My Content

Republican Party

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.

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.

My Fellow Democrats, We’re Becoming the Party of Freer Markets (Try Not to Faint)

by D.J. McGuire

When I chose to become a Democrat (a few hours after Trump was declared the victor of the presidential election), I expected a difficult period of adjustment. I’d left the GOP six months earlier, but leaving one major party and switching to the other one are two very different things.

Of course, Trump had ensured the two parties had flipped their supposed positions on national security. Those who have listened to the More Perfect Union Podcast since November 2016 are well aware that my opposition to Bashar Assad’s Syrian regime was what led me to vote for Hillary Clinton in the first place. Trump’s behavior towards Vladimir Putin in particular has made it far easier to be a conservative Democrat than I thought possible – not that it makes up for the damage to the free world. What I assumed would cause the largest headache was watching my old party on economic policies (where at least in theory they preferred freer markets) while my new one clung to its instincts for greater government intervention.

Nearly two years later, much to my surprise, that isn’t what I’m seeing. Sure, the Democrats are clearly moving leftward on health insurance, but they’ve moved in the opposite direction on freer trade (the voters far more dramatically than the elected officials).

Meanwhile, the Republicans…oh, dear. The party has largely swallowed whole Trump’s rampant protectionism, either lapping up tariffs as the great panacea or naively telling themselves it’s all about getting “better deals” – never mind that the only two agreements Trump has reached are either worse than the status quo (Mexico) or no longer operative according to Trump (the EU handshake).

Meanwhile, Trump has also spent time whacking the Federal Reserve for raising interest rates, even complaining to Bloomberg about how he couldn’t depreciate the dollar for his trade wars because the Fed wouldn’t play ball.

Then came the social media wars. At first, I figured Laura Ingraham insisting on turning Facebook and Twitter into public utilities was just an extreme one-off. I was wrong (CNBC).

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions will meet with state attorneys general later this month to discuss concerns that tech companies “may be hurting competition and intentionally stifling the free exchange of ideas on their platforms,” the Department of Justice said in a statement Wednesday.

The proposed meeting between the country’s top prosecutor and state officials is the first major signal of potential antitrust action against Silicon Valley and follows recent claims by President Donald Trump of political bias and censorship by major social media firms.

Here’s what Sessions’ Justice Department had to say:

“We listened to today’s Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on Foreign Influence Operations’ Use of Social Media Platforms closely. The Attorney General has convened a meeting with a number of state attorneys general this month to discuss a growing concern that these companies may be hurting competition and intentionally stifling the free exchange of ideas on their platforms.”

Keep in mind, the hearing was supposed to be about how foreign intelligence uses social media to influence the American people. Instead, the DOJ is all about government mandates (or worse) about “political bias”.

If the Republican Party continues on this course (and given that Trump is pushing the matter, this is very likely), then it will become the party of nationalizing Silicon Valley, the party of putting America’s most dynamic and fastest growing sector under government control.

Michael Lind once pondered, in Politico, that “The Democrats of 2030 may be more pro-market than the Republicans.” At the rate the GOP is going, despite the desire of many Democrats for government-monopoly health insurance, the switch will come much sooner than 2030. Indeed, one could argue it’s happening right now.

So be prepared, my fellow Democrats, and try not to faint.

D.J. McGuire – a self-described progressive conservative – has been part of the More Perfect Union Podcast since 2015

I’m Fed Up With Trump’s Ramblings on Monetary Policy

by D.J. McGuire

Amidst the whirl and rush of the now painfully normal nonsense spewed by the president, few outside the financial markets noticed his comments on monetary policy during his interview with Reuters. They were important comments nonetheless – and discouraging on all fronts. For someone who defines his worldview on countering inflation, political chicanery on monetary policy, protectionism, and malinvestment (and for a quarter-century, defined himself as a Republican based on those things), I was saddened and angered – but not surprised – by Trump embracing all four (again).

This is Trump taking aim at the Federal Reserve:

“I’m not thrilled with his raising of interest rates, no. I’m not thrilled,” Trump said, referring to Powell. Trump nominated Powell last year to replace former Fed Chair Janet Yellen.

U.S. stock prices dipped after Trump’s comments to Reuters and the U.S. dollar .DXY edged down against a basket of currencies.

Trump, who criticized the Fed when he was a candidate, said other countries benefited from their central banks’ moves during tough trade talks, but the United States was not getting support from the Fed.

“We’re negotiating very powerfully and strongly with other nations. We’re going to win. But during this period of time I should be given some help by the Fed. The other countries are accommodated,” Trump said.

On one level, this is just typical bull-in-the-china-shop-talk from Trump, concerns about which are usually valid (and they are here) but still go ignored by his supporters (as will these). In this case, there’s more to it, which just makes things worse.

For starters, Trump is making clear that the domestic economy is not important in his thinking. I doubt he is even aware that the Fed actually has a legal mandate to ensure price stability. He is fixated on his trade war, period.

This means that inflation – which eats away at investment returns, creates havoc in labor markets, and increases suffering for fixed income recipients – is likely to be even worse than it is now (and at present, it’s bad enough to wipe out any wage gains – See Bloomberg), especially in policy areas where Trump can avoid the Fed. Last year’s tax cut was a prime example of a Keynesian, inflationary stimulus endorsed and signed by the president. I fear it won’t be the last.

Moreover, Trump’s comments are yet another sign that the Republican Party – which in my youth prided itself on sound monetary policy and a strong dollar – no longer has any interest in both. This makes it that much harder for the nation to learn and internalize the lessons of “quantitative easing” – the last decade’s experiment with radically expansionary monetary policy. Contrary to Keynesian orthodoxy, the mass monetization of any debt the Fed could find led not to roaring increases in aggregate demand, but rather a shift in thinking on paper assets. Bonds were treated as stocks (with a focus on price rather than yield) and a new asset bubble (in bonds) took the place of the last one (housing). Thus, not only did investment in the real economy remain slow to recover, but the asset bubble exacerbated wealth inequality, which further increased income inequality.

Under Janet Yellen, the Fed at least began the process on unwinding this error. Under Jerome Powell, it is now trying to bring interest rates back to at least normal without knocking the economy into recession. This is a tricky task in any time, let alone one where the President of the United States is demanding policies that would make the bubble even bigger (and more likely to pop, badly).

I know that Trump-Nixon parallels are in vogue, but the current president’s complaints remind me of his predecessor’s surrender on economic policy in 1971, when he announced, “We are all Keynesians now.” Trump is – with more verbiage and less intellect – effectively saying the same thing. Whether Democrats will note this and take political advantage by exploiting a new angle to win over never-Trump conservatives remains to be seen.

D.J. McGuire – a self-described progressive conservative – has been part of the More Perfect Union Podcast since 2015

What Trump Has Wrought: Virginia Edition

by D.J. McGuire (who lives and votes in Virginia)

Last year, as my fellow MPU podcasters inquired as to why Donald Trump’s nomination would be enough for me to leave the Republican Party, I cited the Goldwater effect to explain how one campaign can change a party, permanently. The Republican nominee in 1960 (before Goldwater) ran on the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960, and was bitterly disappointed to have won roughly one in three African-American votes. The Republican nominee in 1968 (after Goldwater) ran on a “Southern strategy”, and was largely content with having won barely one in eight African-American votes. The nominee in both years was the same man: Richard Nixon.

As it happens, a similar example has been revealed in Virginia: Ed Gillespie.

Read More

​ Ed Gillespie’s Fake Tax Cut

by D.J. McGuire (who lives and votes in Virginia)

As Virginia’s campaign for governor careens to its conclusion on November 7, I do believe I have managed to solve at least one mystery of Election 2017. Namely, what in the hell happened to Republican nominee Ed Gillespie‘s tax cut proposal?

The answer is: it was a mirage.

Read More

Why I AM a Democrat

by D.J. McGuire

In reading Bruce Bartlett’s compressed autobiography-turned-advice column, I couldn’t help but feel the old supply-side economist had, for the most part, been just a few steps ahead of me. My dissolution with President Bush the Younger came a few years after his 2005 broadside against same (although I dimly recall even then considering his critique having merit), and of course, I left the Republican Party in the last year of the Obama Administration, rather than its beginning. I’ve even felt the liberation of sloughing off the political orthodoxy that comes with partisan tribalism.

Read More