Wednesday, March 02, 2016

What to do with nominee Trump

Contemplating Trump’s delegate lead--the fact that he’s won 2/3 of the state contests so far, that he performs best in states where the voters skew moderate and the South is largely spent already--I can only come to one conclusion: It’s hard to see a scenario under which Trump is not the GOP nominee at this point.   

This puts me squarely in the position of having to choose between Trump and Hillary, exactly where I told Mike I’d hope never to be.   So now, I’m going to have to do more than reflexively throw up in my mouth at the sound of his name, I’m actually going to have to contemplate if the good outweighs the bad of a Trump candidacy.

Believe it or not, I’ve felt right along there are a lot of things I’ve liked about the Trump candidacy.   They can be summarized as follows:

  • Moderates the party on social policy
  • Moderates the party on trade policy (maintaining the flexibility to be hawkish on trade policy is a key starting point for any negotiation—and he understands “positioning” and the process of negotiations better than most)
  • Wants to be a foreign policy realist and not a neoconservative (I say “wants to” b/c all we have to go on in are his inclinations; he doesn’t seem to actually know enough yet to BE a realist)
  • Is willing to pursue goals that he feels are worthwhile regardless of political convention
  • Is willing to speak to the cultural sensitivities of the silent majority: e.g., it’s OK to have a Christmas tree up in your town square in Kansas without the Supreme Court pissing in your cornflakes
  • Expressly reaches out to, and bridges, the divide between the GOP and working class voters, offering the possibility of a positive political realignment for the country, and a move away from perpetual class warfare between the parties

The negatives of Trump we’ve gone over too many times to restate, but the most pertinent are his lack of accountability and transparency, past organizational/business failures, lack of personal ethics and overreliance on litigation, his “might makes right” philosophy that is fundamentally dangerous when married to the power of the Oval Office, willingness to send dog whistles to the most bigoted and xenophobic extremes of the populace, and his personal crudeness and the reshaping of our political discourse that he has brought about.

Now, it has to be said, I’m believer in rules, a believer in process and systems, and Trump is winning under the rules of the game as they were laid out.

It also has to be stated that I believe it is in the national interest for the GOP and it’s governing principles to win.  As a result, my starting point has to be support for the party nominee, regardless of whether it’s my first choice.   I’ve never been a believer in “taking my ball and going home” just to prove a point.  So absent some grave and serious reasons, I would support Trump.

Of course, there could be grave and serious reasons.   I have every reason to believe he will be the most corrupt, self-dealing President of our lifetime, because that’s how he’s carried out every other endeavor in his life.   But we’ve had various degrees of institutionalized corruption inside our government for decades, and in that sense Trump is just more obvious about it, than truly new.

Where Trump could set this country back, irrevocably, is with entitlement spending and tax policy.   In the past he’s advocated a wealth tax and hiking tax rates on upper income workers.   If a Dem president suggested these policies, the GOP would oppose it to the gates of hell.   A Republican president who was willing to offer these policies, however, would have an almost limitless ability to move forward.  He merely needs to co-opt a third of his caucus to do so, and most Presidents carry far more weight than that in their own party.  Entitlement spending already stands to bankrupt the country, and with his admiration for single-payer health care, the pace of our fiscal destruction could ramp up considerably under his watch. 

The second way he stands to irreparably damage the country is the destruction of the GOP, both its ideological compass (policy), and its PR image.   There’s no doubt that a large majority of the country finds him repugnant, based on his fave/unfave polling.   That doesn’t mean he can’t get elected, but it does mean that people will be voting for him for reasons that have nothing to do with liking or admiring the man.  How will he wear on these people over his 4 or 8 year stint in the national spotlight?  How does that impact the viaibility of the GOP in the future?  Let’s envision a few different scenarios.

Good case: he improves the GOP’s prospects by reaching out to new voters.  He keeps rule-of-law republicans from walking away by maintaining some engagement in the process of politics, and forgoes ruling by edict/executive prerogative.   He makes a truce with ideological conservatives, who think he’s a fraud, but can live with him b/c he’s at least better than the Dems, and seems to be maintaining a governing coalition.

Bad case: he gets elected but is a failure.   Despite promising to Make American Great Again it turns out he can’t.   He is unable to turn “make it great” into a cogent set of policies, or where he can turn them into policies, finds that he is so divisive that he can’t get anything enacted into law.   He operates primarily through executive action and bureaucratic rulemaking, but his policies produce little actual gain to the masses.   The economy is not fundamentally reordered.   Growth continues on its current track, as one would expect (that is, low, and on pace with our slow growth in productivity and population).  Trade wars with China and other developing economies lead to price increases for the US consumer without a commensurate increase in wages.    Things turn out to suck about the same.   All those people who were new to the GOP are turned off and go away, just like the 20-something Obama voters of 2008.  But in the process, the GOP has given up its claim to the high ground on originalism, rule of law, adherence to the constitution, reducing the overall size of government, and fiscal stability.

Worser case: The bad case scenario, but tack onto it an egomaniacal insistence on getting his way, so brash steps are taken that are legally crazy.  For instance, the nullification of Congressional legislation or judicial rulings.   Or something that’s crazy from a foreign policy perspective, like invading northern Mexico to extort payment for his wall (#NoLosing).     

Because he’s all about the “No PC talk” and “straight talk,” Trump follows through on his campaign promises regarding deportations.  He has armed swat teams, if not the military, rounding up 12 million illegals.  The internet is awash in cell phone pics and videos of senior citizens and small children being marched off at gunpoint, etc.    

Newly empowered white nationalist groups resort to “protest marches” against affirmative action, “loose” immigration quotas, and other policies that are objectionable to them.  Some of these “protests” mutate into violent mobs assaulting minorities.   Trump winks it away as “a local law enforcement matter,” and legitimizes the groups by saying their objections need to be heard. 
The compounding effect of all this crazy becomes the property of the GOP, ensuring decades of election fodder for Dems.  "Trump" and "Republican" become terms so toxic, that it makes Jimmy Carter look like a good guy to be affiliated with.

Now these good, bad, and worser cases all seem plausible to me.   That’s why I’m absolutely frozen in place trying to figure out if I need to take a moral stand, such as this #NeverTrump movement.  Could a sizeable group of Republicans who are on the record, contra-Trump, give the party something to fall back on?  Something to at least point to in the post-Trump world to say, "this was the true remnant."   To claim institutional consistency.  

Or should I presume he’ll be practical and not crazy, cling to best case thinking, and hope he could actually be an effective leader, in spite of all the personal behavior that seems to indicate otherwise.  



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Always sniffing for the truth

Always sniffing for the truth

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