My Content

Donald Trump

Will Ukraine Shift the Never-Trump Ground on Impeachment?

by D.J. McGuire

House Democrats deciding whether or not to support impeaching President Trump have faced numerous pressures in either direction – usually, folks to their left all but demand, while those to their right forswear it.

One of the loudest impeachment-is-a-bad-idea factions has been the slowly dwindling but still influential group known as Never Trump Conservatives (of which, full disclosure, I still consider myself to be one). Then the Ukraine story hit (Washington Post):

A whistleblower complaint about President Trump made by an intelligence official centers on Ukraine, according to two people familiar with the matter, which has set off a struggle between Congress and the executive branch.

The complaint involved communications with a foreign leader and a “promise” that Trump made, which was so alarming that a U.S. intelligence official who had worked at the White House went to the inspector general of the intelligence community, two former U.S. officials said.

Two and a half weeks before the complaint was filed, Trump spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, a comedian and political newcomer who was elected in a landslide in May.

That call is already under investigation by House Democrats who are examining whether Trump and his attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani sought to manipulate the Ukrainian government into helping Trump’s reelection campaign.

In particular, there was concern about whether or not Trump tried to pressure Zelensky to rehash old and disproven charges surrounding the family of Joe Biden. That later became the explicit accusation (WaPo).

President Trump pressed the leader of Ukraine to investigate the son of former vice president Joe Biden in a call between the two leaders that is at the center of an extraordinary whistleblower complaint, according to two people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Trump used the July 25 conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to pressure the recently elected leader to pursue an investigation that Trump thought would deliver potential political dirt on one of his possible challengers in 2020, the people said.

The descriptions of the call provide the clearest indication to date that Trump sought to use the influence of his office to prod the leader of a country seeking American financial and diplomatic support to provide material that could aid the president’s reelection.

On one level, this was just one more log for the Trumpster-fire, as Trump supporters and opponents took their usual positions…

…except for Never Trump Conservatives, some of whom took the additional step of moving past their previous skepticism about impeachment.

For example, Max Boot (WaPo)…

Until now, I have been willing to accede to the judgment of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to go slow on impeachment proceedings that are unpopular with voters and could imperil the Democratic majority. But if the new scandal involving President Trump and Ukraine is as bad as it seems — and that is, of course, a very big if at this early stage — the House will have no choice but to impeach, consequences be damned.

…George Conway (WaPo)…

To borrow John Dean’s haunting Watergate-era metaphor once again, there is a cancer on the presidency, and cancers, if not removed, only grow. Congress bears the duty to use the tools provided by the Constitution to remove that cancer now, before it’s too late. As Elbridge Gerry put it at the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, “A good magistrate will not fear [impeachments]. A bad one ought to be kept in fear of them.” By now, Congress should know which one Trump is.

…Tom Nichols (The Atlantic)…

If this, in itself, is not impeachable, then the concept has no meaning. Trump’s grubby commandeering of the presidency’s fearsome and nearly uncheckable powers in foreign policy for his own ends is a gross abuse of power and an affront both to our constitutional order and to the integrity of our elections.

…and none other than Rick Wilson himself, in reaction to ex-Congressman David Jolly’s recommendation for an impeachment inquiry: “We’re in new territory, and this is clearly the only way to move this past the WH/Barr/DNI obstruction.”

I am not going to say we should expect impeachment to happen tomorrow. The Ukraine story is evolving; people are reacting; and where predictions are concerned, I’m terrible.

am saying that one of the redoubts of the impeachment-is-mad argument appears to be coming down. Democrats in the House who have not yet decided to support it are less likely to hear Wilson et al warn against it. Indeed, they might hear encouragement for it from their right.

That makes impeachment more likely today than it was yesterday.

D.J. McGuire – a self-described progressive conservative – has been part of the More Perfect Union Podcast since 2015. He is also a contributor to Bearing Drift.

There They Go Again: Fed Cuts Rates When It Shouldn’t Have

by D.J. McGuire

Well, they didn’t listen to me – or at least most of them didn’t.

Beset by admittedly strong recession concerns but unable to acknowledge loose monetary policy won’t solve the problem, the Federal Reserve Open Market Committee reduced its interest rate again, less than two months after the previous cut (CNBC):

Following its two-day policy meeting, the central bank announced that it would take down its benchmark overnight lending rate to a target range of 1.75 percent to 2 percent. That comes nearly two months after the policy-making Federal Open Market Committee went ahead with its first cut in 11 years.

Major U.S. stock exchanges dropped after the decision was announced.

Note that markets fell afterwards. Why? Because they wanted even deeper cuts. The president echoed the madness.

President Donald Trump, who has called Fed policymakers “boneheads” for not cutting rates enough, tore into Wednesday’s decision, saying Chairman Jay Powell and his colleagues have “no ‘guts.” Trump says the Fed is risking U.S. competitiveness by keeping rates substantially higher than most of the rest of the developed world.

Keep in mind what “competitiveness” means here: Trump is mad at the damaging effects of his trade wars on the American economy. Combined with the end of the Keynesian sugar-high from an ill-conceived tax cut, this has led to serious economic blowback. Trump wants loose money to fix all of that …

… except that it can’t. Expansionary monetary policy can’t fix the higher prices that come from the tariffs (in fact, if it does anything, it will make them worse). It can’t address the fact that the supposedly supply-side tax cuts of 2017 were designed so poorly that no supply-side effect came from them (the tax code is more complex, and the expiration dates on tax reductions created too much uncertainty).

Meanwhile, excessively low interest rates exacerbate the asset bubble and distort risk signals, favoring more risky assets over safer ones. In case you don’t take my word for that, here’s Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren, one of the two FOMC members who opposed both rate cuts:

Additional monetary stimulus is not needed for an economy where labor markets are already tight, and risks further inflating the prices of risky assets and encouraging households and firms to take on too much leverage. While risks clearly exist related to trade and geopolitical concerns, lowering rates to address uncertainty is not costless.

Among the data points Rosengren cites to back him up is a bar chart tracking risky debts via a debt-to-earnings ratio. The ratio is higher than it was in 2007. Lowering rates will simply make that problem worse.

In short, the Fed has – once again – provided the wrong medicine to the American economy, the wisdom of its dissenters (Rosengren and KC President Ester George) notwithstanding. When the recession comes (and this week’s action will not slow it down), it will be much worse than it should be.

D.J. McGuire – a self-described progressive conservative – has been part of the More Perfect Union Podcast since 2015. He is also a contributor to Bearing Drift.

Did the New York Times Just Tilt the Election Scales to the Democrats?

by D.J. McGuire

In an attempt to review a book on Justice Brett Kavanaugh by two of its reporters, The New York Times put up an excerpt that caused quite an uproar – including an omission that left Kavanaugh defenders livid. Margaret Sullivan had the details in the Washington Post.

The book authors, Times reporters Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly, wrote that they had found significant corroboration that Deborah Ramirez — a Yale classmate of Kavanaugh’s — had experienced an incident in which the future Supreme Court justice thrust his penis at her at a college party.

And they wrote that they had uncovered an account of a different incident involving Kavanaugh. Another classmate — now the prominent lawyer Max Stier — said he saw Kavanaugh with his pants down at a different party, where friends of his “pushed his penis into the hands of a female student.”

What wasn’t in the excerpt was a crucial piece of information: that the woman supposedly involved in the Stier-relayed incident wouldn’t corroborate the story, or be interviewed, and that her friends said she didn’t remember it.

Whoops.

Much of the right-side of Twitter (from Joe Scarborough out) pounced. Trump himself called on Kavanaugh to launch a “liable” suit. More importantly, even a large chunk of the Never-Trump-Conservative movement came to the Justice’s defense, bringing back the spirit of 2018 (of sorts) …

… and that’s where the NYT, by mistake, may have made it much easier for the Democrats to win next year.

It’s no secret that the Republicans have been spinning the Senate results in 2018 as a success. Trump in particular remembers the upper house gains fondly. That narrative relies on the initial Kavanaugh battle re-energizing the Republican base and sparking a rural red wave. Republicans would naturally hope a similar environment in  2020 could provide similar Senate gains (and re-elect the president).

There’s only one problem with that: the state-by-state 2018 results wouldn’t help the GOP in 2020.

By nearly all accounts, the presidential election next year will be decided by six states: Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Five of those states had Senate elections in 2018. Democrats won four of them. The GOP won Florida by a whisker and North Carolina had no Senate race (although the two parties largely split the House vote). If the Democratic nominee for president repeats that performance, they’ll end up with 290 electoral votes and victory.

Not even the GOP Senate is certain. If the Democrats can win the Senate seats in Arizona, Colorado, Maine, and North Carolina, they can lose Alabama and still reach a 50-50 tie (broken by a Democratic Vice President, in theory). Senate Republicans in 2018 had two things going for them – a cycle heavy in pro-Trump states and a number of first term incumbents who needed Barack Obama’s coattails to win in 2012. In 2020, the map is less friendly, and it will be GOP first-termers who needed the anti-Obama backlash of 2014 to win on the hot seat.

Still, a re-run of the mythical 2018 victories will appeal to Trump and GOP leadership (but I repeat myself). If the NYT error convinces Trump et al to make 2020 a Kavanaugh sequel, it will likely be to the Democrats’ benefit.

D.J. McGuire – a self-described progressive conservative – has been part of the More Perfect Union Podcast since 2015. He is also a contributor to Bearing Drift.

Michael Moore Is Hysterical (And Not In The Funny Way)

by Kevin Kelton

A lot of Democrats are getting downright hysterical about 2020 – but not in the hysterically funny sense. Democrats seem to be losing their collective minds with angst over the upcoming presidential election, none more so than filmmaker Michael Moore.

I’m not a Moore basher; I love his work and agree with him on many policy positions. But his appearance on “Real Time with Bill Maher” this past week rang the looney bell several times.

First, the director of “Capitalism: A Love Story” claimed that even though Elizabeth Warren has called herself a capitalist on many occasions, Moore believes he knows better. “I’m not so sure she believes that,” Moore told Maher.

Excuse me, Mr. Moore, but I think the former Harvard Law professor and two-term United States senator knows what “capitalism” means and knows what she stands for. You may not want her to be known as a capitalist. But let’s allow the esteemed senator from Massachusetts to define her political and economic philosophies without your help.

Then Moore proclaimed that people who have immigrated to the United States from European Socialist nations only came here “because they want to go to Disneyland.” Moore may have been trying to be funny, but he seems seriously incapable of acknowledging any of the many weaknesses of modern-day Democratic Socialism that have driven millions of people away from its home nations.

However, his biggest faux pas was his analysis of the 2020 electorate. Moore said – with zero evidence to back it up – that “if the  election were held tonight, Trump would win.” And Moore made this baseless claim just moments after he said, “with all the polls that we’ve seen, there’s at least four or five of the candidates (who) would beat Trump” and then went on to emphatically state, “Bill, we’re going to beat Trump. We’re going to beat Trump.”

Does anyone else see a slight disconnect in Moore’s thinking on this point?

But let’s look at his dire warning and see how it compares to reality. I cannot tell you what will happen in November 2020. No one has a crystal ball. But I know this: if there had been a national presidential election between Donald Trump and Joe Biden this past Friday, September 13, 2019, Biden would have won easily, and probably in a landslide.

Oh, I can hear the Biden Bashers now: “That’s what you said about Hillary!”

What the skeptics don’t get is that today is a very different world than November 2016. First off, the November 2016 polls were much closer than they are today, and the trend was toward Trump.

Today, Biden and the other top-tier Democratic candidates are solidly ahead both nationally and in swing state pollsincluding even Texas!, and the electorate is trending away from Trump. Let me repeat, I am not saying what would or could happen 13 months from now. I’m talking about if the election were held today. You don’t run 12-16 points ahead in national polls and then lose the election that same day. I don’t care how skeptical you are about the science of polling. A 12-16 point lead doesn’t dissipate in 24 hours.

But the greater point is, there is an hysteria setting into Democrats’ mindset that is destructive to the task at hand. Moore’s “Chicken Little” performance on Real Time is emblematic of that.

Let’s all calm down, take a few breaths and refocus, keeping these salient points in mind:

  • Donald Trump is not undefeatable. He won one general election and it was a fluke of history, a conflagration of multiple unanticipated events (the Comey letter, Russian election interference, the DNC emails, increased third party voting, decreased black turnout) that are highly unlikely to be replicated in 2020. The blue wave of 2018 really did happen, and the national electorate will be just as motivated to vote against Trumpism next year as they were last year. Maybe more.
  • Joe Biden is not Hillary Clinton. The claim that Biden is Hillary2.0 is a meaningless talking point. He (or whoever gets the Democratic nomination) will win or lose on their own merits. Just because neither of them are extreme leftists does not make them the same person with the same political fate.
  • There is no perfect candidate to go up agains Donald Trump. They all come with inherent faults and built-in risks. Bernie would be labeled a crazy socialist. Pete would be hit for being too inexperienced and unsympathetic to the concerns of blacks. Liz has about a dozen red flares that could explode over Pennsylvania and the rustbelt. And, no, Harris fans, a black female candidate is not assured of replicating the Obama coalition, as the polls have clearly demonstrated. We simply have to chose from those candidates we have. Stop looking for the next FDR or JFK or Barack Obama. They are not in this field.
  • Don’t take Trump’s bait every time he tweets something controversial. He wants you to be running around with your hair on fire. He laughs when you do that. So stop giving him the attention he so craves. Who cares what he says or tweets? He’s a fluke of history, and he will be a relic of history in 16 months.
  • Obviously, we should not be overconfident to the point of complacency. We must motivate voters to the polls and make sure our turnout is high. But we also don’t want to do anything that could significantly boost Trump’s turnout. That means not running on issues like single-payer Medicare For All, decriminalizing illegal immigration, or gun confiscation that might spike conservative turnout in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Michigan, or Wisconsin. Remember, adding millions of progressive votes in California, New York, Colorado, and Massachusetts gets us nothing… not a single extra electoral college vote! Regardless of how well single-payer Medicare For All may play in decidedly blue states, if polling tells us it could cost us even a single swing state, it’s a high-risk gamble we should not take. There is no margin for error in Pennsylvania or the rest of the rustbelt. Don’t run a fearful campaign, but don’t run a dumb one, either.
  • Trump is not “staying forever” if he loses the election. This is a sack of mass hysteria nonsense people like Bill Maher keep repeating and spreading ad nauseam. If a Democrat, say Elizabeth Warren, wins the electoral college vote and is certified the winner in the United States Congress, she will be sworn in on 01/20/2021 by Chief Justice John Roberts and at that moment she will become President of the United States. It won’t matter if Donald J. Trump refuses to leave the White House. A street address does not dictate who controls the levers of power in this country. President Warren (or Buttigieg/Sanders/Biden/whoever) will be certified and widely accepted as the new president, and any public tantrums Trump may throw will not undo that reality. The military will not stay with him, and neither will the FBI, CIA, Congress, Supreme Court, or anyone else sworn to uphold the constitution of the United States. So stop worrying. The worst that can happen would be an elongated reality show in which Trump would finally and humiliatingly be voted off the island. Trust me, Donald Trump is not overthrowing the constitution or the tens of millions of people sworn to uphold it.

Lastly, if you listen to nothing else in this article, take this one piece of advice. No one can predict with any certainty what will happen in November 2020, but we all have lives to lead until then, and going bonkers on a daily basis for the next 13 months will not help you or our cause. Turn off the news (and even “Real Time”), enjoy your life, vote in your state primary, and then work passionately and positively to elect whoever becomes the Democratic nominee. That is all you need to do to defeat Trump. Everything else is aggravation and excess. Enjoy life. Politics will work themselves out.

I cannot promise Trump will lose his bid for re-election. But I can promise that if you don’t calm down and approach this election rationally, you will lose your mind before a single vote is cast.

 

Kevin Kelton is a former SNL writer and a cohost of The More Perfect Union podcast.

 

Spy Games (Ep. 222)

 

This episode covers the fallout from the burned U.S. spy who had to be extracted from Russia, how the Trump administration is dangerously rewriting the norms of federal agency independence, and what to look for (and not look for) in the upcoming Democratic primary debate.

If Trump’s Cancelled Meeting with the Taliban Makes You Angry…

by D.J. McGuire

If you saw the President tweet about his plans to meet with the Taliban at Camp David and it angered you, that meant you recognized the Taliban as the enemy. That’s a good thing.

If you marveled at his naiveté in thinking we could make peace with the shelterers and allies of al Qaeda, than you and I are in agreement here. That’s a good thing.

If you responded to this by insisting – to yourself or to anyone else – “But the Taliban are terrorists” – then you recognize that they must be defeated, period. That is a good thing.

If you accept the logical conclusion that we cannot truly negotiate with the Taliban and expect anything but a complete de facto surrender to them, then you recognize we need to recommit to defeating them and bringing Afghanistan permanently into the democratic world. That isn’t simple, but it is a good thing.

If you recognize that we need to bring Afghanistan permanently into the democratic world, then you recognize we need to acknowledge our mistakes (letting Hamid Karzai steal the 2009 election is one of the big political ones). That, too, is a good thing.

If you recognize that the Taliban are a tough enemy, then you accept that the war against them must continue – its current length notwithstanding – until they are defeated. That may be difficult to accept, but it is also a good thing.

If, by contrast, you cannot bring yourself to accept that commitment – if you’d rather the war just “end” – then Trump inviting the Taliban to Washington to sign a “peace” deal is the inevitable alternative. That is not a good thing.

If, however, you are ready to accept the hard truth from which your outrage flows – that defeating the Taliban and liberating Afghanistan are right and necessary things to do – then you must ensure both the president and his would-be Democratic challengers know it, too. You must make clear that any promise to “end the war” without winning it is, in fact, losing it. You must remind Biden, Sanders, Warren, et al, that any claim to be the antithesis of Donald Trump is badly undermined if they agree with his isolationism in Afghanistan, and that would not be a good thing.

If you really, truly, are upset by what the president nearly did, you will want to make sure neither he nor his successor try to do it again, for that would not be a good thing at all.

If that anger, disappointment, and frustration are still with you, then you know the war in Afghanistan must be won rather than ended. That won’t be easy, but it is a good thing.

D.J. McGuire – a self-described progressive conservative – has been part of the More Perfect Union Podcast since 2015. He is also a contributor to Bearing Drift.

Another Premature Withdrawal Leads to Another Terrorist Rebound

by D.J. McGuire

“Stop us if this sounds familiar” – Ed Morrisey, Hot Air

That particular quote begins Morrisey’s examination of a new report from the lead inspector general for Operation Inherent Resolve (the name for the anti-Daesh operation in the nations of Syria and Iraq). Here’s the rest of the opening paragraph.

The US declares victory and goes home after a massive victory against an insurgency, only to see it metastasize in the vacuum left by our departure. That’s how we got ISIS in the first place after Barack Obama’s pullout from Iraq in 2011, and according to a new Pentagon report, that’s how we’re getting them again.

In this case, “again” refers to Syria, where “(t)he reduction of US forces has decreased the support available for Syrian partner forces at a time when their forces need more training and equipping to respond to the ISIS resurgence” (Glenn Fine, Principal Deputy IG, via CNN).

In other words, while Trump was declaring victory (as late as last month) and continuing a withdrawal that was so wrong-headed it cost him Jim Mattis as Secretary of Defense, Daesh “solidified its insurgent capabilities in Iraq, and was re-surging in Syria.”

Or, as Morrisey put it (emphasis in original): “There’s not much to say other than we told you so. (Or even more accurately, James Mattis told Trump so.)” For what it’s worth, similar sentiments came from yours truly back then.

Today, our allies in Syria are facing a “re-surging” Daesh and a triumphalists Ba’athist tyranny while Donald Trump pulls our forces out and pretends he’s won.

For those unaware, this was the issue that led me to vote for Clinton, the first – and to date, still only – vote for a Democratic presidential nominee I ever cast. I was convinced Trump would abandon the Syria people.

No one told me how bad being right would feel.

D.J. McGuire – a self-described progressive conservative – has been part of the More Perfect Union Podcast since 2015. He is also a contributor to Bearing Drift.

Confronting an Icon’s Flaw

by D.J. McGuire

The day after the United Nations General Assembly voted to declare the Chinese Communist regime to be the rightful holder of the Chinese seat at the United Nations (removing the Chiang Kai-shek regime of Taiwan), President Richard Nixon took a call from Ronald Reagan, then Governor of California. Tim Naftali reported on a particularly odious piece of the call in The Atlantic.

The day after the United Nations voted to recognize the People’s Republic of China, then–California Governor Ronald Reagan phoned President Richard Nixon at the White House and vented his frustration at the delegates who had sided against the United States. “Last night, I tell you, to watch that thing on television as I did,” Reagan said. “Yeah,” Nixon interjected. Reagan forged ahead with his complaint: “To see those, those monkeys from those African countries—damn them, they’re still uncomfortable wearing shoes!” Nixon gave a huge laugh.

The particular reference was aimed at a delegation from Tanzania which, according to Naftali, “started dancing in the General Assembly” when the body voted as it did.

When an icon is revealed to be flawed – and, being human, we’re all flawed – the first instinct is to ignore it, then to minimize it. For those of us who see Ronald Reagan as a successful president – and I still do – these are mistakes which would compound on Reagan’s 1971 error. There are three reasons in particular.

First, minimization makes no sense. Unless there is another recording somewhere in which Reagan called Pierre Trudeau a “frog” or aimed ethnic epithets at the European nations that also enabled the CCP to seize the seat (Naftali notes that Nixon’s own State Department pointed the finger at Britain and France), then this particular criticism was not only racist, but particularly racist toward Africans. It is an odious statement and should be called as such. It is a stain on Reagan’s legacy and a sign of his flaws.

Secondly, it can inform on Reagan’s foreign policy – and not in a good way. Reagan’s anti-Communism galvanized the democratic world and enabled the Cold War to be won with minimal actual conflict. That doesn’t mean it was mistake-free. The Reagan Administration badly underestimated Nelson Mandela – who, contrary to the panicked assertions of the apartheid regime in South Africa, marginalized and effectively froze out the South African Communists. Historians need to examine – if they haven’t already – how much of our Angola policy could have been different had we paid more attention on the ground, rather than look to the first anti-Communist with South African backing. Is it possible a different anti-Communist leader could have been more effective in transitioning to a political battle in the 1990s, rather than maintaining the civil war?

Such lack of attention is obvious in other Cold War flashpoints outside of Europe. In Afghanistan, the reliance on Pakistan and Saudi Arabia propped up unreliable faction leaders such as Gulbuddin Hekmatyar rather than Ahmed Shah Massoud. The former enabled the Taliban to take power and al-Qaeda to establish a presence there in the 1990s. The latter fought the Taliban-al Qaeda alliance until the day they killed him – September 9, 2001. Reagan was out of office when Nicaragua was able to vote out Manuel Ortega, but his successor largely abandoned Central America to its own devices, allowing Ortega to retake power in 2006. He is still there as Nicaragua slides into tyranny and destabilizes its neighbors again.

We now know that democracy and freedom were just as important to anti-Communists in Africa, in Asia, and in Latin America as in Europe. Many knew then, too – including folks in the Reagan Administration like Jeane Kirkpatrick and Elliot Abrams. This 1971 conversation should force us to ask how much that was reflected at the top.

Finally, it has vital importance to the arguments we have today. For nearly all Never Trump conservatives (including myself), Reagan is the political model of what Trump is not: optimistic rather than cynical, opposed to tyranny rather than admiring it, welcoming to immigrants rather than fearful of them. This incident, even from 48 years away, gives supporters of Trump the chance to claim a piece of Reagan’s mantle. The more conservatives outside of Trump’s orbit refuse to condemn the racist statement, the easier that claim will be.

For all of Ronald Reagan’s successes, whitewashing his mistakes is never worth it. That Trump backers could use his predecessor’s private racist statement to validate his own public racist statements and policies simply makes the price of ignoring the past all the more unacceptable.

D.J. McGuire – a self-described progressive conservative – has been part of the More Perfect Union Podcast since 2015. He is also a contributor to Bearing Drift.

What on Earth Happened to the Republican Party?

by D.J. McGuire

I was away from home – at a science fiction convention in North Carolina, no less – when the President of the United States demanded four members of Congress leave America for “the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came” (CNN) – never mind that three of the members were born in the United States. It should surprise no one that all four of them are not white.

What did come as a surprise was the near complete silence of Republican elected officials on the matter. As far as I know, as of 4:30 PM on Monday (as I write this), one Congressman from Texas and a state legislative leader in Wisconsin make up the entire group of Republican “electeds” who have raised their voices in criticism. The rest are fully engaged in Operation Ostrich.

How on earth did it come to this?

Greg Weiner discusses cause and effect in The Bulwark. His thoughts are quite close to mine, especially here:

There should be lines that this or any president cannot cross without incurring criticism from his own side. That’s because the boundary between neutrality and tacit consent—between their failure to condemn and the suggestion that they condone—may be faint, but it exists. Enabling, like pornography, is difficult to define, but sensible observers generally know it when they see it. Among of its markers is the refusal to use one’s influence to improve a situation one purports, at least privately, to deplore.

How this can’t be a line for so many Republicans just utterly baffles me. These were people who spent no time at all howling rage at primary challengers, bloggers, and anyone else who critiqued their views on taxes … or spending … or even nomination methods. Yet the leader of the party engages in, as Weiner calls it, “bigotry—call it ‘racism,’ call it ‘xenophobia,’ or call it ‘the kind of behavior that forces conservatives into such distinctions,’ ” without nary a peep.

The closest thing we get – even on my other blog, Bearing Drift – is a pox on all houses post from my Bearing Drift colleague. Don’t get me wrong; he was at least willing to rule out voting for Trump in 2020 – a solid step above the deafening silence from Republicans as a group.

Still, the idea that “identity politics” was exclusively a Democratic invention simply does not stand up to historical review. No Democrat was behind the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798. Democrats opposed the WASPish nativism of the Whigs and Know Nothings of the antebellum era. The fellow who ran for President in 1884 opposing “rum, Romanism, and rebellion” was Republican James G. Blaine. Identity politics has been part of America – and a tool used by both Democrats and by their opponents – since the First Party System itself.

More to the point, there is a serious difference between members of an ethnic group using their political power at the polls to address majoritarian-imposed inequality and the outright racism in which the president indulged on Sunday. Again, back to Weiner:

…there is nothing inherently unwise in choosing to stay on the sidelines rather than be sucked into the unrelenting conflict between Trump and his critics. If anything, one of the president’s uglier influences has been to draw everyone into perpetual combat, and the Reluctant Trumpers’ refusal to rush the field for every play is often prudent.

But there are moments when their voices are needed and when their silence is consequently indistinguishable from acquiescence. If this is not one, it is difficult to conjure what might be. Xenophobia of the kind Trump expressed is a particular offense against American values. Moreover, its normalization is especially dangerous amid the creeping spread of ethno-nationalism.

Republicans need to ask themselves if they would be rationalizing their silence if they were not in the same party as Donald Trump.

If not, they need to get to the real question here: Should they really stay in that party?

D.J. McGuire – a self-described progressive conservative – has been part of the More Perfect Union Podcast since 2015. He is also a contributor to Bearing Drift.

The Purge of Freer Market Defenders from the Trumpist GOP, Part II

by D.J. McGuire

Last week I reviewed how the conservative movement has begun to redefine itself in a way that no longer includes supporters of freer markets. That continued yesterday morning when Henry Olsen – best known recently for his hilarious mislabeling of Justin Amash, see Charles Sykes in The Bulwark for more on that – took aim at those of us who oppose Trump’s tariffs and prefer freer trade.

Olsen, returning to the Washington Post for his latest debacle, insists that anyone who opposed protectionism has embraced the concept of “no moral standard.” He really said that.

Cato’s Scott Lincicome inadvertently let the cat out of the bag in his contribution to the National Review compilation. In attacking President Trump’s attempts to recast U.S. trade policy, he asks the key question: “Why should certain American industries and workers have a moral claim to government protection? Why should government prioritize those workers’ living standards above their fellow citizens?” If there is no moral standard against which we can measure market outcomes, then Lincicome is right to protest. But if there is such a standard, then market interventions are not only morally justified, they become morally mandatory. And that is simply unacceptable for the fundamentalists.

My guess is Olsen, upon reading Lincicome (which you, dear reader, should also do, by the way), fell upon the words “American industries and workers have a moral claim to government protection” and immediately decided to himself, “of course they do,” and…well, here we are.

My focus – and based upon Lincicome’s praise of Don Boudreaux’s Cafe Hayek post on the subject, his too – was on the word certain. In effect, Lincicome is asking: Are steel and aluminum workers more “moral” than automobile workers whose industry will be damaged by higher steel and aluminum costs? Conversely, are auto workers more “moral” than those working in fields impacted by the cost of cars and of trucks? Construction workers? Taxi drivers? Police officers?

Opposition to tariffs is based upon the concept that no American – whatever the field – is more “moral” and thus more worthy of market intervention on their behalf. This includes workers in firms that have yet to exist, but will when entrepreneurs can make use of funds saved by Americans who aren’t paying higher import prices.

As Boudreaux himself puts it…

Lincicome’s point begins with the reality that protectionism artificially helps some American industries and workers only by artificially damaging others. And so protectionism is unethical because it elevates the welfare of those who reap the benefits of protectionism over that of those who necessarily suffer – and protectionism performs this inequitable elevation for no reason other than the fact that its beneficiaries possess more political power or saliency than do its victims.

Lincicome’s, and all free-traders’, moral standard is one of equity: no one gets special favors. The fact that Olsen misses this core element of the case for free trade reveals the intellectual weakness of those who struggle to do the impossible, namely, to supply credible ethical and economic justification for Trump’s economic nationalism.

I agree that providing credible justifications for Trump’s protectionism is impossible, but Olsen’s effort is telling for another reason: it is more evidence that the Trump-led Republican Party is no longer interested in defending freer trade, or even in defending freer markets in general.

Those who, as I do, still defend them should take heed – and as I did, take their leave.

D.J. McGuire – a self-described progressive conservative – has been part of the More Perfect Union Podcast since 2015. He is also a contributor to Bearing Drift.

Free-Market Supporters Won’t Go Away Just Because Conservatives Don’t Want Us

by D.J. McGuire

One of the great arguments within the conservative movement revolves around how much it has changed since Donald Trump became a presidential candidate four years ago. This is the year we are finally beginning to see a sorting out – and for those of us who define ourselves as economic conservatives, the music has stopped without a chair.

It began with the heated reaction to Congressman Justin Amash, a founder of the House Freedom Caucus and one of the most articulate proponents of limited and frugal government (indeed, I’ve had my own disagreements with him on foreign policy). Amash lost nearly all of his friends in the conservative movement, to say nothing of the Republican Party, by his decision to support impeachment of President Trump based upon the information in the Mueller report. Aaron Pomerantz provides the details and the inconsistencies in the Bulwark.

The House Freedom Caucus seemed more than able to rally and condemn Amash, but were strangely absent from the conversation about the budget, allowing a series of financial decisions that contradict the very principles of their founding. And not for the first time.  House Freedom Caucus member Mick Mulvaney, for example, wrote in the Wall Street Journal in 2015 that the government couldn’t afford new deficits, and yet completely switched positions two years later when he’d become Trump’s budget director. It seems that “the party line” has become more important than the fundamental principles that are meant to underlie the party itself.

At first, this may have seemed to be a simple case of party tribalism over principle, which is hardly new or unique to Trump. That changed dramatically when Sohrab Amhari decided to redefine conservativism in First Things. Ostensibly an attempt to criticize the political modus operandi of National Review‘s David French, Amhari took the opportunity to redefine conservatism itself. Robert Tracinski has the details in the Bulwark.

In the first sentence of his missive against supposed “David French-ism”—is there anything more Trumpian that reducing big ideological questions to a personal grudge?—Ahmari links to a manifesto published in First Things last March which denounced the “Dead Consensus” of the right.

The First Things manifesto begins with sneering references to “individual autonomy” but then moves on to denouncing “the cult of competitiveness,” “free trade,” “economic libertarianism,” “the demands of capital,” “investors and ‘job creators’ “—note the gratuitous scare quotes—and “warmed-over Reaganism.”

I predicted a few days ago that we were only weeks away from conservatives trashing Ronald Reagan in order to bolster Trump. It turns out I was behind the curve. It was already happening.

The signatories of that manifesto don’t just want to eject the free-marketers. They want to welcome in the nationalists: “We embrace the new nationalism insofar as it stands against the utopian ideal of a borderless world.” They talk about “communal solidarity” and “the human need for a common life.” And who are the bad guys? Here we get a lot of familiar alt-light rhetoric about supposed “jet-setters,” “citizens of the world” who can “go anywhere” and “work anywhere” in a “borderless world.” I’m surprised they didn’t just go straight to “rootless cosmopolitans.”

In short, Amhari is doing more than just providing intellectual cover for obsequious to Trump (for that, seek out Henry Olsen’s recent Op-ed in the Washington Post, if you must). He’s using Trump to redefine conservatism as a new collectivist enterprise replacing freedom with blind faith and replacing persuasion with coercion.

For those of us who appreciate economic freedom – or even political freedom – there is no place, period.

Quite a few on the right have provided the equivalent of the Luke Skywalker response to Amhari (“This is not going to go the way you think”), but they’ve left out one crucial component: what economic conservatives will do once we’re read out of the conservative movement and out of the Republican Party.

People don’t just go away; they react. Thus it will be with economic conservatives, too. To be sure, some will stay where they are and fight an increasingly desperate rear-guard action within the movement and within the GOP. Many more will simply leave both and come to terms with the dizzying reality that they – we – are the new political center.

More than a few, however, will follow me into the Democratic Party on the assumption that partial collectivism – for all its many faults – remains superior to the full-throttle theocracy that Amhari and those like him will redefine as “conservatism.” That’s going to come as a slow-motion shock – and not just to Republicans or to conservatives (however they are defined). Democrats will start to find more robust internal arguments about economic issues.

One can already see it happening today. Contrary to the confused nostalgia of several presidential candidates, the overwhelming majority of Democrats now support free-trade agreements, while barely a third consider reducing trade deficits to be a priority (Pew Research). Democrats in 2019 are already more desirous of their party moving rightward than in 2016 (Pew Research). Here in Virginia, the last Governor to propose a tax increase was…Republican Bob McDonnell in 2013. Neither of his two Democratic successors followed suit (one of them – Terry McAuliffe – even proposed a corporate income tax reduction during his term in office). The leading Democrat for the presidential nomination – by far, albeit for now – was Vice President during the formation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Even those who support Universal Basic Income are now doing so not merely as a redistribution policy, but also as a way to dismantle the welfare state apparatus and end government regulation of the poor.

To be fair, the Democratic nominee (whoever he or she is) will almost certainly attempt to run to the president’s left on many economic issues, but not on all of them. In time, especially if the Republicans are as dismissive of us as First Things has become, economic conservatives will continue to move the Democrats toward freer markets and exchanges. That will change both parties, to say nothing of the body politics as a whole, in ways that are not anticipated…

…and shouldn’t be feared.

D.J. McGuire – a self-described progressive conservative – has been part of the More Perfect Union Podcast since 2015. He is also a contributor to Bearing Drift.

Robert Mueller Exits the Stage…For Now

by D.J. McGuire

Robert Mueller is no longer the Special Counsel to the Justice Department. That doesn’t mean it’s the last we’ve heard from him.

To be clear, Mueller himself would rather it be otherwise. In his statement this morning, he showed that he stood by his report on Russian interference in the 2016 election, possible cooperation between the Trump campaign and interfering Russians, and the obstruction of his investigation of both. He flatly said, “the report is my testimony,” while indicating, were he asked to testify, he would simply cite the report, in whole or in part, over and over again.

Having read the report, I can certainly understand Mueller’s assertion. Having seen the reaction to his statement, it’s pretty clear to me he won’t get his wish to avoid testifying.

Nothing in Mueller’s statement deviated from his report – no surprise, as Mueller cited it repeatedly – but outside of those few of us who have read it (and those whose distrust of Trump is such that they believe the worst of him), there is some surprise at what Mueller said today. When Mueller wrote in his report that Department of Justice policy against indicting a president closed off that door, while leaving Congress in the role of taking the information and moving under the constitutional instrument of the impeachment process, I read it and it had quite an impact. When he repeated that this morning, the rest of world took notice. My twitter feed is full of foreign journalists (mainly to follow their reporting on their home countries). The most knowledgeable about American politics (without directly covering it) is Dan Hodges of the UK. This was his response on Twitter:

Killer Mueller quote: “If we had confidence the President did not commit a crime we would have said so”.

For those of us who call ourselves political geeks, that quote hasn’t been “killer” since it survived William Barr’s creative interpretation of the Mueller report from two months ago. That it still packs a punch is a reminder of just how many people do not know what’s in the report.

So, if I were a Democrat in the House of Representatives, the conclusion is inevitable: Robert Mueller needs to talk about what’s in the report. As Eric Swalwell (who actually is such a Democrat) put it, “It’s the difference between seeing the movie and reading the book” (far more people would do the former than the latter).

In Mueller’s world (as a longtime political appointee of numerous Justice Departments) – and in mine (as a political geek) – the report would indeed speak for itself. In the – well, the real world – reports are always louder when their authors are talking about them. Whether Mueller wants to do that or not, Congressional Democrats will likely conclude – if they haven’t already – that he needs to do it.

They’re probably right.

D.J. McGuire – a self-described progressive conservative – has been part of the More Perfect Union Podcast since 2015. He is also a contributor to Bearing Drift.