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“Will Trump Go Away If He Loses?”: You Cannot Keep The Baby Without The Bathwater

A very interesting argument has broken out over an unusual political question: If Donald Trump loses in November, can he be pushed aside while Republicans find ways to appeal to his core supporters?

Party gadfly David Frum seems to assume Trump will go away quietly:

[O]nce safely excluded from the presidency, Donald Trump will no longer matter. His voters, however, will. There is no conservative future without them.

Frum, to his credit, was warning Republicans for years that the GOP’s indifference to the actual views of its actual voters on the economy and immigration would eventually become a critical problem. He was right. So he has some credibility in seeking to craft a policy agenda and message that scratches the itch Trump scratched with so much excessive force.

But that doesn’t mean Trump won’t have anything to say about it.

Jeet Heer isn’t a Republican but makes a good point in responding to Frum that you cannot keep the baby without the bathwater when it comes to Trump’s fans:

[W]ill Trump really cease to matter in November? After all, no human being loves the spotlight more, and he’s chased after media attention since he was a young man. Being the nominee of a major party is a dream job for him, because it means people will hang on his every word. Even if he loses badly in November, Trump will likely cling to his status as the strangest “party elder” ever—and convert it into new, attention-grabbing and lucrative projects.

Fortunately for Republicans, the old tradition of referring to the immediate past presidential nominee as the “titular head” of the party has fallen into disuse. But presidential nominees rarely just go away. Perhaps the most self-atomizing recent major-party nominee was Democrat Michael Dukakis. But his demise after 1988 was not strictly attributable to his loss of what most Democrats considered a winnable general-election race against George H.W. Bush; his last two years as governor of Massachusetts also made a terrible mockery of his claims of an economic and fiscal “miracle.” And, besides, nobody thought of Dukakis as ideologically distinctive or as leading any sort of political “movement.”

The bottom line is that the same media tactics that improbably made Trump a viable presidential candidate in the first place will help him stay relevant even after a general-election loss, unless (a) it is of catastrophic dimensions and (b) cannot be blamed on tepid party Establishment support for the nominee.

If Trump loses so badly that he does indeed become irrelevant, then people like Frum will have another problem: competing with those who want to dismiss the whole Trump phenomenon as a freak event with no real implications for the Republican future. And yes, such people will be thick on the ground, attributing the loss to Trump’s abandonment of strict conservative orthodoxy on the very issues Frum thinks were responsible for the GOP alienation of its white working-class base from the get-go. There will be show trials and witch hunts aimed not just at Donald Trump and his most conspicuous supporters and enablers, but also at people like Frum — and more broadly, the Reformicon tribe of which he is often regarded as a key member — who think Trump was revealing important shortcomings of the orthodoxy many others will be trying to restore.

So, ironically, and even tragically, #NeverTrumper David Frum may discover that Trump will not only still be around, but could wind up on his side of the intra-party barricades.


By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, July 6, 2016

July 7, 2016 Posted by | Conservatives, Donald Trump, Establishment Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“In A Better Position To Rebuild”: Should The GOP Establishment Be Rooting For Cruz To Lose In November?

Last week I argued the true nightmare scenario for Republican elites was a Donald Trump general election victory that would place an alien figure in the White House and give Democrats a heaven-sent opportunity for a big comeback sooner rather than later. Peter Beinart now persuasively argues that the best the GOP may be able to make of a bad situation is for Trump to lose to Cruz, who in turn will lose to Clinton, who in turn will lose to a revived mainstream GOP in 2020.

Beinart’s point of departure is that if Trump beats Cruz in Cleveland and then predictably goes down the tubes in November, the Texan will be in a fine position to inherit the nomination in 2020 as the guy who will finally show what a “true conservative” can do. If Cruz wins in Cleveland, though, he’ll discredit the longstanding belief of the Right that offering a “choice not an echo” is the path to party  victory.

[A] Cruz defeat at the hands of Clinton this November leaves the GOP in a better position to rebuild than a Trump loss to Clinton does. By conventional standards, Trump isn’t all that conservative. That means, if Trump loses this fall, conservative purists can again make the argument they made after John McCain and Mitt Romney lost: The GOP needs to nominate a true believer. And they’ll have such a true believer waiting in the wings as the early front-runner in 2020: Ted Cruz. After all, losing the nomination to Trump would put Cruz in second place, and the GOP has a history of giving second-place finishers the nomination the next time around (Bob Dole, McCain, Romney). Plus, after building the best grassroots network of all the 2016 candidates, Cruz—who’ll be barely 50 years old in four years—would enter 2020 with a big organizational edge. Thus, the GOP would remain at the mercy of its extreme base.

[A] Cruz loss in November would undercut the right’s argument against choosing a more moderate nominee. To be sure, some grassroots conservatives would find a way to rationalize Cruz’s defeat and preserve their belief that a right-wing ideologue can win. But more pragmatic conservatives would be confirmed in their belief that the next GOP nominee must reach out to Millennials, Latinos, and single women, and offer more to working-class Americans than just less taxation and regulation. A Cruz general-election defeat would strengthen the “Reformicons” who are trying to reform the GOP in some of the ways New Democrats reformed their party in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

I’d add to Beinart’s argument, of course, that a Clinton victory in November would set up mainstream Republicans—under the congressional leadership of their not-so-secret favorite Paul Ryan, for a very good midterm election in 2018, showing once against that “pragmatic” conservatism is the ticket to ride. Clinton, meanwhile, having already broken the glass ceiling by becoming the first woman to serve as president, would be ripe for defeat in 2020 as America tired of twelve straight years of Democrats in the White House.

Would GOP elites trade this complex scenario for a Paul Ryan or Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio presidential nomination this year? In a heartbeat.  But that’s no longer on the table.  Ted Cruz is a known quantity who could dispose of the more alarming and unpredictable Donald Trump in Cleveland and then discredit hard-core conservatives without unduly damaging the ticket down-ballot. The remote chance he could actually win is a contingency the GOP can deal with on down the road.


By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, April 14, 2016

April 15, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Establishment Republicans, GOP Primaries, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Contest Of Anti-Tax Purity”: The Fight For The Soul Of The Republican Party Is Over: The Rich Won Again

It was just eight months ago that a New York Times Magazine profile giddily described the rise of “a small band of reform conservatives, sometimes called reformicons, who believe the health of the G.O.P. hinges on jettisoning its age-old doctrine — orgiastic tax-cutting, the slashing of government programs, the championing of Wall Street — and using an altogether different vocabulary, backed by specific proposals, that will reconnect the party to middle-class and low-income voters.”

After the Republican Party had turned itself into a machine committed relentlessly to the singular goal of cutting taxes for the rich, the reformicons seemed to be poised to take control of the party’s intellectual apparatus.

The reformicons always assumed they could bypass Congress and focus all their attention on developing an innovative platform for a presidential candidate. (This was a shaky plan to begin with, as a prospective Republican president would need to sign something passed by Congress.) But as the Republican candidates have formulated their early platforms, the party’s center of gravity, rather than jettisoning its hoary policy of orgiastic tax-cutting, has instead continued and even deepened its fervor.

The Republican Party’s determination to cut taxes for the rich was never rooted in electoral calculation. (Indeed, this has always been a handicap for the party to overcome.) It arose from the fact that extremely powerful forces within the party, including but not limited to its funders, believed in it as a matter of ideology as well as self-interest. The plutocrats initially held back in the face of the reformicon movement, perhaps unaccustomed to facing any challenge within the party, which for decades has treated their doctrine as holy writ revealed to the world by Reagan himself.

They were never going to yield control of the party without a fight. The disintegration of campaign-finance restrictions has given the funding class greater leverage over the nomination, and as the presidential field has formed its domestic-policy platforms, its influence has been evident. Jeb Bush is wooing the fanatically anti-tax Club for Growth. Scott Walker has firmly allied himself with the party’s most unreconstructed supply-siders. Rand Paul is promising “the largest tax cut in American history.” Ted Cruz is, well, Ted Cruz. The Republican primary has turned into a contest of anti-tax purity. “We’ve got maybe an embarrassment of riches here in that we’ve never been able to support somebody before, and now we may get overwhelmed with people we think are worthy of support,” gloats recently departed Club for Growth president Chris Chocola.

Nowhere is the triumph of the supply-siders more evident than in the progress of Marco Rubio and Mike Lee. Rubio and Lee are the paradigmatic spokesmen for the reformicon platform — Lee as an ideas pitchman, Rubio as a candidate.

Last year, Rubio and Lee unveiled a tax-reform plan that their allies touted as a manifesto of reform conservatism, positioning the Republican Party on the side of hard-press working families rather than the rich. Lee’s plan “actually help[s] middle-class families rather than mostly cut taxes on the investor class,” gushed Ross Douthat, one of the most fervent and optimistic advocates of the reform-conservative faction.

Eventually, the Tax Policy Center crunched the numbers on Lee’s plan and found that it did nothing of the sort. Its provisions to benefit hard-pressed low-income workers turned out to be wildly oversold. Brookings economist Isabel Sawhill concluded, “very few if any low income families with children would benefit from the plan.” And, far from being the “tax reform” it claimed to be, Rubio and Lee had merely constructed a gigantic tax-cut plan that would reduce federal revenue by $2.4 trillion over a decade, a larger tax cut than George W. Bush passed in 2001. What’s more, the Lee-Rubio plan lavished far more benefits on the rich. The average earner in the lowest income quintile would save on average $79 a year, or 0.5 percent of her income, from the plan. An earner in the second-lowest quintile, the heart of the working class, would save $338 a year, or one percent of her income. The top one percent earner would see its income boosted by 2.8 percent on average, or more than $40,000 a year. The plan was simply a reprise of Bush-era debt-financed regressive tax cuts.

Reform conservatives took the setback in stride. Perhaps this was just an oversight or a mild computational error. Douthat hopefully suggested that Rubio and Lee would take a second pass at the issue and rectify the problem:

The liberal response to the Lee plan’s disappointing score, from Chait and others, has been to suggest that it illustrates the continuing unrealism of G.O.P. proposals. But notably, Lee himself didn’t respond by, say, denouncing TPC and insisting that some version of dynamic scoring would make the deficit numbers come out right; he responded by announcing that he was partnering with Marco Rubio (cough, 2016, cough) to develop a revised family-friendly proposal.

And, indeed, Rubio and Lee have come out with a revised version of their plan. But it didn’t get better. It got much, much, much worse. The new Rubio-Lee plan keeps most of its old structure, with its stingy treatment of low-income workers. It layers on top of that two changes: a far more generous treatment of business income, and a complete elimination of all taxes on capital gains and dividends. [Update: The plan would also, unbelievably, completely eliminate the tax on inherited estates, which for a married couple only begins to apply to inheritances above $10 million.] Both of these new features would lavish massive additional tax cuts on the rich, in addition to those already in the original version. The new Rubio-Lee plan would surpass anything George W. Bush or Mitt Romney ever proposed to do in its ambitions to relieve the richest Americans of their tax burdens.

Perhaps the fullest measure of the supply-siders’ triumph can be seen in the acquiescence of many of the reformicons themselves. Ramesh Ponnuru and Yuval Levin, both reform conservatives featured prominently in the Times story, responded to the new Lee-Rubio plan with fawning praise. James Pethokoukis, a reformist conservative, calls the plan “a big step toward persuading middle-income America that Republicans care about more than just the richest 1 percent.” (If this is a big step toward persuading America that Republicans care about more than the rich, what would the next step be? Legalizing servant-flogging?)

Perhaps the reform conservatives have capitulated completely in the name of party unity. Or maybe they were misunderstood from the beginning and never proposed to deviate in any substantive way from the traditional platform of massively regressive, debt-financed tax-cutting. Either way, the movement has, for now, accomplished less than nothing.


By: Jonathan Chait, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, March 5, 2015

March 9, 2015 Posted by | Middle Class, Plutocrats, Tax Cuts | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Populism Is As Much A Problem As Plutocracy”: Mike Huckabee Is Not The Cure For What Ails The GOP

It’s become conventional wisdom among a certain segment of political pundits and conservative intellectuals — especially the so-called Reformicons — that the GOP has a plutocracy problem. Too many high-end tax cuts, too much indifference to the struggles of working-class voters, too many denunciations of the mooching ways of the American people — all of it adds up to a party that looks out of touch and overly beholden to the concerns of wealthy donors at the expense of everyone else.

The solution, supposedly, is populism — Republican candidates who can speak the language and understand the problems of ordinary voters.

Until recently, no one fixing to run for the White House in 2016 looked likely to do so as a populist. But that may have changed over this past weekend, when Mike Huckabee quit his television show on Fox News as a possible first step toward throwing his hat into the ring.

You’d think that the prospect of a Huckabee candidacy would cause the party’s populists to swoon. After all, Huckabee is a folksy Southern evangelical Christian, a bass-playing two-term governor, and an ordained Southern Baptist minister who won eight states (including Iowa) the last time he ran for president in 2008. And that was before he raised his profile with a nationally syndicated radio program and a TV show on the right’s premier cable channel.

And yet the Huckabee news this past Saturday produced the opposite of excitement. Mainstream conservatives mocked the prospect of his candidacy on Twitter, while reformers who’ve been pining for a populist have been muted.

The question is why.

And the answer, I think, is that on some level smart Republicans understand that populism is as much a problem for the party as plutocracy.

Yes, Mitt Romney’s tendency to toady to superrich donors and entrepreneurs — coming on the heels of George W. Bush’s high-end tax cuts — certainly saddled the GOP with a plutocratic image problem. But what about its tendency to flatter culturally alienated middle-class Americans by dismissing evolutionary biology, by mocking professors and “experts” of all kinds, and by pandering to the prejudices of a certain kind of ill-informed, reactionary religious believer?

The fact is that the Republican Party has long since become a bizarre only-in-America hybrid of fat cats and rednecks.

Deep down Republicans know that while a Huckabee candidacy might help address the image problems associated with the first half of that equation, he’d make those wrapped up with the second half far worse.

Consider some of Huckabee’s public statements in recent years:

Praising the work of a hack historian lionized by Know Nothing evangelicals, Huckabee declared in 2011, “I almost wish that…all Americans would be forced, at gunpoint, to listen to every David Barton message.” (Thank goodness for that “almost”!)

Responding to the Sandy Hook school massacre of 2012, Huckabee suggested that schools had become “place[s] of carnage” because “we have systematically removed God from our schools.”

Last winter, Huckabee stated in a speech (not unscripted remarks) that “if the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government, then so be it.”

Huckabee’s latest book, slated to appear on Jan. 20, is titled God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy.

That, my friends, is what right-wing American populism sounds like in the second decade of the 21st century. It is the irritable mental gesture of a provincial (rural or exurban) white America that can’t tell the difference between cultural signaling and a cogent argument. And it treats the details of public policy as an afterthought or a matter of indifference.

Would-be Republican reformers can look for a better vehicle than Mike Huckabee for the populism they favor, but they’re unlikely to find one. Huckabee — or someone like him — is the only game in town.

The authentic reform of the GOP — its refashioning into a genuinely national party — requires more than the shedding of its plutocratic image. It also requires that the party’s leading lights give up on their impossible populist dreams.


By: Damon Linker, The Week, January 6, 2014

January 7, 2015 Posted by | GOP, Mike Huckabee, Populism | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Two Different Fantasies”: The Coming Conservative Tax Cut Deficits Will Make Bush’s Look Puny

For going on a year now, a group of reform-minded conservatives has been gently coaxing more pious coreligionists into supporting a tax reform plan that would violate the first commandment of supply-side economic theory.

In a broad sense, the two groups share similar goals. Both want to distribute income upward. The difference is that reformicons would like to limit the amount of upward redistribution to preserve some significant spoils for middle-class workers with children. They’ve rallied behind legislation, drafted by Senator Mike Lee (a Tea Party favorite from Utah) that would lower the top marginal tax rate only modestlyfrom about 40 to 35while creating generous new tax credits for families with kids. The supply siders, as you probably guessed, want to ply those spoils into even larger rate cuts for the wealthy. The poor are left almost entirely out of the equation.

Under normal circumstances, the two camps would resolve a policy dispute like this by splitting the baby (the proverbial one; not the human one that comes with a generous tax-subsidy). But as supply-side stalwart Congressman Paul Ryan explained recently, asking rate-cutters like him to check their rate-cutting ambitions would be like asking Lance Armstrong to share his “secret sauce” with mid-tier racersnot much help for them, at the expense of his competitive edge. And on the flip side, the reformicons can’t yield too much to the supply siders, because at some point the political payoff (more money for the middle class) would disappear along with the whatever supposed incentive the credits would create for people to start families.

Enter Ramesh Ponnuru, a high-profile reformicon, with a plan to win Ryan over using clever spin. Just pretend the Lee plan’s child tax subsidies are comparable to tax cuts for investors, except the investors here are parents rescuing the country from a bleak demographic future, and the tax cuts are actually new tax expenditures.

“You can’t draw up a realistic budget with a top tax rate of 25 percent and a large child credit,” Ponnuru writes for Bloomberg. “(You might not be able to draw up a realistic budget with a top rate of 25 percent even without the credit.) You probably can, however, draw up one with a lower top rate than we have today and better treatment for investment including parents’ investment in the next generation. Because that mix of policies would leave many millions of middle-class families ahead, it may well be easier to enact than a plan that concentrates solely on reducing the top rate. Supply-siders, that is, might achieve more of the rate reduction they seek if they embrace the credit.”

This is another way of saying that the politics of the Lee plan are vastly more appealing than the politics of the Ryan plan. The tax blueprint in Ryan’s budget is such a political disaster that it would likelier die in committee than become law in some less radical form, leaving Ryan with no rate reduction at all. Under the circumstances, he’d be better off settling for less-severe rate cuts and plying some of the projected deficits into the pockets of the middle class.

That’s absolutely true. But for supply-sider zeal, it would settle the argument under the prevailing terms. Yet those terms omit something fundamental to both plans: deficits. Neither party to the conversation has used the word deficit even once. And when you introduce the idea that both of these plansnot just Ryan’sare deficit-financed (or financed with implicit tax increases on the poor and middle classes) it becomes hard to fathom why a tug of war between the reformicons and the supply-siders is necessary at all.

Lee offsets his tax cuts by eliminating and reducing a swath of tax expenditures. Nevertheless, they would increase deficits $2.4 trillion over ten years. Ryan’s plan would probably increase them by twice as much (before offsets, which he’s never specified). There isn’t a point along the connecting line where this trespasses into fantasy. These are just two different fantasies. Under the circumstances, the smart play isn’t for the reformicons to out-debate the supply siders, or to negotiate with them, but to buy them off. Give Ryan a big rate cut. Keep the middle-class child subsidies. Don’t bother paying for either, in full.

This, as Ponnuru sort of implies, would be deeply irresponsible. But it would enjoy the dual benefits of papering over the rift and solving the GOP’s miser problem, in much the same way that George W. Bush solved his regressivity problem in 2001 by cutting everyone’s taxes (the wealthy merely got a hefty bonus tax cut).

Instead Lee is teaming up with Senator Marco Rubio to narrow the $2.4 trillion shortfall. Perhaps they’ll succeed. But they’ll also have widened the conservative rift, leaving them a plan that’s intended to forge an alliance between the ruling and working classes, but does less for the former than the supply siders and less for the latter than Democrats. Actually legislating will almost certainly require surrendering to one faction or the other.


By: Brian Beutler, The New Republic, August 26, 2014

August 27, 2014 Posted by | Deficits, GOP, Tax Reform | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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