by John H. Horst
Republican Candidate, California’s 52nd Congressional District
Donald Trump is a lot of things. But one thing he isn’t – and I imagine he would agree – is a student of political philosophy. He has been too busy making deals and building businesses to gaze at his political navel and wonder whether he is a Conservative, Liberal, Progressive, Libertarian – what have you.
To the extent that one has allowed themselves to be swallowed up by the bubbles of today’s political parties, this might seem disqualifying. But to the extent that one is able to step out of the partisan bubbles and just be present with ordinary people in the electorate, it is possible to at least begin to make sense of Trump’s success at the primary polls.
In the early 1980’s a similar shake-up happened. Relatively conservative Democrats like my parents watched in dismay as their party abandoned its principles of equal opportunity in favor of equal outcomes and otherwise lurched hard to the left. People like my parents did not so much leave the Democrat party as the party left them. Ronald Reagan captured their imagination, and they changed their party affiliation in droves; political history calls them “Reagan Democrats.”
What is happening today is different, but only slightly. Republican voters are defecting in droves from the party’s leadership and “affiliating” with Trump. What is glaringly missing from the discussion among Republicans is a consideration of why. Here are a few suggestions:
The Republican Party has morphed from being the conservative champion of the wealth creator into the corporatist ally of the rent-seeker. It is quite likely many in party leadership are unfamiliar with the term ‘economic rent’ – and therefore are whistling songs of supposed ‘conservatism’ past their own political graveyard. Conservatism seeks to protect those who are actually adding wealth to the economy from burdensome regulation and interference. Corporatism seeks to protect preferred corporations by allowing their lobbyists to write legislation and regulations which tilt the playing field in their favor. Profits enjoyed by way of this political activity – instead of by actually improving things people want to buy – represent the extraction of ‘economic rent’, not the creation of new wealth.
This shift began immediately after the last financial crisis. In the first vote on the bailouts, true conservatives got it right by rejecting the legislation. The next day the Dow Jones Industrial Average sank some 700+ points, which to anyone with a sense of history and a grasp of basic mathematics represented the bursting of a bubble and a ‘reversion to the mean’. Wall Street howled about the loss of massive amounts of ‘wealth’ – which was no such thing. What happened was the inevitable collapse of a pyramid scheme of rent extraction. But not knowing the difference, the “conservatives” in Congress sold their birthright for a mess of corporatist pottage. Wall Street has, in turn, become one huge rent extracting casino, with the real world of wealth creators left to the scraps and without a champion.
The reason Republican voters are not leaving the Republican party as the Democrats did in the 1980 presidential election season is because there is nothing any different there to join. The exact same corporatism is best seen in the videos where MIT economist Jon Gruber chortles about how the Affordable Care Act was crafted around the stupidity of the American voter. One lesson here is that corporatism comes in both Republican and Democrat flavors. But the more important lesson is that corporatism is not conservatism, no matter how hard Congress’ corporate clients try to make it look like it is. The voters innately get this even if they can’t explain it in philosophical terms. They can explain it at the ballot box, though, and they are doing just that in voting for Trump.
So for having lost touch with their own voters, the Republican establishment is busy digging their own graves by desperately scheming ways to stop Trump’s charge to the nomination. There are a few things to realize, and then a few things to do about this.
Starting with what to do: Stop whining and start listening to the voters. At this point, with Trump largely winning Super Tuesday, there is no stopping Trump without completely destroying what is left of the Republican Party.
From there, we must question some basic assumptions. If Trump – being a businessman and entirely new to the philosophical side of politics – does not measure up to the orthodox definition of ‘conservative’ the first thing we must do is ask how that orthodoxy differs from corporatism. I’ll suggest here that it doesn’t, and hasn’t since the financial crisis. The task, then, is to recover the original sense – which revolves around the actual creation of wealth – of what it means to be conservative.
Then we need to ask why it is the title ‘standard bearer’ for a party must be attributed to the president when the sitting president is a member of that party. It is precisely because Trump is coming from outside the philosophical part of the world of politics that I would not consider a President Trump to be the ‘standard bearer’ for the Republican Party. That mantle would rightly go to Paul Ryan as Speaker of the House. And that, then, presents what is possibly the greatest opportunity in a Trump presidency – the recovery of the proper role of the Congress in our constitutional form of government.
Trump has said he wants to do a lot of things that offend our sensibilities. The only way, however, he can succeed in this is to continue down this road of powers properly belonging to Congress gravitating to the Executive. A Trump presidency could possibly be the best thing that has happened to our constitutional form of government in our lifetime: it would force the Congress to actually grow a backbone and reassert its proper prerogatives under the Constitution. Voters appear to like the idea of a president not necessarily beholden to his own party (which explains the “Bern” felt on the left). But this will also mean Congress is not beholden to the president! Imagine that – a Congress beholden first to its oath to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States!
Conservatives need not worry nor whine. There is a lot to be excited about this year. To think that a Trump nomination would be a validation of the offensive things he is saying would gravely misjudge the electorate – which would certainly be no surprise coming from today’s Beltway Bubble Media. A Trump election would be foremost a rejection of the progressive/corporatist ethos which disregards any boundaries to government power, using it to enforce an unelectable ideology by way of cultural speech codes, regulatory overreach and preference for the rent-seeker over the wealth creator. The degree to which Trump is seen in this progressive/corporatist light merely corresponds to the size of the opportunity to renew the conservative preference for the wealth creator and commitment to our constitutional form of government.
The size of that opportunity is YUUUGE!