Trump take three and why millions still support him

As the polarizing former President announces his third consecutive bid for the White House, it’s worth considering the difference between political theory and practice.  In theory, we shouldn’t be talking about Trump at all.  In practice, he continues to dominate the political stage like no other.

Donald Trump is the political difference between theory and practice.  In theory, the brash businessman and reality TV celebrity, complete with a messy personal and financial life, should never have been president, much less win based primarily on his appeal to blue collar workers.  The mainstream media and establishment politicians have been telling us that since his legendary glide down the escalator in June 2015 up to his announcement to run for the third consecutive time on Tuesday night.  The story has always been the same:  He is some combination of too chaotic, unpredictable, corrupt, autocratic, and wholly unqualified for office, not worthy of being elected dogcatcher in their eyes.   In practice, President Trump handily defeated the Bush political machine in the Republican primary and went on to the biggest upset in modern political history against the Clinton machine in the general election.  Never before had America elected a president with no political or military experience, defying every conceivable political trend, especially when you consider two modern political dynasties were arrayed against him.  Further, he prevailed by almost completely rewriting the Republican party platform, upending the neoconservative consensus that drove us to military action around the world, repudiating the Iraq War, rejecting establishment favored free trade agreements that gutted our manufacturing industry, rejecting equally establishment favored agreements with Iran that strengthened the Caliphate over Israel, and rejecting the establishment consensus on unlimited legal and illegal immigration.  Changing the Republican party’s position on one or two of these issues would have been a huge achievement for any politician.  Doing it across all of them and more in a single primary is unheard of since the Regan revolution, which actually took two election cycles, and there is no doubt the GOP had to be dragged metaphorically kicking and screaming the entire time.  (Check out how fiercely Grover Cleveland, another politician who sought the presidency three consecutive times, fought his party for twelve years and ultimately lost.)

The difference between theory and practice didn’t end with his election either.  In theory, Trump should not have been a particularly conservative president.  He spent most of his life as a moderate Democrat with no history of strong conservative positions, especially on social issues like abortion.  There were a few hints that he was concerned about America’s declining exports, manufacturing, and engagement in international trade going back to the late 1980’s, but nothing to indicate he would go on to be the most conservative president since Ronald Reagan, if not Calvin Coolidge a hundred years ago.  In practice, however, that is precisely what he did.  Even with the benefit of hindsight, it is difficult to overstate how radically he shifted the trajectory of the country in four short years – and the opposition he faced in doing so.  Prior to the Trump Presidency, conservatives had sought the end of Roe v. Wade and the judicially anointed right to an abortion for almost 40 years.  The idea that it might actually happen one day was well outside the so-called Overton Window my entire life, something that was discussed with the sure knowledge it would never be an actual occurrence.  President Trump changed all that with three conservative Supreme Court nominations, two pushed through against the fiercest onslaughts imaginable.  There is no one who seriously argues a President Mitt Romney or Jeb Bush would have continued to support Brett Kavanaugh after unsubstantiated claims of sexual assault, Devil’s Triangles, and high school gang rape rings surfaced in the summer of 2018, turning his nomination into a unique combination of a circus and feeding frenzy.  Republicans had a long history of withering under fire since Robert Bork in 1987.  It is doubtful any recent Republican President would have proceeded with Amy Coney Barrett during an election year.  If President Trump had blinked on either, Roe v. Wade would still be the law of the land.

Likewise, prior to the Trump Presidency, conservatives like myself had long resigned themselves to the endless growth of government power via the administrative state.  Presidents of both parties may come and go, but the regulatory leviathan continued to grow whoever is in power.  The last Republican President, George W. Bush actively fought on behalf of this growth, eschewing the conservative belief in federalism to increase executive power, ushering in many of the challenges we still face today.  No Child Left Behind was a massive expansion of the federal government’s role in education.  The Patriot Act, a massive expansion of the security state, creating the possibility and soon the reality that the government monitors every cell phone record of every person in the country.  President Bush also mandated the use of ethanol in oil, a costly provision that might actually harm the environment, but certainly benefits farmers who plant corn.  All told, the Heritage Foundation estimated that new regulations during the Bush Administration cost the economy another $30 billion per year.  Democrat President Barack Obama supercharged this effort over the next eight years, extending government regulations across the internet, temporary bodies of water (excluding ornamental backyard ponds for the time being), and atmospheric carbon dioxide.  In all cases, the government operated under the assumption that a given agency could, entirely on its own and with no accompanying legislation, extend its power into entirely new spheres never before imagined, regardless of the cost or impact on American life.  For example, government regulation of the internet, known as Net Neutrality, were proposed entirely by the Federal Communications Commission based on powers granted to it by the Communications Act of 1934, decades before the invention of the modern computer and almost 60 years before public access to the internet.  President Trump, however, had a different view:  He promised to cut two regulations for each new one, and systematically rolled back all the proposed Obama-era schemes and then some.  He ultimately cut eight existing regulations for each new one.

Without question, this is the most radical repeal of the federal government’s involvement in the economy and our day to day lives in a century.  Perhaps needless to say, the opposition was fierce at every turn, never missing the opportunity to hyperventilate about literally the end of the world as we know it.  A Democrat appointed commissioner of the FCC, Jessica Rosenworcel, said this about the repeal of Net Neutrality.  “I dissent from this rash decision to roll back net neutrality rules.  I dissent from the corrupt process that has brought us to this point. And I dissent from the contempt this agency has shown our citizens in pursuing this path today.”  The mainstream media agreed.  NBC News declared the decision to end Net Neutrality “infamous.”  “The repeal of net neutrality was one of the most unpopular actions by any government agency in modern memory; people across the political spectrum were outraged,” they opined.  They accompanied this with ridiculous claims that the average person would be “screw[ed] over more than they already are,” and that companies would now control “how they surf the web, listen to music, watch videos or read the news,” none of which happened.  The reaction to rolling back the government’s ability to regulate carbon dioxide under President Obama’s (not voted on by anyone) Clean Power Plan was even more hyperbolic.  California Governor Jerry Brown claimed “This is a declaration of war against America and all humanity” on Twitter.  Democrat Senator Ed Markey declared it a “public health disaster,” promising to do everything in his power to stop it without mentioning that he didn’t do anything to vote for it either.  Rhea Suh, President of the National Resources Defense Council said in a statement, “The world’s on fire and the Trump administration wants to make it worse,” calling the move a “dangerous” retreat.  None of them mentioned the fine print:  President Trump’s rollback of the rule was based entirely in the federalist tradition.  The power to enact these regulations was given back to the states, as NBC News noted at the time, “carbon monoxide reduction rules first set by California in 2006 and by a compact of nine Northeastern states in 2009 likely can remain in place.”

Trump’s war against the regulatory leviathan cannot be easily separated from his remaking of the federal judiciary including the Supreme Court.  Before Trump, the courts operated under the principle that the agencies themselves have broad discretion to decide for themselves what falls under their purview, essentially giving them the ability to expand their own power as they saw fit.  After Trump, conservative justices and judges have been emboldened to embrace a new “major questions” doctrine which imparts a higher level of scrutiny any time an agency creates new regulations that have a large impact on the economy or society and yet weren’t conceived by the legislature.  Earlier this year, the Supreme Court voted to block the Biden Administration’s unprecedented nationwide vaccine mandate, instituted bizarrely under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.  “Although Congress has indisputably given OSHA the power to regulate occupational dangers, it has not given that agency the power to regulate public health more broadly,” the court wrote.  “Requiring the vaccination of 84 million Americans, selected simply because they work for employers with more than 100 employees, certainly falls in the latter category.”  Progressives on the Supreme Court itself including Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan were enraged, writing on their own, “As disease and death continue to mount, this Court tells the agency that it cannot respond in the most effective way possible. Without legal basis, the Court usurps a decision that rightfully belongs to others. It undercuts the capacity of the responsible federal officials, acting well within the scope of their authority, to protect American workers from grave danger.”  Progressives politicians, “experts,” and assorted personalities in the media picked up on the same themes.  Brad Woodhouse, a former Director of Communications for the Democrat National Committee, said, “Republicans want to prolong the pandemic – have more people get sick and die – so they can blame Biden and win an election.  And the Supreme Court just helped them. Disgraceful.”  Anthony Michael Kreis, a law professor at Georgia State, apparently one with no understanding of the law, claimed “The Court is willing to let people die in the name of indefensible formalism.  The president should take the Supreme Court to task for this abomination.”  The New Republic’s Matt Ford was even more shocked, writing “More ominous is the basic mindset that girds the conservative justices’ thinking in both cases. In its view, the executive branch cannot use its existing powers imaginatively to address novel matters of public concern.”  Without Trump, these egregious abuses of executive power would have continued and worsened, as they h ad been for decades.  We do not need an “imaginative” executive branch coming up with creative ways to increase their power and control.  President Trump succeeded in stemming a tide that had been building for generations.

The same is true of international affairs:  President Trump stands as the lone President since Jimmy Carter who refused to engage America in yet another foreign conflict.  Before Trump, generations of inertia at the Pentagon and throughout the military industrial complex had led to a state of perpetual war, whether the president was a Democrat or Republican. Over that period, we witnessed excursions in Grenada, Iraq, Serbia, Afghanistan, and Iraq once again, the latter two being with particularly disastrous results.   Even the self-proclaimed anti-war warrior, Barack Obama, could not resist the urge to involve us in revolutions in both Libya and Egypt, the fall out of both linger to this day.  So callous was our commitment to endless war, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, “We came. We saw. He died.”  Libya is no longer a functioning country, abandoned by the Obama Administration almost immediately after.    As with almost everything else, President Trump had a radically different approach.  He would use American muscle where necessary, wiping out the ISIS Caliphate so fast it baffled the experts and authorizing key strikes such as the assassination of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Leader, Qasen Soleimani, where necessary.

The result was a Middle East rapidly getting remade on his watch, with the first peace deals in generations between Israel, Saudi Arabia and other Arab States.  Between these peace deals, the defeat of ISIS, and the assassination, Trump isolated Iran on the world stage and emboldened other Arab nations to finally align with Israel, completely upending a power structure in the region that had thwarted the experts for almost 50 years.  Simultaneously, he sought to use American economic power to solve long standing challenges in Europe, North America, and China.  The results were indisputably impressive:  The lowest border crossings in decades, a rewrite of the North American Free Trade Agreement more preferable to the United States, a rapid increase in European military spending to meet their NATO commitments and an accompanying increase in American energy experts to reduce their reliance on Russian oil, plus the first major Chinese trade deal in so long I cannot remember, which was unfortunately killed, effectively, by the pandemic.  This all happened as America became a net energy exporter for the first time in decades, by some accounts 70 years.  President Trump also ushered in the first overhaul of the tax code since the early 1980s.  The first reform of prisons and incarcerations since the 1990s, and a bipartisan one at that.  The creation of 9,000 “Opportunity Zones” in disadvantaged communities, resulting in $75 billion in funds and $52 billion in investments, creating 500,000 new jobs where they were needed most.  The first creation of a new military branch, the Space Force, in generations.  All of which would be considered major achievements independent of everything else.  That these achievements were accompanied by (a pre pandemic) 7 million new jobs, 1.2 million of them factory jobs, an increase in middle class income of approximately $6,000 per year, the lowest unemployment in 50 years, and the highest number of people working in American history plus 7 million people cast off food stamps and income inequality falling for two straight years is unprecedented.

Remember, the theory was that President wouldn’t do any of this, wasn’t capable of any of this for various reasons, and certainly Democrats, the mainstream media, and government bureaucrats did everything possible to prevent it in practice.  No recounting of Trump’s accomplishments can be complete without considering the opposition he faced even before he was sworn into office.  There is no President in modern memory as maligned.  Once need to go back to Andrew Johnson after the Civil War to find anything even close.  The situation was so severe that The New York Times proudly described how government employees that ostensibly reported to President Trump were actively trying to undermine him as part of The Resistance.  All the talk of the chaos of the Trump Era neglects the old adage: It takes two to tango.  The very people defying him at every turn, frequently with massive lies and distortions, who attempted to remove him from office multiple times in multiple ways, all act as if they had no part in the drama.  The message was clear: Trump was such a unique threat that any and all legal or illegal means to defy him were fair play, forget that the is the President and has a Constitutional duty to enact his agenda. In that context, what was President Trump really supposed to do, give up and abandon everything including his own voters?  In theory, that’s certainly what they wanted and what they tried to achieve over and over again with no thought at all for what it might do to the country and the American people.  In practice, it didn’t happen and President Trump prevailed on all the issues cited here and more.  He prevailed because he fought, fiercely, vocally, and admittedly at times, chaotically.  Because he would not back down under any circumstances, no matter who or what was in his way.  Even when he failed, as in his attempt to repeal Obamacare, he tried over and over again, past the point of any political practicality.  It is inconceivable that any of this could have been achieved with the go-along-to-get-along attitude preferred by the establishment.  If you seek to take their power, they will fight.  You have two choices, fight back or roll over.  Trump chose to fight back, time and again, at great cost to him and precious little personal benefit.  At any point, he could easily have backed off and made his own life much, much easier.  He chose not to because, for whatever reason, he is passionate about Making America Great Again and he is willing to do whatever it takes to see it so.  Theory now has it that he can’t do it again.  That it’s time to anoint Florida Governor Ron DeSantis or someone else.  Admittedly, Governor DeSantis is a great choice in theory, and I share a detailed opinion on his potential in an upcoming post, but practice may say otherwise on both counts, as it has so many times before.

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