Sunday, May 8, 2016

The Conservative Case Against Trump. By Ross Douthat.

The Conservative Case Against Trump. By Ross Douthat. New York Times, May 7, 2016.


THERE are many lessons that conservatives need to learn from the rise of Donald Trump. There are elements of his message that the party should embrace. There are grievances among his voters that the Republican Party must address.

But for conservatives to support Trump himself, to assist in his election as president of the United States, would be a terrible mistake.

It would be a particularly stark mistake for conservatives who feel that the basic Reaganite vision that’s dominated their party for decades — a fusion of social conservatism, free-market economics, and a hawkish internationalism — still gets things mostly right.

In large ways and small, Trump has consistently arrayed himself against this vision. True, he paid lip service to certain Reaganite ideas during the primaries — claiming to be pro-life, promising a supply-side tax cut, pledging to appoint conservative judges. But the core of his message was protectionist and nativist, comfortable with an expansive welfare state, bored with religious conservatism, and dismissive of the commitments that constitute the post-Cold War Pax Americana. And Trump’s policy forays since clinching the nomination have only confirmed his post-Reagan orientation.

Reaganite conservatives who help elevate Trump to the presidency, then, would be sleepwalking toward a kind of ideological suicide. Successful party leaders often transform parties in their image. William Jennings Bryan and Woodrow Wilson between them turned a conservative Democratic Party progressive. Dwight Eisenhower all but extinguished G.O.P. isolationism. Reagan himself set liberal Republicanism on the path to extinction.

A successful President Trump (and to support him is to hope for such a thing) could easily do the same to Reaganism. In a fully-Trumpized G.O.P., Reagan’s ideological coalition would crack up, with hawks drifting toward the Democrats, supply-siders fading into crankery, religious conservatives entering semi-permanent exile. And in its place a Trumpized Republican intelligentsia would arise, with as little interest in Reaganism as today’s conservatives have in the ideas of Nelson Rockefeller or Jacob Javits.

The things conservatives are telling themselves to justify supporting him — at least he might appoint good judges — miss this long-term point. The Reagan coalition might — might! — get an acceptable Supreme Court appointment out of the Trump presidency. But that could easily be the last thing it ever got.

But what if you’re a conservative who isn’t a Reaganite, or you believe that Reaganite ideas have long passed their sell-by dates? What if you agree with Trump about the folly of the Iraq War, the perils of open immigration policies, or the need for a different right-wing economic agenda? What if you think his populism might bring about some necessary creative destruction to a backward-looking G.O.P.?

Then supporting Trump for president could make ideological sense, and the crackup I’ve just described might seem like an advertisement for doing so.

But there still remains the problem of Trump himself. Even if you find things to appreciate in Trumpism — as I have, and still do — the man who has raised those issues is still unfit for an office as awesomely powerful as the presidency of the United States.

His unfitness starts with basic issues of temperament. It encompasses the race-baiting, the conspiracy theorizing, the flirtations with violence, and the pathological lying that have been his campaign-trail stock in trade.

But above all it is Trump’s authoritarianism that makes him unfit for the presidency — his stated admiration for Putin and the Chinese Politburo, his promise to use the power of the presidency against private enterprises, the casual threats he and his surrogates toss off against party donors, military officers, the press, the speaker of the House, and more.

All presidents are tempted by the powers of the office, and congressional abdication has only increased that temptation’s pull. President Obama’s power grabs are part of a bipartisan pattern of Caesarism, one that will likely continue apace under Hillary Clinton.

But far more than Obama or Hillary or George W. Bush, Trump is actively campaigning as a Caesarist, making his contempt for constitutional norms and political niceties a selling point. And given his mix of proud ignorance and immense self-regard, there is no reason to believe that any of this is just an act.

Trump would not be an American Mussolini; even our sclerotic institutions would resist him more effectively than that. But he could test them as no modern president has tested them before — and with them, the health of our economy, the civil peace of our society and the stability of an increasingly perilous world.

In sum: It would be possible to justify support for Trump if he merely promised a period of chaos for conservatism. But to support Trump for the presidency is to invite chaos upon the republic and the world. No policy goal, no court appointment, can justify such recklessness.

To Trumpism’s appeal, to Trump’s constituents, conservatives should listen and answer “yes,” or “maybe,” or “not that, but how about…”

But to Trump himself, there is no patriotic answer except “no.”

The Defeat of True Conservatism. By Ross Douthat.

The Defeat of True Conservatism. By Ross Douthat. New York Times, May 3, 2016.

True True Conservatism. By Andrew C. McCarthy. National Review Online, May 4, 2016.


When Donald Trump knocked first Jeb Bush and then Marco Rubio out of the Republican primary campaign, he defeated not only the candidates themselves but their common theory of what the G.O.P. should be — the idea that the party could essentially recreate George W. Bush’s political program with slightly different domestic policy ideas and recreate Bush’s political majority as well.

Now, after knocking Ted Cruz out of the race with a sweeping win in Indiana, Trump has beaten a second theory of where the G.O.P. needs to go from here: a theory you might call True Conservatism.

True Conservatism likes to portray itself as part of an unbroken tradition running back through Ronald Reagan to Barry Goldwater and the Founding Fathers. It has roots in that past, but it’s also a much more recent phenomenon, conceived in the same spirit as Bushism 2.0 but with the opposite intent.

If Bushism 2.0 looked at George W. Bush’s peaks — his post-Sept. 11 popularity, his 2004 majority — and saw a model worth recovering, True Conservatism looked at his administration’s collapse and argued that it proved that he had been far too liberal, and that all his “compassionate conservative” heresies had led the Republican Party into a ditch.

Thus True Conservatism’s determination to avoid both anything that savored of big government and anything that smacked of compromise. Where Bush had been softhearted, True Conservatism would be sternly Ayn Randian; where Bush had been free-spending, True Conservatism would be austere; where Bush had taken working-class Americans off the tax rolls, True Conservatism would put them back on — for their own good. And above all, where Bush had sometimes reached for the center, True Conservatism would stand on principle, fight hard, and win.

This philosophy found champions on talk radio, it shaped the Tea Party’s zeal, it influenced Paul Ryan’s budgets, it infused Mitt Romney’s “You built that” rhetoric. But it was only in the government shutdown of 2013 that it found its real standard-bearer: Ted Cruz.

And Cruz ended up running with it further than most people thought possible. His 2016 campaign strategy was simple: Wherever the party’s most ideological voters were, there he would be. If Obama was for it, he would be against it. Where conservatives were angry, he would channel their anger. Where they wanted a fighter; he would be a fighter. Wherever the party’s activists were gathered, on whatever issue — social or economic, immigration or the flat tax — he would be standing by their side. He would win Iowa, the South, his native Texas, the Mountain West. They wanted Reagan, or at least a fantasy version of Reagan? He would give it to them.

It didn’t work — but the truth is it almost did. In the days before and after the Wisconsin primary, with delegate accumulation going his way and the polling looking plausible once the Northeastern primaries were over, it seemed like Cruz could reasonably hope for a nomination on the second or third ballot.

So give the Texas senator some credit. He took evangelical votes from Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson and Rick Santorum; he took libertarian votes from Rand Paul; he outlasted and outplayed Marco Rubio; he earned support from Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush and Lindsey Graham, who once joked about his murder. Nobody worked harder; no campaign ran a tighter ship; no candidate was more disciplined.

But it turned out that Republican voters didn’t want True Conservatism any more than they wanted Bushism 2.0. Maybe they would have wanted it from a candidate with more charisma and charm and less dogged unlikability. But the entire Trump phenomenon suggests otherwise, and Trump as the presumptive nominee is basically a long proof against the True Conservative theory of the Republican Party.

Trump proved that movement conservative ideas and litmus tests don’t really have any purchase on millions of Republican voters. Again and again, Cruz and the other G.O.P. candidates stressed that Trump wasn’t really a conservative; they listed his heresies, cataloged his deviations, dug up his barely buried liberal past. No doubt this case resonated with many Republicans. But not with nearly enough of them to make Cruz the nominee.

Trump proved that many evangelical voters, supposedly the heart of a True Conservative coalition, are actually not really values voters or religious conservatives after all, and that the less frequently evangelicals go to church, the more likely they are to vote for a philandering sybarite instead of a pastor’s son. Cruz would probably be on his way to the Republican nomination if he had simply carried the Deep South. But unless voters were in church every Sunday, Trump’s identity politics had more appeal than Cruz’s theological-political correctness.

Trump proved that many of the party’s moderates and establishmentarians hate the thought of a True Conservative nominee even more than they fear handing the nomination to a proto-fascist grotesque with zero political experience and poor impulse control. That goes for the prominent politicians who refused to endorse Cruz, the prominent donors who sat on their hands once the field narrowed and all the moderate-Republican voters in blue states who turned out to be #NeverCruz first and #NeverTrump less so or even not at all.

Finally, Trump proved that many professional True Conservatives, many of the same people who flayed RINOs and demanded purity throughout the Obama era, were actually just playing a convenient part. From Fox News’ 10 p.m. hour to talk radio to the ranks of lesser pundits, a long list of people who should have been all-in for Cruz on ideological grounds either flirted with Trump, affected neutrality or threw down their cloaks for the Donald to stomp over to the nomination. Cruz thought he would have a movement behind him, but part of that movement was actually a racket, and Trumpistas were simply better marks.

Cruz will be back, no doubt. He’s young, he’s indefatigable, and he can claim — and will claim, on the 2020 hustings — that True Conservatism has as yet been left untried. But that will be a half-truth; it isn’t being tried this year because the Republican Party’s voters have rejected him and it, as they rejected another tour for Bushism when they declined to back Rubio and Jeb.

What remains, then, is Trumpism. Which is also, in its lurching, sometimes insightful, often wicked way, a theory of what kind of party the Republicans should become, and one that a plurality of Republicans have now actually voted to embrace.

Whatever reckoning awaits the G.O.P. and conservatism after 2016 will have to begin with that brute fact. Where the reckoning goes from there — well, now is a time for pundit humility, so your guess is probably as good as mine.

The Problem with Trump as CEO of America: Government Is Not a Business. By Fareed Zakaria.

A display of Donald Trump-branded products at a press conference after his March 8 Florida Primary victory. Reuters/Joe Skipper.

The problem with Trump as CEO of America: Government is not a business. By Fareed Zakaria. Washington Post, May 5, 2016.


At the heart of Donald Trump’s appeal is his fame as a successful businessman. It’s why most of his supporters don’t worry about his political views or his crude rhetoric and behavior. He’s a great chief executive and will get things done. No one believes this more than Trump himself, who argues that his prowess in the commercial world amply prepares him for the presidency. “In fact I think in many ways building a great business is actually harder,” he told GQ last year.

There is some debate about Trump’s record as a businessman. He inherited a considerable fortune from his father and, by someaccounts, would be wealthier today if he had simply invested in a stock index fund. His greatest skill has been to play a successful businessman on his television show “The Apprentice.”

Regardless, it is fair to say that Trump has formidable skills in marketing. He has been able to create a brand around his name like few others. The real problem is that these talents might prove largely irrelevant because commerce is quite different from government. The modern presidents who achieved the most — Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan — had virtually no commercial background. Some who did, George W. Bush and Herbert Hoover, fared worse in the White House. There is no clear pattern. One of the few successful CEOs who did well in Washington is Robert Rubin. A former head of Goldman Sachs, he served as the chief White House aide on economics and then treasury secretary in Bill Clinton’s administration. When he left Washington, he reflected inhis memoirs that he had developed “a deep respect for the differences between the public and private sectors.”

“In business, the single, overriding purpose is to make a profit,” he wrote. “Government, on the other hand, deals with a vast number of legitimate and often potentially competing objectives — for example, energy production versus environmental protection, or safety regulations versus productivity. This complexity of goals brings a corresponding complexity of process.”

He then noted that a big difference between the two realms is that no political leader, not even the president, has the kind of authority every corporate chief does. CEOs can hire and fire based on performance, pay bonuses to incentivize their subordinates, and promote capable people aggressively. By contrast, Rubin pointed out that he had the authority to hire and fire fewer than 100 of the 160,000 people who worked under him at the Treasury Department. Even the president has limited authority and mostly has to persuade rather than command.

This is a feature, not a flaw, of American democracy. Power is checked, balanced and counterbalanced to ensure that no one branch is too powerful and that individual liberty can flourish. It is no accident that Trump admires Vladimir Putin, who doesn’t have to deal with the complications of modern democratic government and can simply get things done.

In interviews with the New York Times, Trump imagined his first 100 days in office: He would summon congressional leaders to lobster dinners at Mar-a-Lago, threaten CEOs in negotiations at the White House (“The Oval Office would be an amazing place [from which] to negotiate”) and make great deals. When talking about the positions he would fill, Trump explained, “I want people in those jobs who care about winning. The U.N. isn’t doing anything to end the big conflicts in the world, so you need an ambassador who would win by really shaking up the U.N.”

This displays an astonishing lack of understanding about the world. The United Nations can’t end conflicts because it has no power. That rests with sovereign governments (unless Trump wants to cede U.S. authority to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon). The notion that all it would take is a strong U.S. ambassador to shake up the U.N., end conflicts and “win” is utterly removed from reality. Yet it is a perfect example of business thinking applied in a completely alien context.

Success in business is important, honorable and deeply admirable. But it requires a particular set of skills that are often very different from those that produce success in government. As Walter Lippmann wrote in 1930 about Herbert Hoover, possibly the most admired business leader of his age, “It is true, of course, that a politician who is ignorant of business, law, and engineering will move in a closed circle of jobs and unrealities. ... [But the] popular notion that administering a government is like administering a private corporation, that it is just business, or housekeeping, or engineering, is a misunderstanding. The political art deals with matters peculiar to politics, with a complex of material circumstances, of historic deposit, of human passion, for which the problems of business or engineering as such do not provide an analogy.”

General James Mattis: The Middle East at an Inflection Point.

The Middle East at an Inflection Point with Gen. Mattis. Video. CSIS, April 22, 2016. YouTube.