Tales of supposed political unity abound in recent days, following the election of former Obama administration Secretary of Labor Tom Perez to be the next chairman of the Democratic National Committee and following President Donald Trump’s address at this year’s CPAC convention, the first time a president has addressed CPAC in his first year in office since Ronald Reagan 36 years ago.
Perez, supported by the Clinton/Obama wing of the Democratic establishment, won a second-ballot victory over the Bernie Sanders/Elizabeth Warren-backed socialist Muslim Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN), a man who would have been an even better choice than Perez, though not by much, if the Democrats’ goal were to make themselves a party with even narrower appeal than it has now.
President Trump trolled Perez in a Saturday afternoon tweet: “Congratulations to Thomas Perez, who has just been named Chairman of the DNC. I could not be happier for him, or for the Republican Party!” Trump added, perhaps aiming to widen the fissure between the more radical progressives and the slightly less radical progressives – the only two groups with any current influence in the Democratic Party – that Ellison was the victim of the same shenanigans that killed Bernie Sanders’ presidential hopes: “The race for DNC Chairman was, of course, totally ‘rigged.’ Bernie’s guy, like Bernie himself, never had a chance. Clinton demanded Perez!”
The new DNC chair, struggling to put back together the Humpty Dumpty party that he now runs, responded to Trump: “Call me Tom. And don’t get too happy. @keithellison and I, and Democrats united across the country, will be your worst nightmare.” Clearly this is Perez’s new talking point, as he repeated the same message on the Sunday shows: “Our unity as a party is our greatest strength and it’s his worst nightmare.”
It’s not that Perez isn’t doing his best. After all, his first act as chairman was to offer a motion, which passed by acclamation, to name Ellison deputy chairman of the party, and present him to the room with a hug. Ellison responded in kind by congratulating “our chair” and asking his supporters to “give everything you’ve got to support Chairman Perez.”
However, Republicans are hardly shaking in their boots, with “unity” at the DNC demonstrated by protests of angry leftists chanting, “Party for the people, not big money.” Isn’t it more than a little odd that, despite the Republican president being a billionaire, it is the Democratic Party in 2017 not just a subsidiary of the National Education Association and SEIU but also of Wall Street and “big Pharma” and lawyers and real estate developers that is now the party of the plutocrats?
As former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich noted on ABC’s This Week, the Democratic establishment is “sclerotic” and “the Democratic Party has not been in this bad shape since at least the 1920s.”
It’s a near-perfect environment for Republicans to operate, but the GOP has its own unity-related challenges.
On Friday, Donald Trump addressed this year’s CPAC convention in a speech containing many of his frequent themes: The “fake media” is the “enemy of the people”; we’re going to put American citizens first, defend our police and our flag, cut regulations, take care of our veterans, and other things you can recite from memory by now (which is not a bad thing — it’s nice to know what a politician actually stands for).
But despite the breathless eulogies by the media and some Republicans that a Trump presidency defines the GOP as “a party of Reagan that no longer exists,” one couldn’t help but notice the subdued cheers for Trump from the CPAC audience compared to the boisterous support for Vice President Mike Pence the day before.
Republicans and conservatives have not been coopted by the Trump/Bannon mindset of “economic nationalism” (and other shallow thinking cloaked in the mantle of taking care of Americans, full of policy ideas that Frederic Bastiat would immediately recognize as the work of the “bad economist”) that this administration is promoting.
Rather, many on the American right (or, more precisely, we, including the more libertarian-leaning among us, who are on the non-left) recognize that Donald Trump’s emphasis on the deconstruction of the regulatory state, reducing the size of the federal government, implementing tax reform and simplification, repealing and replacing Obamacare, and moving able-bodied Americans off welfare and onto the work rolls fit squarely within the traditions and goals of Reagan Republicans.
We support these efforts as offering the most positive changes for our economy and economic liberty that this nation has seen since Reagan or perhaps since long before Reagan (since for all of his laudable principles, government didn’t actually shrink under Saint Ronald).
We appreciate Donald Trump for not being Hillary Clinton. We appreciate his taking the press to task (though we might think it’s time to move on to a more substantive conversation). We appreciate his willingness to abandon political correctness and take a message directly to the people through social media (though we might wish he’d be a little more careful with his wording). We appreciate his pushing our foreign allies to carry their weight when it comes to the cost of their own defense (though we might wish he wouldn’t suggest that he’d check the accounts before coming to their aid against foreign aggression).
We are willing to give Mr. Trump time to prove himself, perhaps more time than we might give another president due not only to his lack of political experience but also to the unprecedented level of obstruction that Democrats will continue throughout the entire Trump presidency and the shameful degree to which “mainstream media” is clearly out to get the guy.
It is to this extent, but only to this extent, that we on the non-left are united. We are more united than the Democrats are. But it is a fragile unity. There are many people who voted for Donald Trump without enthusiasm (or who unenthusiastically voted for a third party or even for Hillary Clinton), who want him to succeed but fear the negative, unintended consequences of the man.
The populist wing of the Republican Party, those most supportive of Donald Trump, are likewise not particularly concerned with unity. They will struggle against any efforts toward increasing free trade, for example, even though the benefits brought to all Americans from trade have long been a fundamental part of the GOP’s raison d’être. They may support President Trump’s Democrat-worthy budget-busting call for a trillion dollars in infrastructure spending and the terrible idea of import tariffs under the more pleasant name of a “border-adjustable tax.”
Meanwhile, principled conservatives will (eventually) oppose these things, creating fissures within the GOP, which may be why we have not seen these issues get anywhere near actual congressional debate so far, as House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell figure out how to have these conversations in a way that doesn’t turn into the patented GOP circular firing squad.
So what will happen, when the GOP goes down these Trump-guided but distinctly not Reaganesque roads? Will the party find a unified middle ground such as a much smaller amount of infrastructure spending and corporate tax reform that doesn’t raise the tax on so many things that American consumers and producers buy every day? Will they, in the interest of unity, abandon the aspects of these issues that will divide the right and focus on policies that Republicans have long stood for and that are more likely to get through Congress and to the president’s desk?
Or will President Trump insist on a populist path that turns this nation from having one Humpty Dumpty party into an international laughing stock that has two shattered major parties and nobody who really knows how to put them back together again?
I’d rather be the Republicans than the cracked-up mess that is the Democratic Party right now, but the GOP is just one good push away from falling off that same political wall.