely to happen. The public will be left with the mess of bailing out bad banks. Dodd-Frank has been an illusion of security with mountains of regulations stifling the financial sector, which has stifled startups from getting credit and capital. This is the biggest reason the stock market has jumped since Trump’s election. Investors believe these institutions will be freed from bad regulation. It’s not just regulations that will go away, repealing Dodd-Frank will provide more sources of credit and capital to the poor, who have been shut out of the recovery.
Other economic topics to watch
Are low oil prices good or bad for the economy? President-Elect Trump wants to free up coal, gas, and oil companies to bring more product to the market. This could drop oil and energy prices lower. Is that a good thing? It’s a hot debate among economists and industry insiders. – WSJ Debate
The slow death of startups and entrepreneurship in America. The startup rate for new businesses is at a historical low and continues to drop. Fewer small businesses are starting and we’re seeing more failures. Which means Americans are working for a shrinking set of companies. This is not a healthy sign. Will the new administration try to reverse the trend? – FiveThirtyEight, WSJ, and FiveThirtyEight.
How do we fix the Labor Force Participation (LFP) rate? The official unemployment rate is below 5%, which typically means we have a healthy job force and market. But, the means that we’ve achieved this rate has been the plummeting of the LFP over the last 2 decades. This means people have dropped out of the job force for a variety of reasons and are no longer searching for work. How do we bring these people back into the work force? Furthermore, the labor market for blacks is double the national average. How do we ensure the labor force brings in everyone? – CNBC, and Voice & Viewpoint
Who will Trump nominate to the Federal Reserve and other Federal Reserve Committee positions? This matters, because, barring a recession, these people will have to figure out the looming issue of how to unwind all the assets the FED has purchased over the last 8 years in an attempt to create jobs. The next people to be on the Fed will have to focus on that issue and normalizing monetary policy for the future. Forbes & The Financial Times
Q. “What do you think about the story Ted Cruz tried to create a unity ticket with Marco Rubio in March before the Florida primary? Could they have defeated Trump?” Source.
A. I’ve seen this story floating around social media too. I don’t think either of them could have beaten Trump. The primary was really over after Super Tuesday (The Democratic Party primary was over when Clinton declared and wrapped up the Super-Delegates). The Daily Wire is running a dishonest hit on Rubio when you break the story down. Note the timeline in the story: A week before the Florida primary, Ted Cruz suddenly opens up to the idea of a unity ticket. Note the quote CNN ascribes to Rubio on the matter:
“I don’t think I can do this,” Rubio told Lee, according to one of the sources. “I don’t think I can back out and not be a presidential candidate prior to the primary in Florida.”
And so he didn’t. Five days after the debate, Trump won Florida by 18 points and Rubio immediately dropped out of the race.
The Daily Wire calls Rubio pompous, using an 8 month old Politico story as their proof. This is nonsense. So let’s pull this apart: 1 week before the Florida primary was too late for a unity ticket. Note what Rubio says above: He can’t drop out prior to the primary in Florida. It’s not a pride thing, it’s a logistics thing. Ballots had already been mailed out and machines were in place for the Florida primary. People were already voting by the time the Florida debate was happening. The time for a unity ticket had already passed.
So why was Ted Cruz suddenly interested in the unity ticket? He needed Rubio’s popularity after Florida. Here’s the problem with Ted Cruz’s campaign in a nutshell: His campaign strategy was straight forward: win the early primaries and force everyone else out after Super Tuesday. That plan failed and he had nothing else afterwards. Rubio’s plan was to survive the initial Southern states before pulling in later states. He needed higher placing in New Hampshire, Virginia, and South Carolina to prove this point though. From Iowa through Florida, Cruz focused on doing two things: 1) suck up to Trump to try and win Trump’s voters, and 2) sabotage his other primary opponents. He failed on both counts.
There’s a reason the “Lyin’ Ted” moniker stuck. Before the very first primary in Iowa, Cruz edged out his rivals by spreading patently false rumors about Ben Carson dropped out of the race. Cruz used a mass voicemail campaign telling people to vote for him, not Carson (it’s worth noting the huge difference in how Trump treated Carson and how Cruz treated Carson – that mattered, and it swayed more voters than people think. Carson has integrity, Cruz lacked it after that attack). In Florida and Virginia, states Cruz was never seriously competitive in, he sent surrogates out to pulls votes from Rubio so Trump would win both states. Cruz wanted a one-on-one battle with Trump. A battle he couldn’t win outside the South. If Rubio overestimated his polls in Florida, Cruz overestimated his polls and popularity in the rest of the country. Cruz was supposed to do well in the states Trump won handily. Trump crushed Cruz, like he did most of the field. Cruz’s tactics ironically matched Breitbart’s activities, when they operated with Democrats trying to defeat Cruz and Rubio.
I’ll repeat here what I’ve written on social media, I think Trump is about to handicap Cruz in the way Obama handicapped Clinton, if not worse. Purely from a political standpoint, nominating Ted Cruz to the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) or Attorney General’s (AG) office would be the most Machiavellian political move in US history. Though, I think Trump is thinking more SCOTUS in this case. It’s brilliant:
- Trump throws a bone to the people wanting a Scalia replacement. They cheer their hero going to the Court. It’s a dirt cheap easy win.
- Trump builds enough political equity from this one move that he could do whatever he wanted for the rest of his 4 years. And conservatives wouldn’t challenge him. They’d be afraid to do so. They wouldn’t have the political equity/courage to challenge him.
- Trump removes a 2020 primary challenger completely from the board. Cruz would no longer be the future of the party. He keeps saying he’s Reagan in 1976. Not if he’s on SCOTUS. And by appearing magnanimous by appointing a past challenger, Trump effectively buries any other challengers. This includes the NeverTrump movement (if Trump nominates Mike Lee as a second replacement down the line, he’ll bury the McMullin movement too).
- Trump can get a surrogate into Cruz’s place by having Rick Perry run for the empty spot in 2018. Trump wraps the Senate GOP establishment around his finger, given their hatred of Cruz (some of which is not unwarranted). Exhibit A: Lindsey Graham. Which then leaves Paul Ryan as the only stopgap – because Ryan actually has principles and would resist illiberal policies of Trump.
- All of this in turn, would make Steve Bannon’s goal in destroying Ryan even easier. He’d have Ryan isolated from the rest of the establishment. And he could force him out of power with a puppet pick if/when Ryan decided to challenge Trump.
What I’m reading
I’m sharing four pieces I enjoyed this week.
“A Childhood Gone to the Dogs” by K.E. Columbini, First Things
In this piece, Columbini examines the place pets have come to take in America society. Instead of focusing on families and raising children, young couples are increasingly replacing those children with “fur babies.” Those animals are humanized and treated as the new children. Columbini argues “pet humanization” isn’t a good direction for society to take for the long term.
“Steve Bannon is Not a Nazi – But Let’s be Clear About What He Is” by Ian Tuttle, National Review Online
Ian Tuttle clears through a considerable amount of the hyperbole surrounding Trump’s new White House advisor, former Breitbart CEO Steve Bannon. When it comes to Bannon, actions speak louder than words. His pursuit of Breitbart becoming a voice and microphone for the alt-right and white nationalist voices should give anyone pause. The most common defense is that he never wrote the most offensive pieces at Breitbart. That’s true. But he did choose the direction for the website. It went from an irreverent conservative site to a full microphone for white nationalists and conspiracy theorists that had been kicked out of the conservative movement in the 1960’s.
“Hilary Clinton was the Lady Ghostbusters of Presidential Candidates” by Mark Hemingway, The Federalist
In this somewhat cheeky piece, Hemingway looks back at the advertising campaign that connected Clinton and the ill-fated Ghostbusters reboot. The gender solidarity campaign that overtook the Ghostbusters film looked very similar to the campaign run by Clinton. And both failed for remarkably similar reasons.
“The Democrats Screwed Up” by Frank Bruni, The New York Times
Bruni’s op-ed in the NYT is brutally accurate on the problems Democrats have for themselves post-2016:
Other factors conspired in the party’s debacle. One in particular haunts me. From the presidential race on down, Democrats adopted a strategy of inclusiveness that excluded a hefty share of Americans and consigned many to a “basket of deplorables” who aren’t all deplorable. Some are hurt. Some are confused.
Liberals miss this by being illiberal. They shame not just the racists and sexists who deserve it but all who disagree. A 64-year-old Southern woman not onboard with marriage equality finds herself characterized as a hateful boob. Never mind that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton weren’t themselves onboard just five short years ago.
Political correctness has morphed into a moral purity that may feel exhilarating but isn’t remotely tactical. It’s a handmaiden to smugness and sanctimony, undermining its own goals.
That’s a spot on observation on how identity politics bit the Democrats back.
What I’m listening to
Larry Kudlow is part of Trump’s transition team. He recently gave an interview on Ricochet, a conservative site, laying out the economic plan for the first 100 days of Trump’s administration. You can listen to it here.
Thanks for reading!