Why Trump Should Ignore the Moderation Mavens
The NeverTrump crowd is still a nuisance, and still wrong
It’s been a difficult year politically for NeverTrumpians. Take, for example, Peter Wehner, the former speechwriter for George W. Bush, who spent most of the year expressing outrage over Donald Trump.
Now that the “Electoral College will revolt against Trump” fantasy is officially dead, certain Republicans like Wehner still can’t do the “Frozen” thing and “let it go.”
On issue after issue, for the last 20 years or so, the bipartisan Establishment has delivered policies that were not moderate, or even safe.
No rallying around the White House — or lectures about unity — for Wehner. Instead, in a column in The New York Times, he continues his attacks on the president-elect while celebrating what he calls the “ancient virtue” of moderation. He fears that moderation is “out of step with the times, which are characterized by populist anger and widespread anxiety.” He’s right about the anger and anxiety. But, as usual, he’s wrong in his diagnosis. The voters didn’t turn on the Clinton/Bush Establishment because it was too moderate — instead, they turned on it because it was too radical.
The whole problem with Wehner’s argument is that it rests on a flawed understanding of what “moderation” looks like. He has confused the message with the form in which it is delivered. Donald Trump often gives fiery and dramatic speeches in front of thousands of cheering blue-collar types. George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton prefer giving really dull speeches to small groups of extremely rich people. Wehner assumes that the cheering blue-collar types want radical policies, while the boring millionaires want to be safe and steady. But this assumption is simply incorrect. On issue after issue, for the last 20 years or so, the bipartisan Establishment has delivered policies that were not moderate, or even safe:
1.) It was not moderate to respond to 9/11 with a sweeping plan to bring democracy to every nation in the Middle East, even nations that had no tradition of free and open elections.
2.) It was not moderate for a president — no matter how much money he raised from big donors — to radically alter the immigration policy of the United States by unilaterally refusing to enforce the law.
3.) It was not moderate to take the position that almost any effort to push back at the market-distorting practices of China — practices that include theft of intellectual property, providing government support for massive state-owned enterprises, and the deliberate creation of overcapacity in key industries like steel and aluminum — is nothing more than “protectionism.”
4.) It was not moderate to assume that any deal claiming to advance “free trade” — even a 5,500-page deal negotiated by President Obama — is good for the United States.
5.) It was not moderate to stretch the executive war-making power to its absolute constitutional limits — and to double down on unpopular wars even when the voters sent clear signals to change course.
6.) It was not moderate to do nothing, year after year, to prevent a massive housing bubble that almost destroyed the economy in 2008.
7.) It was not moderate to go to Republican voters who were furious with party leadership, and who had been complaining about the immigration issue for almost 20 years, and tell them that the only two acceptable presidential candidates in 2016 were Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio.
On each and every one of these points, it’s the Bush supporters like Wehner who are the radicals, and the Trump voters who are simply trying to reassert common sense. With respect to immigration, for example, the moderate — and even prudent — thing to do is to assure everyone that the laws on the books will be enforced without special privileges for anyone. The notion that the president executes the laws as written is a bedrock principle of our democracy, but one that was sadly ignored in recent decades.
Similarly, it makes sense to use our economic leverage over China to encourage that country to stop acting in ways that distort markets — it is not only radicalism but folly to pretend China will change on its own. And finally, both common sense and caution demand that after years of relative economic decline, the United States must align its foreign policy goals with the resources that are available to achieve those goals. For years, many Americans have been mystified that their radical leaders in Washington are too stubborn to acknowledge these obvious points. And last month, they gave the White House to the only candidate who showed enough moderation to credibly plot a new course on these issues.
We need to understand that talking in a low tone of voice doesn’t make you a moderate.
American politics will enter a new era on Jan. 20, 2017, and so it’s very important for us to understand how we got here. Trump didn’t win the election because the voters wanted to do radical things like threaten war with Russia, eliminate any legal distinction between citizens and non-citizens, require gay marriage by judicial fiat in all 50 states, sell off more and more of the country to China, or allow policy discussions to be dominated by a tiny coterie of insiders and donors. Trump won the election because the voters were trying to stop those type of radical notions.
Furthermore, we need to understand that talking in a low tone of voice doesn’t make you a moderate. Populist candidates like Donald Trump will always communicate in a very dramatic way, because that’s the only way they can overcome the institutional advantages of their elite opponents. But after two decades of radical ideas couched in really boring prose, Trump is actually offering commonsense solutions that are much more consistent with our history and prior practice.
Until Peter Wehner and his fellow Bush supporters realize these facts, they will keep misunderstanding what has already happened in 2016 and what is likely to happen next.