Monday, September 26, 2016

Round One

I won't even try to get into who won/lost tonight's Clinton/Trump debate (this cycle has frustrated far too many horse-race analyses).  Instead, a couple reflections on strategy:

Hillary Clinton continually attacked Trump.  Many of her policy answers pivoted to attacks on him, and she also assailed his character.  Throughout the campaign, Clinton has tried to make the campaign a referendum on him (something the questions at tonight's debate might have helped).  Interestingly, she also reversed strategy from earlier in the campaign.  For months, she has been trying to isolate Trump from the rest of the GOP.  Tonight, though, she instead tried to tie Trump to the GOP, suggesting that he was just a return to old Republican policies.  Clinton seemed throughout the night to be trying to rally the democratic base.  She presented more of a negative case against Trump than an affirmative one on her behalf.

Donald Trump instead focused on a single goal: emphasizing the challenges facing the nation and arguing that the election of Hillary Clinton would not address those challenges.  Again and again, he tried to tie Secretary Clinton to the status quo.  He attempted to use Clinton's experience against her by casting her as more of the same.  At least early in the debate, he also tried to present a more restrained persona.  His attack on her over TPP also emphasized a favorite Trump theme (trade) and underlined divides in the Democratic coalition.

A few questions: Will this debate move the needle at all?  What effects will it have on woman voters and voters with college degrees?  Did Trump seem like a plausible alternative to Clinton in a "change" cycle?

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Better than That

At NRO, I look beyond partisan optics to examine some of the deeper--and troubling--presumptions of Hillary Clinton's remarks about Donald Trump's "deplorable" voters:
Secretary Clinton has now expressed “regret” for saying that half of Trump’s supporters are such “deplorables,” but what does it mean when a candidate for president could so glibly say that about a quarter of Americans are essentially trash people who have no claim on the body politic (“not America”)? One of the great political cancers of our time — and one that folks on the left and the right can succumb to — is the impulse to cast out of civic discourse those with whom we disagree. Partisans might denigrate their opponents as coastal “elites” who don’t represent the “real America” or as bigoted haters on the “wrong side of history.”
Such impulses are mistaken. America contains multitudes, and “history” has all too often proven to be an arbitrary idol. Persuasion and sympathy are hallmarks of debate in a healthy republic. If politics is about excommunicating from polite society those with whom we disagree (those “deplorables”), the task of maintaining a diverse republic becomes much harder. Living in a pluralistic society means interacting with those whose opinions might differ from ours not just on trivial matters but also on serious ones. The tradition of religious liberty in the United States is in part premised on the idea that tolerance for intellectual difference is especially important for very difficult (and very personal) issues. This does not mean that we cannot champion firm moral views or even that some people might not subscribe to malicious or mistaken ideas, but we should be very wary about casting those with whom we disagree as essentially bad themselves and beyond redemption.
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Conversation--Not Cocoon

As election day draws closer, tensions are increasing on the right about Donald Trump and (a distinct topic) the futures of conservatism and the Republican party.  Following in the tradition of Edmund Burke, I thought it would be worthwhile to outline a few reasons why excessive rancor would be both intellectually and politically counterproductive.

Many of Trump's opponents, especially on the right, have offered numerous scapegoats for the rise of Trump: among them, talk radio, racism, and the American public's supposed lack of virtue.  However, one of the single most important structural forces that allowed Trump to win the Republican nomination was the combination of elite incompetence and extreme cultural cocooning.  Incompetence and cocooning have served as compounding forces; without a rigorous internal debate, technocratic myopia sets in, often leading to political disaster.

The toxic combination of incompetence and cocooning has been problematic for the nation as a whole, but it has been particularly poisonous for both the Republican party and the conservative coalition.  Various efforts to purge dissenters have sapped the intellectual vitality of the right and caused a fixation on certain policy buzzwords.  A facile framing of too many debates as TrueConservatives v. the Establishment has often intensified this policy stasis.  When prudential compromise is made the enemy of intellectual principles, our thinking becomes sloppy and we set ourselves up for a politics of bad faith and rancor.

If intellectual cocooning has been a major problem for our politics, efforts at purges (whether directed by #NeverTrumpers or passengers on the #TrumpTrain) are likely to prove counterproductive.  Spraying vitriol at factional opponents is likely also not to be very helpful.  Intellectual charity usually helps advance a thoughtful discussion much more than does personal venom.  (Efforts to target folks like Laura Ingraham for supposedly being "responsible" for Trump are especially bizarre; if the GOP had listened to Ingraham more on certain issues, Trump would not have had the political opening he did in 2015-2016.)

In addition to the intellectual reason for the importance of charity, there is a partisan reason for conservatives, too.  Trump voters are an important faction of the GOP.  In a crowded primary, he won about 45 percent of the primary vote.  John McCain won 46.7 percent of the primary vote in 2008, and McCain benefited from perhaps his strongest rival (Mitt Romney) dropping out partway through the campaign.  Facing a sustained #NeverMcCain movement, Senator McCain would have likely gotten even less of the primary vote in 2008 than Donald Trump in 2016.  Trump voters are not some fringe of the Republican party, so trying to purge them all would be a dismembering of the political right.

However, the #NeverTrump and #AlmostNeverTrump factions are an important part of the Republican coalition, too.  As recent polls have suggested, the GOP will have a hard time getting to a majority without at least some of those who have been resistant to Trump.  A Trumpian GOP that hopes to purge itself of all current Trump skeptics is one that has more of a future as a rump than a national party.

Whatever happens in November, both sides will have to be able to work together to help either gain or defend a governing majority.  If the personal divisions become too hardened, that cooperation will be extremely difficult to achieve.  Keeping the current squabble from turning into an undying blood-feud is, then, another reason why those who support, oppose, and are skeptical about Trump should emphasize the virtues of courtesy and intellectual charity (and, yes, those still are virtues).  Keeping divisions from becoming too rancorous also provides a reason why there's a place for some on the right to claim a neutral ground in intrafactional debates (Switzerland, as Hugh Hewitt has termed it).

If the right wants to renew itself, it will need to be able to handle broad debates, which in turn demand intellectual diversity and a tolerance for disagreement.  The right can have a place for both Mona Charen and Michelle Malkin, for both reformocons and the Wall Street Journal editorial board, and for both RedState and (The Journal of) American Greatness.  (I would add that National Review and The Weekly Standard also have a place at the conservative table, but that should be obvious!)*

*See sidebar.

(Crossposted at Praxis)

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Really Over?

It's a truism among some in the Beltway that the presidential race is already over; that the GOP had best stop supporting Donald Trump* and go about saving the downballot candidates stat.

However, it would certainly be historically unprecedented for any party to do this with such a comparatively close race.  It's true that Clinton had led Trump in the RCP average for most of 2016 (aside from a brief blimp after the RNC in Cleveland), which suggests that she has an advantage.  However, as of this writing, her advantage is only 2.4 points in a four-way race, and that advantage has been shrinking.  That's not an inconsiderable lead, but rarely before has a 2.4-point gap on Labor Day weekend been taken as a sure sign of presidential doom.

According to Gallup records of the 2000 election, George W. Bush led Al Gore by over 10 points as late as October 2000, but the Democratic party didn't immediately throw in the towel on Gore, who ended up winning the popular vote in 2000.  After Mitt Romney's convention bounce wore off, President Obama led him by between 3 and 4 points in the RCP average throughout much of September 2012.  Yet plenty of observers did not then believe that Governor Romney was fated for defeat.

Conversely, in 1996, the year many 2016-is-over proponents cite, Bill Clinton was absolutely hammering Bob Dole in Gallup polling.  Throughout most of the fall of 1996, Dole usually was at least 10 points behind Clinton in Gallup polls.  Often he was down between 15 and 20 points.  Gallup is not an outlier here; Pew also showed Clinton with a huge lead in the fall.  Senator Dole ended up closing the gap in the last week or so of the election (he eventually lost to President Clinton by 9 percent of the popular vote), but polling throughout much of the fall was far more brutal for Dole than it has been for Trump so far.  Senator Dole couldn't even break 40 percent in most Gallup and Pew polling.

Now, political dynamics have changed over the past twenty years, and it's possible that a 2-point lead is the new 15-point lead.  Donald Trump is also a somewhat unprecedented candidate.  And none of this means that Trump will win; the debates and how the third-party vote shakes out in particular could change the trajectory of the race.  Nevertheless, in recent political history, no party has given up on its presidential candidate over an almost margin-of-error shortfall in the national polls.  There might be other reasons to not support Donald Trump, but the assumption that the presidential race is already over isn't one of them.

*Not by replacing him on the ballot by someone else; instead, he would stay on the top of the ticket and the party would distance itself from him and cut off financial and logistical support.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Beyond Cronyism

Over at The Weekly Standard, I outline the Democratic alliance of corporatism of identity politics, the threat this alliance poses to the GOP, and what conservatives can do to respond:
Currently, corporatism and identity politics stand as two pillars of the Democratic presidential coalition. Corporate titans in Silicon Valley, Wall Street, and elsewhere—what demographer Joel Kotkin has termed the new "oligarch" caste—support the Democratic party in exchange for government subsidies and other privileges. The Affordable Care Act's passage relied upon an alliance of Democratic lawmakers and major health-care interests, Dodd-Frank has often ended up strengthening the hands of the nation's largest financial institutions, and many progressive "green" initiatives function as de facto corporate subsidies. When the Obama administration pursued financial penalties against major financial institutions in the aftermath of the 2008 meltdown, it gave them the option of lessening these penalties by donating to left-leaning activist groups such as La Raza. Moreover, many of those in big business are quite willing to promote left-wing social causes (on identity politics, sexual ethics, and so forth). As the past two elections have suggested, identity politics plus corporate cronyism can be a powerful coalition—at least on the presidential level...
Assuming the right wants to be more than a performance-art faction, it will need to think critically about rebuilding itself. Pandering to business interests is likely not one of the ways do to that. In the long term, America's corporations would be better off defending the principles of the free market rather than hoping to benefit from crony capitalism. Public-private corruption often delegitimizes the market in the public's eyes, and policies that allow the unscrupulous funneling of public wealth to major corporate stakeholders will also allow for the taking of wealth from these stakeholders. Thus, it would be best for business and the Republican party for the GOP to continue to defend the free market. Republicans have further electoral incentive to resist the corporate pander. Many acts of business pandering (such as increasing guest-worker programs) will divide the GOP and compromise its ability to reach out to the middle, and efforts to take social issues "off the table" by capitulating to the left will only alienate many social conservatives, who hold beliefs that are often more popular than another round of capital-gains tax cuts.
If the Democratic party is going to become the faction of corporatism, Republicans have every incentive to emphasize the anti-cronyist tendencies of conservatism. Rather than pandering to big business, the GOP could strengthen local communities and call for a diffusion of power. This does not mean attacking business, but it does require placing one's obligations to the American people above the demands of corporate lobbyists. The GOP would also have to address with forward-thinking policies the parts of the country where opportunity has stagnated, whether in former mill towns or inner cities. It would spend more time addressing the forces that drive populist energies.
Confronting these challenges might mean thinking beyond hoary verities. The business-oriented fiscal agenda of trade deals, entitlement reform, deregulation, and tax cuts—which some in the Beltway take to be the heart of conservatism—cannot by itself constitute an electoral core for the GOP. This agenda will have to evolve to confront the realities of the 21st century, and it will need to be part of a much broader narrative of politics, one that speaks to Americans as neighbors and parents, as flesh-and-blood human beings embedded in a broader culture—not just abstracted economic actors. Instead of the calculated divisions of identity politics, Republicans could champion a common public square.
Read the rest here.

Trump's Immigration Speech

Here's the text of Donald Trump's immigration speech.  I won't begin to calculate the political fall-out from Trump's remarks.

However, a few other points.  Trump shifted the focus of the speech from THE WALL and what to do with current illegal immigrants to look instead at broader issues, including what can be done to improve interior enforcement and how the legal immigration system should be reformed.

Whatever one thinks of Donald Trump, it's clear that our public discussion of immigration needs to get out of a fixation on a debate over "amnesty" into a multidimensional consideration of national immigration policy.  "What should we do with illegal immigrants?" cannot be the only point of discussion for immigration.  We also need to address important questions such as,

  • How can we help recent immigrants achieve upward mobility and integrate into American society?
  • How can our immigration system encourage opportunity for both natives and the foreign-born?
  • How can we reform our legal immigration system so that it strengthens families, communities, and the economy?

For too long, media narratives of immigration (as with other issues) have been held captive by hazy nostalgia and identity politics.  We need to break those chains in order to face the challenges of the present and better secure the blessings of liberty and justice.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The "Amnesty" Trap

As his campaign paves the way for some statement on immigration policy, Donald Trump appears on the verge of falling into a conventional trap on immigration: making the fate of current illegal immigrants the centerpiece of any immigration discussion.  The Democratic party and its media allies prefer to focus on what to do with the "undocumented" because this issue splits conservatives and obscures other areas of immigration policy that badly need reform.

As I've long argued, immigration policy is about much more than what to do with illegal immigrants, just as tax reform is about much more than what to do with people who owe back taxes.  It's also about much more than building THE WALL or whether or not we should have a so-called DEPORTATION FORCE.  The Trump campaign has a tendency to grope toward hot-button issues (and the status of illegal immigrants is certainly one of those), but its interests would be better served by focusing on other oft-ignored--but very important--policy issues, including:

  • The size and structure of our legal immigration system (by the way, the current legal immigration system makes the legalization of illegal immigrants much harder)
  • The size and structure of guest-worker programs
  • How to improve various mechanisms of interior enforcement, such as E-Verify
  • Efforts to encourage upward mobility and integration for recent immigrants

On many of these issues, the agenda of the far Left (and Hillary Clinton) is radically out of step with the American people, so the Trump campaign would benefit from framing the discussion about immigration on these terms.

The editors of National Review and others have suggested that Trump would be far better off arguing that the question of the status of long-term illegal immigrants would be better addressed once a reformed enforcement regime is up and running.

Of course, in order to make that alternative argument, the Trump campaign (including the candidate himself) will have to be willing to discuss policy details in depth.  The shiny bright-red button of media polarization will have to give way to sober deliberation, which might be less explosive but is also often more politically beneficial.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Leaving the Cocoon

In The Weekly Standard, I dig into what we can learn from Burke's "Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol," a sustained reflection on the importance of intellectual charity:
Identity politics cultivates "blindness of heart" by locking us in narrow categories, but it is not the only entity that might blind us to political realities and our deeper moral obligations. Burke retains skepticism about an ideological approach to politics. Government, he writes, is a "practical thing, made for the happiness of mankind, and not to furnish out a spectacle of uniformity to gratify the schemes of visionary politicians." Recent years have seen increasing public tensions in part because of a divergence of the "schemes of visionary politicians" and the actual desires of the people themselves. For instance, proponents of the European Union thought that their schemes of integration could go forward without a buy-in from the broader body politic. The success of Brexit, the increasing tensions of refugee politics throughout the continent, and the broader nationalist surge are in part due to the divergence of ideology and public will.
And looking forward, whatever the results here in the U.S. in November, conservatives and others would do well to remember these words by Burke: "to criminate and recriminate never yet was the road to reconciliation, in any difference amongst men." If it hopes to avoid an irreparable schism, the right will need to focus on diagnosis rather than castigation.
This loss of faith goes far beyond the electoral interests of the right, however. For those interested in warding off the risk of authoritarianism, re-establishing public trust in democratic institutions is a necessary enterprise. This trust does not mean uncritical obedience, but it does entail an essential faith in the pillars of our republic. Remove that faith, and you open the door to tyranny or at least turmoil. Much could be done to restore that faith, but a key part of this restoration involves the act of having a mutual exchange, of those in power rising to the challenges of the time and collaborating with—rather than looking down on—those they govern. The citizenry of a republic are not simply to be managed, nor are they to be viewed as mere vehicles for the realization of ideological imperatives. Instead, they are agents with their own wants, desires, and beliefs. A serious republican politics recognizes this fact.
In this piece, I build on arguments advanced by Peggy Noonan, Rod Dreher, and others that part of what afflicts our civic conversation is a cocooned leadership class that blindly places its faith in a rigid ideology and unleashes scorn on those who dare to dissent from it.  The knee-jerk response to call those who disagree with current policies bigots, whiners, takers, or some other slam is not healthy for those who hope to maintain a robust civic culture, which is a perquisite for a republic.

Burke says that one of the great tasks of government is listening.  Neither "you'll get nothing--and like it" nor "you rubes never had it so good" exemplify an open ear.  Instead, those in power and those who seek to counsel those in power need to listen to their fellow citizens, inquire into the facts, and advance in a spirit of charity and humility.

For the right, charity and humility will be especially important in the months and years ahead.  Whatever happens in November, there are clearly substantial differences of opinion on the right, and purges--whether pro- or anti-Trump--will likely only worsen the problems facing the right.  As Pete Spiliakos has noted, "purge the voters and prosper" is not a strategy for success in a democratic republic.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Disruption Ahead?

In NRO today, I dig into a new report by McKinsey that explores the consequences of economic disruption for Western political systems:
A recent report from the McKinsey Global Institute – “Poorer than Their Parents?” – suggests that greater instability may be on the horizon for the First World. The report outlines a broad stagnation in incomes across the industrialized world, which has strained government finances and could unsettle existing political consensuses. By raising doubts about the fiscal and political sustainability of current policies, it augurs increasing disruption in political systems across the world. 
The good news is that conservatives can meet the challenges of this economic sclerosis – and help secure themselves a governing coalition in the process.
McKinsey finds that, in much of the industrialized world, between 65 percent and 70 percent of households saw their market incomes (earnings from labor and capital) decline or stay flat between 2005 and 2014. Increased government transfers counteracted much of the decline, but about a quarter of all households still saw no income growth during this period – a marked departure from previous decades, when most households across the income spectrum saw at least some market-income growth.
Read the rest here.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Breaking the Media Narrative

In his speech in Charlotte, North Carolina today, Donald Trump continued to try to shift the media narrative of his candidacy.  In remarks in Wisconsin earlier this week, Trump emphasized reconciliation and national unity:
I will fight to ensure that every American is treated equally, protected equally, and honored equally. We will reject bigotry and hatred and oppression in all of its forms, and seek a new future of security, prosperity and opportunity – a future built on our common culture and values as one American people.
I am asking for your vote so I can be your champion in the White House. We will once again be a country of law and order, and a country of great success.
To every parent who dreams for their children, and to every child who dreams for their future, I say these words to you tonight: I’m with you, I will fight for you, and I will win for you.
Charlotte continued this theme.  He also apologized for some of his past remarks.  As Byron York noted, Charlotte represented a considerable break with many of Trump's past speeches.  This might represent a strategy on Trump's part to cast his candidacy as more inclusive, disciplined, and cooperative.

One can argue about whether this branding will be effective and whether it is too late to be effective.  But, if it's to have any hope of success, it will require incredible discipline in the coming days.  The branding of Trump as an angry bomb-thrower is set fairly deep.  The only way to reset this branding is to not give the media anything that could be construed as part of his old brand.    The media likes covering the circus and it likes Trump as the ringmaster.  It will do everything it can to keep him in the circus (and thereby help Hillary Clinton into the Oval Office).

With one crude off-the-cuff comment by Trump, the media will flood the zone.  A dismissive remark about another Republican--wall-to-wall "GOP in civil war" coverage.  With any slip, the media will be cackling over a failed "pivot."  If it wants this rebrand to be successful--from "I alone" to "we together"--Trump's campaign will have to be hyper-vigilant.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Toomey on Trade

In a big move today, Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey, who's facing a tough re-election battle against Democrat Katie McGinty, came out against the Trans-Pacific Partnership in an op-ed today.  Toomey opens this op-ed with a broad defense of international trade but then criticizes the specifics of TPP:
About 46,000 Pennsylvanians have jobs in the life science and pharmaceutical sector, making it one of our state’s largest industries. TPP will make it too easy for other countries to steal innovations that we create in Pennsylvania and take the jobs tied to those innovations.
Pennsylvania’s largest agricultural product is dairy, with about 7,000 dairy farms in the commonwealth. This sector depends heavily on exports, which means it’s critically important that trade agreements open foreign markets to our goods. Unfortunately, TPP has failed to do this meaningfully, particularly with respect to the protectionist Canadian market.
I have brought these and other problems to the attention of the Obama trade negotiators, but regrettably, they have failed to address them. As it now stands, TPP is not a good deal for Pennsylvania. I cannot support it.
A good trade deal can open up new markets across the globe and help turn around our weak economy. We must not abandon trade. Politicians in both parties who demagogue trade do a disservice to our people, playing on their economic fears, instead of promoting their economic well-being. But we should not pass a flawed deal just to get a deal done. We should dump the TPP and return to the negotiating table to get an agreement that would create jobs and economic growth here at home.
Leaving aside the debate about whether support for "free trade" is necessarily a bedrock conservative principle, it's worth noting that Toomey is still defending the overall idea of "free trade" while arguing that TPP does not live up to those ideals.  Toomey's op-ed thus represents one way that even defenders of "free trade" can make some concessions to "free trade"-skeptics in the electorate.

Toomey's shift has some interesting implications for the Pennsylvania Senate race as a whole. Katie McGinty has opposed TPP and other trade deals in a very strident way--and had slammed Toomey for his prior openness to TPP.  Toomey's opposition to TPP weakens those attacks.

Recent moves by President Obama to defend TPP further complicate the electoral dynamic. Politico recently reported that the administration is stepping up its pro-TPP efforts:
Administration officials including Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Agriculture Undersecretary Alexis Taylor are touting the deal across the country in meetings with business and agricultural leaders in a bid to generate positive local headlines. Lew met with Fortune 500 executives in Minneapolis earlier this month, while Taylor will promote the deal in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, at the National Corn Growers Association grass-roots leaders’ summit.
Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, meanwhile, appeared Aug. 3 with Democratic Rep. Jim Costa, one of 28 Democrats who supported fast-track authority last year, talking about how the administration is responding to the water crisis in his drought-stricken Central California district. Later that day, she was in Rep. Susan Davis’ San Diego district, touring a guitar factory with the trade-supporting Democrat. The next day, she stood alongside Colorado Rep. Jared Polis, another Democratic supporter of fast-track authority, shaking hands with startup entrepreneurs among his increasingly tech-centric, liberal constituency.
In Pennsylvania, the Obama administration is now on the opposite side of TPP compared to both the Republican and Democratic Senate nominees.  This puts McGinty in an uncomfortable situation.

Over and over again, the McGinty campaign has hammered Toomey on trade.  For instance, here's what McGinty had to say about Toomey's record on trade:
“Despite the fact that bad trade deals have devastated thousands of Pennsylvania families, Pat Toomey continues to support trade agreements like the TPP that will cost us tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs.
“Pat Toomey never remembers that he’s supposed to work for middle class Pennsylvania families, not Wall Street profits. He should change course and put our families first, before his allegiance to high finance, bad trade deals, and his former Chinese bosses.”
In another statement, McGinty further lambasted Toomey on trade:
“Families are working as hard as they can work,” said Katie McGinty. “People are working two and three jobs and they still can’t make those ends meet. This is about showing Senator Pat Toomey: it is time to reverse course. We are joining together here today to ask Senator Toomey to stop voting against the American worker.
“We’re here to tell Senator Toomey that we need somebody who’s going to fight for our jobs, for our companies, for our families. Stop pushing these bad trade deals that push our jobs overseas. And stop sticking up for the Chinese, who don’t follow the rules, at the expense of our hardworking women and men, and our companies, who are being left behind."
McGinty seems to view TPP as terrible policy, and yet Barack Obama, a fellow Democrat, is campaigning heavily for TPP.  And McGinty isn't trying to distance herself from President Obama: he's at the very top of her endorsement page.

So Katie McGinty has spent all this time attacking Pat Toomey for supporting TPP, even though he now opposes it, while allying herself to Barack Obama, who defends it.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Finding the Middle Ground

One of the key debates of the present moment is the role of the nation-state.  Two recent pieces suggest that there's a way of reconciling the nation-state with a proactive role in international affairs.

The first is by James Poulos, who argues that we don't have to choose between "nationalism" and "globalism":
It was the Cold War that first made this clear. Right-wing critics of the patriotic internationalist vision of William F. Buckley and his allies saw deep and insidious costs to the U.S. defining itself as the great all-or-nothing adversary of worldwide communism. Beyond the evident risks and burdens, they saw the Cold War as one more step down the road that changed the U.S. from a national republic to a global quasi-empire, one whose unaccountable, cosmopolitan regime would inevitably infect every aspect of life here at home, not just in the far-flung imperium.
Fatally, that change wouldn't defeat the progressive left, but rather give it untrammeled power in the homeland. After all, it was Woodrow Wilson who first proposed that American nationalism demanded globalism — a doctrine designed to fundamentally transform America into an all-but-anti-nationalist country, a proving ground and laboratory for the global regime envisioned by the post-Wilsonian progressive elite.
To be sure, for Buckley and Co., there was a risk that elements of the left could push such an agenda. But there was a certainty that neither radical globalism nor reactionary nationalism were acceptable doctrines — because neither squared with the dual identity that has always been in America's cultural and political DNA. For traditional mainstream conservatives, American exceptionalism is defined as much by our nationality as by our unique and indispensable role in the world — however its contours and character may be colored over time.
The second is by Andrew A. Michta.  Michta notes some of the broader disruptive tendencies currently working their way through Western political systems.  Many advocates of globalization have also called for a transnationalism, but an anti-transnationalist backlash seems to be building.  Contrary to the assumptions of some transnationalists, Michta argues that the nation-state actually helps reinforce the broader global order:
Notwithstanding the many volumes written on the alleged arrival of a post-Westphalian era, globalization and the persistence of strong nation-states are in fact not contradictory: The former defines the current stage of capitalist development, while the latter is the territorial political unit that organizes land and population. The past three decades have been marked not only by the opening of national markets but also by fierce competition between nation-states. If anything, strong states ensure the stability that is critical to the smooth functioning of the global market, and perhaps here the globalists and the nationalists could actually find room to compromise. Yet part of the problem is that our elites seem unable to divorce the idea of nationalism from the historical narrative of fascism. Though seemingly counterintuitive, this accounts for their inability to recognize that the current wave could in fact be a positive restorative force reasserting the unity of Western democratic nations, provided we begin to seek a genuine consensus on the importance of common reference points in society. To do so would invalidate the most established and often cherished narratives about the direction of global change that envision and celebrate a world in which nation-states continue to surrender sovereignty to international norm-enforcing institutions and supranational projects. Simply put, the vision of a postmodern Europe in particular, as defined over the past three decades, cannot be reconciled with the experience of 21st-century nationalism, for the former envisions societies where national identities rooted in a shared culture and history are replaced by a generic concept of citizenship bridging between multiethnic and multicultural societal enclaves. A compromise would require some affirmation of a larger national culture, and most importantly a movement away from ethnic group politics in order to arrest the centrifugal forces that have balkanized Western societies for decades.
The point he makes about the role of national fellowship as a way of countering "ethnic group politics" is especially worth considering.

Friday, August 12, 2016

I Alone

At least some of the source for Donald Trump's struggles on the campaign trail can be traced to this line from his convention address: "I alone can fix" the problems facing the country.

Leaving aside the ideological implications of this line, it reveals the tendency of the Trump campaign to fixate on the persona of the candidate.  In its media strategy, the campaign often seems to have the goal not be pounding home some policy message or rallying the troops for races up and down the ticket but instead grabbing headlines for Donald Trump.  Over this past week, for instance, rather than focusing on the economic policy laid out in Detroit, he instead has pivoted to throwing rhetorical bombs.  As Rich Lowry noted the other day in Politico, Trump has been following a strategy of personality-driven media saturation that could help a media figure solidify a brand--but might be less helpful in actually winning an election.

In the primary campaign, the strategy of personality-driven media saturation probably helped Trump.  It gave his campaign media oxygen, and Trump's combative personality help him gain the support of Republicans alienated by the party establishment.  However, now that he's the Republican nominee, getting coverage is not nearly as important; he's guaranteed that coverage by virtue of his position.  Of course what he says will be covered--he's a major-party nominee!  What's more important now for the campaign is that this coverage advances his long-term electoral interest.

One only has to look at recent political polls to see that this flood-the-zone media strategy has not been effective.  In fact, a personality-driven campaign plays in many ways into the hands of Hillary Clinton.  Secretary Clinton is running on an extremely left-wing platform, and her personal reputation is marred by scandals.  The last thing she wants to do is talk policy or have the spotlight be on her.  Her favorability ratings are low, but they are often higher than Donald Trump's.  In many ways, the more Donald Trump makes this election about him alone, the better it is for Hillary Clinton.

Moreover, bomb-throwing makes it harder to coordinate with other Republican candidates, who fear associating themselves too much with an unstable campaign.  As a result, Trump often finds himself running an isolated campaign, which might work in a primary but is much more problematic in the general election.  Contrary to the myths of President Obama and other apologists for presidential absolutism, the president alone can't pass major legislation.  There's this thing called Congress that actually has to do that.  Without strong support on Congress, a President Trump agenda would not have much hope.

Media messaging is far from the only challenge facing the Trump campaign right now, but it does highlight some of the broader structural challenges facing the campaign: a lack of discipline, a fixation on crude dominance, and a confusion of notoriety with electability.

In a democratic republic, I alone gets you only so far.  American electoral politics are a team sport--especially at the level of a presidential campaign.  Often, it's not in a candidate's best interest to grab headlines (and it's often not in the president's interest, either).  A presidential candidate needs surrogates to help reinforce a policy message.  He or she needs the trust of party members running in down-ticket races.  A presidential campaign just can't be about celebrating the strengths of a candidate or the perfidy of his or her enemies; it instead also has to talk about the needs, aspirations, and possibilities of the nation as a whole.  People might tune into to a TV channel to watch a controversial figure, but they very likely won't vote for him for president.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Not So Free

A recent story by Bloomberg casts light on some of the distortions of the current trade system.  U.S. aluminum producers are under increased economic pressures caused by falling aluminum prices.  The People's Republic of China has recently been increasing output, flooding the global market and lowering aluminum prices.  American manufacturers, among others, have been squeezed by this market shift.

Bloomberg focuses on the travails of Century, one of the last major American manufacturers of aluminum:
Century, with three plants in the U.S. and one in Iceland, has about 1,778 employees, some 25 percent fewer than in 2014. Hawesville, which at its peak produced 252,000 tons annually and employed 750, has dropped to a staff of 300 and cut capacity by 60 percent.
However, it might be premature to chalk this shrinking employment up to "free trade."  American producers have argued that the Chinese government heavily subsidizes its domestic aluminum manufacturers.  These subsidies mean that these companies can afford to produce aluminum for much less.  Maybe that artificially "cheap" aluminum is good for the global market or not, but its price has not been determined by free-market capitalism.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Moving Beyond the Paralysis

Three pieces this week intertwine to present a picture of the broader challenges facing the political right at the moment: Matthew Sheffield's important study of the conservative media, Peggy Noonan's Wall Street Journal column about the Trump campaign, and this New York Times story on the future of reform conservatism.  All three touch on the crisis of paralysis facing the Republican party.

Many have focused on Sheffield's broader argument that conservatives should not confuse the reach of the right-leaning media with that of the media in general.  However, he also notes that there is a gap between some standard Republican policies and the appetites of the broader public:
More center-right media outlets could also have been able to detect that the GOP’s economically libertarian message has little to no popularity among average Americans. Since these journalistic structures did not exist, however, the popularity of Donald Trump’s abandonment of that orthodoxy took the Republican elite completely by surprise. It shouldn’t have.
Sheffield argues that support for globalization, more tax-cuts for upper-income-earners, bad-faith open borders, cuts to Social Security, and other policies have minimal support with the public, including much of the Republican base.  Some of those policies might be good ideas, but unpopular proposals can't form the policy foundation for a political party that hopes to be successful in a democratic republic. Running on ending capital-gains taxes, increasing the number of guest-worker programs, cutting Social Security, and cheerleading TPP does not seem a likely route to Republican electoral rejuvenation.

This brings us to Peggy Noonan's perceptive column in the Wall Street Journal.  The first part of this column analyzes some of Trump's recent missteps.  But the end of it examines some of the blind-spots within the GOP as a whole:
From what I’ve seen there has been zero reflection on the part of Republican leaders on how much the base’s views differ from theirs and what to do about it. The GOP is not at all refiguring its stands. The only signs of life I see are among young staffers on Capitol Hill, who understand their bosses’ stands have been rebuked and are quietly debating among themselves what policy paths will win the future.
Beyond that, anti-Trump Republicans treat his voters like immoral enablers of a malignant boob. Should Mr. Trump lose decisively in November they’ll lord it over everyone, say “I told you so,” and accept what they imagine will be forelock-tugging apologies. Then they will get to work burying not only Mr. Trump but his issues.
That’s where the future of the GOP will be fought, and found: on whether Trumpism can be defeated along with Mr. Trump.
Noonan here touches on a broader tendency of the GOP in this electoral cycle: its surprising paralysis.  Rather than adapting to the rise of Donald Trump, many of his rivals (with the possible exceptions of Ted Cruz and Rick Santorum)* simply hoped that Trump would flame out on his own.  One of them would be the last candidate standing in the "non-Trump" lane, and he would cruise to victory over The Donald.  That obviously did not happen.

One of the things that prevented an anti-Trump alternative from rising either inside or outside the GOP is the fact that the easiest way to defeat Trump would have been taking on some of his issues--on trade, immigration, entitlements, and so forth.  But taking on these issues might have involved compromising and moving on from some of the current conventional verities of the Beltway. It would not necessarily have involved abandoning all the tenets of movement conservatism, but it would have required some imagination and a willingness to address some populist concerns. Thus, paralysis took the place of a proactive policy evolution.

Some perhaps hope that Donald Trump is simply a sui generis, black-swan phenomenon; in that case, conservatism could switch back to its regular programming after a Trump defeat in November (if, that is, Clinton does win in November).  However, there is no reason to believe that the populist forces that elevated Trump will simply disappear on November 9.  And it would be a grievous mistake indeed to think that the proper response to Trump's rise is more of the same (perhaps with an extra pinch of transnationalism and more identity-politics pandering).  A broader paralysis on policy has hampered the GOP's quest for a governing presidential majority and threatens the prospects of limited-government conservatism in the 21st century.

One possible way out of this paralysis has been advanced by reform conservatives.  The New York Times today notes how "reformocons" hope that the dis-Trumption gives an opening to new ideas about how conservatives can adapt to the present and govern.  The Times outlines some key ideas supported by some reformocons:
• Reject additional tax cuts for those making more than $250,000 a year, but expand breaks for low- and middle-income workers through tax credits for children, the earned-income tax credit or a new wage subsidy using tax dollars to bring low wages toward the local median level.
• Promote the benefits of global trade agreements, but help displaced workers.

• Rule out privatizing Social Security and Medicare, and reassure workers they will be exempt from cost-cutting.

• Acknowledge that the Affordable Care Act is here to stay, but push for market-oriented changes.

• Disavow mass deportations and promote the economic benefits of legalizing longtime workers who are in the country illegally, but reduce the legal entry of less-skilled immigrants.
Whether or not one agrees with all these proposals, they do perhaps begin to address some of the concerns of those voters who have elevated Trump.

Many voices have been calling for the GOP and conservatism to embrace the spirit of intellectual adventure and inquiry--to escape the deadening paralysis that has proven harmful for both Republicans and the nation as a whole.  As these three stories indicate, those calls have become more pressing than ever.



*Cruz adapted his policies somewhat to the populist currents, and Santorum has been talking about blue-collar issues longer than many of his Republican colleagues.

(Crossposted at Praxis)