An Election Rant
I am not voting for either Trump or Biden, just like last time when I wrote in Scott Walker instead of pulling the lever for either party’s presidential candidate. Make no mistake: After the Obama years, I will likely never vote for a Democrat for President. I’m an individualist of a Hayekian fiscal libertarian mold, and the Democrats don’t seem to have a national figure that isn’t fondly in love with some form of collectivism. Not to say the Republicans are much better. The social conservatives and the Trump-like nationalists also love them some collectivism. And after the Republicans completely abandoned the fiscal libertarian ideals of the Tea Party movement the second Trump got elected, it’s going to be hard for me to trust the Republicans when they inevitably start caring about the debt again once back in the minority. But how did we get here? Let’s discuss. Or rather, I’m just gonna rant for awhile.
The first presidential election I was eligible to vote in was 2008. I was in college at the time, thankfully before intersectionality became a cancer on campus (it was around, certainly, but was not powerful as it would become.) Even though I was a naïve young man at the time, I still had enough intelligence to realize how much of a snake in the grass empty suit Barack Obama was. A guy who ended up getting elected president largely because he gave a good speech at the 2004 DNC. The biggest problem I saw was how little I believed Obama’s commitment to bipartisanship. The dude’s adult career involved academia and community organizing before elected office. And he was deeply involved in the Chicago political machine. How many Republicans do you think he knew personally while community organizing in Chicago?
My suspicion that Obama’s view of bipartisanship meant, essentially, telling the other side to bend over and say “when” was confirmed after his inauguration when Congress was writing the stimulus package. Congressional Republicans were unhappy that Nancy Pelosi had essentially and in one case quite literally locked them out of writing the bill. When they brought this up with Obama, he only had one thing to say: “I won.” From that point on, the well was well and truly poisoned. Obama even remarked sometime around the 2012 election that he hoped his reelection would “break the fever” of the Republican opposition to his policies. Bipartisanship isn’t the other side just doing everything you want. That’s not how it works. That’s not how anything works.
Obama didn’t get a single major legislative accomplishment after the Republicans took back the House in the 2010 midterm elections. Clintonian triangulation this was not. The only pieces of legislation of any real note that passed in the final six years of the Obama era were a minor tax increase on the rich passed shortly after the 2012 election and sequestration, neither of which should be considered impressive by any measure. Which means he got three things, all in his first two years: The stimulus package, Obamacare, and Dodd-Frank. Outside of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which unfortunately led to Elizabeth Warren’s rise in national politics, Dodd-Frank is largely unknown to the wider public. It’s mostly esoteric financial regulations that all the big banks seem to like for some reason… It’s because more regulations on any industry favor the established players who, through economies of scale, can more readily absorb the increased costs, which decreases their competition due to higher barriers to entry. A lot of the big insurers loved Obamacare, too, which Obama touted without any self-awareness.
The stimulus package ended up being largely wasted spending in the end as Obama’s dream of “shovel ready” projects was a complete lie to anyone with even the smallest amount of experience with the process for government paid or approved construction plans. Environmental impact studies, permits to construct from not just the federal level but state and local as well, construction unions who usually have a monopoly on labor, the random constituent who doesn’t like the project with the ear of almost anyone in elected office (even a random city council member) that can easily throw a wrench into the gears, and loads of other problems. Lots of palms and squeaky wheels to grease, which means tons of wasted money and sometimes a decade or more before the first shovel hits the dirt. Our bridges and roads are falling apart not because of a shortfall of money, but a surfeit of regulation and corruption. Throwing money at a protracted problem usually doesn’t solve it, especially not long-term.
The media certainly didn’t help things. Obama was their golden child. Many of them still believe Obama’s greatest scandal was a tan suit. Not Operation Fast & Furious, Benghazi, the Libya quagmire, mishandling the Arab Spring, the Iran Deal, sending the Churchill bust back to England, sending operatives to help the opposition of Netanyahu during the Israeli election, the spying on James Rosen, the Bowe Bergdahl terrorist prisoner swap, Edward Snowden and WikiLeaks, the Hillary Clinton private e-mail server, the Russia reset, Operation Crossfire Hurricane, or the IRS targeting of conservative groups in the run up to the 2012 presidential election. Those are all off the top of my head with about five minutes of thinking. I’m sure I could think of plenty of others with a longer think or a single Google Search, but let’s move on.
Obama undeniably has a high charisma stat and was politically savvy enough to take advantage of 95% of the media being his personal sycophants on a daily basis. The love objects of the media in the post-Obama era just couldn’t manage the task. Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, and Kamala Harris all lacked something that endless media adulation just wasn’t enough to win it for them. But this brings up someone who unintentionally benefited from media exposure: Donald Trump himself.
Suspecting Trump would be the easiest opponent for Hillary to beat, the media gave him the gift of about $2-3 billion in earned media during the 2016 primary by constantly interviewing him. The media helped create this monster. The crocodile tears of Joe Scarborough were especially rich. Trump was showing up on Morning Joe virtually every day during the primary to non-hostile coverage and interviews. Honestly, quite positive coverage. To have Joe and Mika turn around and try to rebrand themselves as super Trump critics was hilarious after being given unfettered access to him during the primary and being all buddy buddy during that time.
But there is another group which bears the greatest responsibility for where we are now. And that’s the Republican establishment, especially the consulting class that ran most of their elections. One cannot truly blame them for the results of the 2008 presidential election. Bush was nearly universally reviled, and the financial collapse sealed McCain’s fate. But the big problem is that because of the recession, the Republican establishment didn’t learn anything from how badly they ran McCain’s campaign. Blaming the economy was an easy out.
They ran the same playbook again in 2012 and lost an eminently winnable race. Obama is the only president in the modern era to be reelected with fewer votes. Romney picked the best VP candidate since I can’t even remember in Paul Ryan, and his campaign refused to let Paul Ryan do what he does: Give town halls on his economic ideas, which the establishment has always been terrified of. Paul Ryan is the only politician in Washington in the last forty years that ever gave a shit about entitlement reform (except for maybe his mentor, Jack Kemp.) His ideas on spending and entitlements built the fiscal backbone of the Tea Party movement. Paul Ryan could very easily have built inroads with the young and in the cities if they had just let him talk honestly about the fiscal bomb of entitlements. But that didn’t happen now, did it?
Building on the failure of 2012, the Republican establishment had no one to blame but themselves for a figure like Trump rising from the ashes. The Republican base was finally fed up with the lack of success. They rightfully blamed the chicken shit Republican consulting class for prioritizing cocktail party invitations over conservative legislative victories. Washington will always be a town that favors Democrats in such environments, and the Republican consulting class decided long ago that it would rather be on friendly terms with that crowd than bare knuckle brawl fight them. Unfortunately, the Democrats have been fighting like that since at least the Bork confirmation hearings, so deciding not to return that fight in kind looked a lot like surrender. A figure that promised to fight for what the base wanted with a “never retreat, never surrender” attitude was obviously going to do well. In the absence of Trump, Ted Cruz likely would have been that person as the consulting class already hated him for the 2013 government shutdown (which, in fairness to them, had zero chance of stopping the implementation of Obamacare.)
But that was not their only failure. Sensing the likelihood of someone they couldn’t control winning the primary and the presidency, the Republican consulting class decided to rig the primary for Trump, as they saw him the exact same way the media did: Someone destined to lose to Hillary. They decided four to eight years of Hillary was a better outcome than a President Marco Rubio or President Cruz. I suspect Rubio likely would have beaten Hillary (as long as the consulting class didn’t get their claws too deeply in him,) but Cruz would have been a harder lift. The hatred for Rubio wasn’t as simple as the one for Cruz. The consulting class went into the primary with one clear favorite: Jeb Bush. If we needed anymore evidence they were completely out of touch with the base, this was it. Jeb!, even with all the benefits of organization and money, blew up on the launch pad. Please clap. The consulting class hated Rubio for not waiting his turn. Since Jeb! and Rubio were both politicians from Florida, they were constitutionally barred from appearing on the same ticket. That meant Jeb! couldn’t bribe Rubio with a VP pick in exchange for dropping out and endorsing him and Rubio couldn’t select Jeb! as his VP to give the consulting class an in at the White House. A Dick Cheney figure, if you will.
Rubio and Cruz had to go down in flames. After Walker blew through all his money too quickly after the emergence of Trump dried up his coffers and bowed out before Iowa, the only two candidates that had a prayer of stopping Trump were Rubio and Cruz. Chris Christie decided to go nuclear against Rubio at the debates for some reason, inevitably dropping out and becoming the first major primary opponent to endorse Trump. This nuclear assault against Rubio on live television killed his campaign. John Kasich, who won the Ohio primary because he was the governor of Ohio at the time (incredibly embarrassing if he didn’t win that,) stayed in the race long after his chances of victory disappeared to spoil things for Cruz once Rubio dropped out. Furthermore, in a magnanimous turn, Rubio, recognizing beating Trump was the smart play, endorsed Kasich in the Ohio primary as he had the best chance to win it. Kasich refused to do the same for Rubio in Florida. If Kasich’s cynical play to spoil the race for Cruz wasn’t completely transparent, he dropped out of the race immediately after Cruz did. At that point, Trump and Kasich were the only two candidates left. He abandoned it just as he had the non-Trump lane all to himself.
It is my profound wish that these jabronis in the Republican consulting class never have real influence in the Republican Party ever again. Kristol, Sykes, and The Lincoln Project can just go away for all I care. Their habit of being the worst prognosticators, Kristol especially, in modern politics certainly won’t be missed. They came to prominence in the post-Reagan era and have been riding the Bush coattails ever since. When I say the term “neo con,” these are the people I mean. George P. Bush will inevitably run for president some day, so we all have Bush 4.0 to look forward to. God help us all.
As a Hayekian, the Trump era hasn’t been all bad, but almost all of the positives can be laid at Cocaine Mitch’s feet. The absolutely insane amount of judges confirmed by his Senate Majority in less than four years is truly a thing of beauty. I will say that probably any other Republican would have pulled the Kavanaugh nomination after the confirmation turned into a circus, so that’s one thing Trump did that others likely wouldn’t have. The other massive accomplishment was the tax cut bill, which, beyond rightly cutting the corporate tax rate (America had one of the highest in the world before the cut,) removed the SALT deduction. This was excellent policy, but maybe not the best politics. A lot of Republicans in blue states got killed in the 2018 midterms because their rich donors could no longer palm off the high taxes those states typically have on the federal government anymore. Pelosi, who represents San Francisco, keeps trying to revive the SALT deduction in COVID relief talks. Transparently smarmy action at the behest of the richest Americans.
In conclusion, the Republicans holding the Senate is the goal in November. The legislative filibuster is likely gone if Chuck Schumer becomes the Senate Majority Leader with Biden in the White House. Pray for the country if that happens. You think the Trump era was bad? May you live in interesting times.