Here’s something by Jim Geraghty of the National Review:
Let me offer a thought that every conservative should contemplate, even though it’s one we would rather avoid: What if the American people don’t want smaller government that spends less?
This is where we usually hear talk about how small-government conservatives need “better messaging.” Or someone will insist that there’s a broad desire for a smaller government that spends less, but those Washington insiders and establishment sold out the conservative agenda. But what if Americans have heard the arguments for smaller government, understand the arguments — or understand them as well as they’re ever going to — and have rejected them?
Does a country where the popular vote in the last six elections went for Clinton, Clinton, Gore, Bush, Obama and Obama really crave smaller government?
Polling indicates that 70 percent want a smaller deficit . . . but the only spending cut that gets anywhere near a majority support is to foreign aid — about one percent of the budget — and even that’s close to an even split. “For 18 of 19 programs tested, majorities want either to increase spending or maintain it at current levels.” People want smaller government right up until the point where it actually affects them.
The current Republican front-runner is running against entitlement reform:
Trump opposes any cuts to Social Security and Medicare — and Medicaid, for that matter. In April, at the New Hampshire Republican Leadership Summit, Trump criticized his fellow Republicans for proposing reforms of the entitlement programs that are bankrupting the country: “Every Republican wants to do a big number on Social Security, they want to do it on Medicare, they want to do it on Medicaid. And we can’t do that.” Medicare and Social Security alone face more than $69.1 trillion in unfunded liabilities, but Trump insists that the programs can be saved without cuts. “All these other people want to cut the hell out of it,” Trump said of Social Security. “I’m not going to cut it at all. I’m going to bring money in, and we’re going to save it.
1. It’s meaningless to talk about public opinion on “big government.” The public doesn’t even understand what the term means. You might think that big government means Social Security, Medicare, tariffs on Chinese goods, etc., but I assure you that this is now how Americans view the concept. And since their views on taxes and spending are impossible to meet, in a very real sense they have no opinion. Or you could say that their opinions could never be enacted, so politicians might just as well ignore them, and instead consider how the public would react to various options that the policymakers are actually contemplating. That’s where public opinion matters.
2. To a libertarian like me, conservatism that discards the “small government” component represents 100% pure unadulterated evil. But it would make life much simpler. I could simply go with the liberal tribe, and no more lame explanations that “I’m conservative on economics and liberal on other issues.” In my view, Trump is running on a platform of pure evil.
3. It’s common for the policy preferences of candidates to not add up. But I’ve never seen a gap anywhere near as large as with Trump. His statement that he’s going to “bring money in” is almost comically at variance with his tax plan, which basically says “no one should have to pay any taxes“, or at least something pretty close to that. Since he also favors much more government spending, his plan would bankrupt the country far faster than the plans of Bush, Rubio, etc. So it’s a nonstarter, which means we basically don’t know anything about what a President Trump would actually do. Probably the best way to try to figure that out would be to look at what he said before he was a candidate. I recall he praised Hillary, and thus suspect a President Trump would be essentially an even more macho version of President Hillary Clinton. Or even Obama. Obviously I may be wrong, but whatever he does, it clearly won’t be the issues he’s campaigning on. He won’t expel the illegals (who would pick the fruits and vegetables?) or stop imports from China.
4. The support for Trump is partly due to the tendency of GOP leaders in Congress to cave on spending issues. They are viewed as “pussies”. Trump avoids that problem by promising to be a big spender. Seriously, where does his support come from? It comes from those who want to turn the GOP into a European populist party—big government plus xenophobia and macho behavior. Sarah Palin (who once nearly came to be one heartbeat from the Presidency) says Trump won’t “pussyfoot” around. But we have a two party system, which is why I continue to predict failure for the GOP in 2016. The Dems can rally around utilitarianism, and politely disagree on whether to follow the Clinton or Sanders versions, whereas the GOP can’t even agree on core values. Eventually this will sort itself out; in a two party system the two parties always take turns over the longer run. But the “against utilitarianism” party has a really difficult time right now, especially given that many of its brightest members are approximately right wing utilitarians (at least on economics.) Geraghty may think that Americans have turned away from small government, but a sizable bloc of the GOP most certainly has not. A GOP that got rid of the small government faction would have little ability to attract talented people like Greg Mankiw. (He’s already implied that Trump has a quasi-fascist approach to politics, and I’d guess that’s a pretty serious negative in Mankiw’s eyes.) Recall the recent election where Le Pen came in second in the first round of voting, and lost the general election 75% to 25%. It wouldn’t be that bad here (Le Pen had to run against the moderate right) but they’d have a hard time getting to 50%. It’s OK to have a party that’s toxic to intellectuals, and gets 20% to 30% of the vote . . . in Europe. That’s a pretty successful party in a multi-party democracy. But in the US two party system that won’t work. The GOP has a lot of work ahead of it.
5. Someone will have to put Humpty Dumpty back together again in 2017. I suspect that Paul Ryan will become the de facto leader of the GOP at that time. It will be interesting to see what he tries to do with the remnants of the party (which might well still control the House.)
6. You could argue that Ted Cruz is a small government version of Trump, and also a very skilled debater. If in the end Cruz is not able to beat Trump, it wouldn’t necessarily mean GOP voters like big government, but it would at least suggest the issue is not very high on their radar screen.
7. Just to be clear, I do not believe that the mainstream candidates (Bush, Rubio, Kasich, Christie, etc.) would bring smaller government to America.
PS. Of course I was joking when I said Trump proposes to eliminate taxes. But Trump also likes to clown around; indeed I’ve argued he’s running as a clown. Here’s the actual plan:
1. If you are single and earn less than $25,000, or married and jointly earn less than $50,000, you will not owe any income tax. That removes nearly 75 million households – over 50% – from the income tax rolls. They get a new one page form to send the IRS saying, “I win,” those who would otherwise owe income taxes will save an average of nearly $1,000 each.
The loss of revenue will be “offset” by massively lower taxes on the upper middle class and wealthy. And a massive tax cut for corporations. And more entitlement spending. With Trump, we’ll all “win”, even the hedge fund guys. A nation of winners. Hey, what could go wrong?
Anyone who doesn’t see that Trump is a clown is not paying attention. Read “I win” 100 times in a row, until it sinks in as to what his game is. Yes, he’s quite smart when he takes the clown costume off, but so are many circus clowns. If I wanted to call him dumb, I would not use the clown metaphor.
PPS. I was completely wrong about Trump’s prospects a few months back (and Paul Krugman was right), so no one should take my views on politics at all seriously.