Saturday, June 24, 2017
Trump Is What Happens When a Political Party Abandons Ideas
Reagan advisor Bruce Bartlett says "[Trump is what happens when a political party abandons ideas](http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/06/24/intellectual-conservatives-lost-republican-trump-215259), demonizes intellectuals, degrades politics and simply pursues power for the sake of power." > Trump has turned out to be far, far worse than I imagined. He has instituted policies so right wing they make Ronald Reagan, for whom I worked, look like a liberal Democrat. He has appointed staff people far to the right of the Republican mainstream in many positions, and they are instituting policies that are frighteningly extreme. Environmental Protection Administration Administrator Scott Pruitt proudly denies the existence of climate change, and is doing his best to implement every item Big Oil has had on its wish list since the agency was established by Richard Nixon. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is actively hostile to the very concept of public education and is doing her best to abolish it. Every day, Attorney General Jeff Sessions institutes some new policy to take incarceration and law enforcement back to the Dark Ages. Trump’s proposed budget would eviscerate the social safety net for the sole purpose of giving huge tax cuts to the ultrawealthy. > And if those policies weren’t enough, conservatives—who, after all, believe in liberty and a system of checks and balances to restrain the government to its proper role—have plenty of reason to be upset by those actions Trump has taken that transcend our traditional right-left ideological divide. He’s voiced not only skepticism of NATO, but outright hostility to it. He’s pulled America back from its role as an international advocate for human rights. He’s attacked the notion of an independent judiciary. He personally intervened to request the FBI to ease up on its investigation of a former adviser of his, then fired FBI Director James Comey and freely admitted he did so to alleviate the pressure he felt from Comey’s investigation. For those conservatives who were tempted to embrace a “wait-and-see” approach to Trump, what they’ve seen, time and again, is almost unimaginable. He describes the history of the GOP after Goldwater as becoming more inclusive, intellectual and policy minded in the late 70s and under Reagan and Bush Sr. Then... > Republicans took control of Congress in 1994 after nationalizing the election into broad themes and catchphrases. Newt Gingrich, the marshal of these efforts, even released a list of words Republican candidates should use to glorify themselves (common sense, prosperity, empower) and hammer their opponents (liberal, pathetic, traitors); soon, every Republican in Congress spoke the same language, using words carefully run through focus groups by Republican pollster Frank Luntz. Budgets for House committees were cut, bleeding away policy experts, and GOP committee chairs were selected based on loyalty to the party and how much money they could raise. Gone were the days when members were incentivized to speak with nuance, or hone a policy expertise (especially as committee chairs could now serve for only six years). In power, Republicans decided they didn’t need any more research or analysis; they had their agenda, and just needed to get it enacted. Only a Democratic president stood in their way, and so 100 percent of Republicans’ efforts went into attempting to oust or weaken Bill Clinton and, when that failed, elect a Republican president who would do nothing but sign into law bills passed by the GOP Congress. > President George W. Bush didn’t realize he was supposed to just be a passive bill-signing machine; he kept insisting that Republicans enact his priorities, which, often, were not very conservative—No Child Left Behind Act, steel tariffs, a tax cut with few supply-side elements. His worst transgression, for me, was the budget-busting Medicare Part D legislation, which massively expanded the welfare state and the national debt, yet was enthusiastically supported by a great many House conservatives, including Congressman Paul Ryan, who had claimed to hold office for the purpose of abolishing entitlement programs. Republican hypocrisy on the issue caused me to become estranged from my party. > In the 14 years since then, I have watched from the sidelines as Republican policy analysis and research have virtually disappeared altogether, replaced with sound bites and talking points. The Heritage Foundation morphed into Heritage Action for America, ceasing to do any real research and losing all its best policy experts as it transformed from an august center whose focus was the study and development of public policy into one devoted mainly to amplifying political campaign slogans. Talk radio and Fox News, where no idea too complicated for a mind with a sixth-grade education is ever heard, became the tail wagging the conservative dog. Conservative magazines like National Review, which once boasted world-class intellectuals such as James Burnham and Russell Kirk among its columnists, jumped on the bandwagon, dumbing itself down to appeal to the common man, who is deemed to be the font of all wisdom. (For example, the magazine abandoned the ecumenical approach to immigration of Reagan, who granted amnesty to undocumentedimmigrants in 1986, to a rigid anti-immigrant policy largely indistinguishable from the one Trump ran on.) > One real-world result of the lobotomizing of conservative intellectualism is that when forced to produce a replacement for Obamacare—something Republican leaders had sworn they had in their pocket for eight years—there was nothing. Not just no legislation—no workable concept that adhered to the many promises Republicans had made, like coverage for pre-existing conditions and the assurance that nobody would lose their coverage. You’d think that House Speaker Ryan could have found a staff slot for one person to be working on an actual Obamacare replacement all these years, just in case. He sees a future path > Conservatives are starting to accept that Trump is not the leader they had hoped for and is more of a liability for their agenda than an asset. They are also starting to recognize that their intellectual infrastructure is badly damaged, in need of repair, and that the GOP and intellectual conservatism are not interchangeable. The Heritage Foundation recently fired its president, former Senator Jim DeMint, in part because he had allowed its research capabilities to deteriorate. The journal National Affairs aspires to be the serious, conservative policy-oriented journal that The Public Interest was. And some leaders, like Bill Kristol, have courageously stood up against the GOP’s pervasive Trumpism (“I look forward to the day when American conservatism regains its moral health and political sanity, and the David Horowitz center is back on the fringe, where I’m afraid it belongs,” Kristol recently told the Washington Post). > These are small steps, and promising—you have to start somewhere, after all—but what conservative intellectuals really need for a full-blown revival is a crushing Republican defeat—Goldwater plus Watergate rolled into one. A defeat so massive there can be no doubt about the message it sends that Trumpian populism and anti-intellectualism are no path to conservative policy success. In the meantime, there are hopeful signs that the long-dormant moderate wing of the GOP is coming alive again. In Kansas, Trumpian Governor Sam Brownback was recently rebuked when a Republican-controlled Legislature overrode his veto to raise taxes after the cuts previously enacted by Brownback proved disastrous to the state’s finances. And although their efforts have been modest thus far, moderate Republicans in Congress have helped soften Republican initiatives on health, the budget and gays.