The Orthodox Republicans’ Quandary with Trump

On the MSNBC program “Morning Joe” yesterday, Joe Scarborough chewed the fat with Michael Needam, CEO of Heritage Action for America, a quite conservative organization, about how the Republican Party might take the “American Enterprise Institute” view of economics, which he, as a former Republican Florida congressman, subscribes to, and marry it with some actual policy proposals that Trump’s base of disaffected working-class folks might go for. “Put meat on the policy bones,” as he put it.

This is the dilemma these conservatives are stuck in these days. They think that Trump is trying to reach the working class, but in a “crazy” way. People like Joe–“sane people,” he said–want to get the party back to more orthodox rightist economic thinking: something along the likes of Friedrich Hayek, whom Joe said he admires.

Well, that’s their problem. I don’t have any particular bright ideas to help them out. I think the workers actually need to pay attention to some very different economic concepts than the AEI’s and Hayek’s, but I’m rather stumped about what to do in that area, too. Actually, there have been some pretty right-wing versions of socialism that have appeared here and there in the past, as socialists tried to compromise with capitalism enough to get the system moving even a millimeter or two in their direction, but I’m not interested in them, either.

Michael Steele, former Republican National Committee chair, also joined the Morning Joe discussion, and made a point that actually was not far off target, I think. His view was that the Trump base was going for The Donald’s perversions (that is, the Orange Man’s variations on the theme of trickle-down economics) instead of the orthodox conservatism because the likes of Hayek were just too intellectual. For decades, Republicans had been preaching straight free enterprise, free trade, and free love (oh, sorry–not that last!) in the mistaken idea that their base was eating up these principles, but now it turns out that Trumpian narcissism and xenophobia are what are charming them. The danger is that, whether Trump wins or loses, he will be a Pied Piper who captures all the kids.

The discussion turned to the view that many GOP voters seem to be heading towards splitting the ticket–not voting for Trump for President (or Hillary either, of course), but going for the down-ticket candidates, from Senator and Representative down to dog-catcher. If so, this might indicate that they are still pretty traditional Republican voters, but turned off by some of Trump’s personal characteristics.

The other day, Michael Moore suggested that these (almost all white) voters see Trump as a “hand grenade,” which they could toss into the existing political system to blow it to pieces, hoping that something more to their liking might somehow result. I think he is right about that. These people really have no idea that they themselves might become true political activists by organizing themselves to carry out communal action to make their interests prevail. Like nearly all Americans, they think of the President as The Leader, who has his or her (mostly his) hands on all the levers of power in “far-off D.C.” and is their only hope for changing the course of events. “If only the Tsar knew,” as Russian peasants legendarily groaned in the 19th century.

There are a couple of popular ideas going around about Trump as a great economic leader. One is pretty negative, as described in a Washington Post article a couple of days ago.

On his way into church, at the suburban parish he shares with Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), Fred Glynn, 63, said that Clinton’s support of abortion rights made her impossible to accept. But the tax story, which he had just seen on CNN, added to the reasons he would have to reject Trump.

“How can he not pay income taxes?” he asked. “He talks about helping people, but he doesn’t pay income tax? That’s helping everybody. It’s like the situation in Florida, where he didn’t pay taxes on his golf course. The school suffered from that.”

“It’s disgusting,” said Steve Crouse, 65, the owner of Toledo’s downtown Glass City Cafe and a separate printing business. “As a businessman, he’s got that right to do that. It’s the way the laws were set up. But it’s not right. I would feel guilty if I didn’t pay anything. It’s flat-out cheating the government. You’re using all the roads, the fire department, the police, so you should pay for that.”

The other is much more positive, as also presented in that article.

If Clinton’s campaign saw Sunday as a turning point, Trump’s most devoted supporters weren’t going along with it.

“He’s a businessman, and he has lawyers,” said Jane Pisano, 86, shrugging as she walked into Sunday Mass. “What bothers me more are the lies that Hillary has told. He didn’t do anything to hurt our nation. She did, and she continues to do so.”

One state over, at the crowded Pennsylvania rally that Trump held as the story broke, his fans offered similar spin. “Diamond” Mike Allen, a 55-year-old Trump supporter living in southeastern Pennsylvania, said it was absurd that someone leaked Trump’s tax returns. Whoever did it, he said, should be sued — and the revelations had not dented his view of Trump.

“I want somebody who knows the loopholes,” said Allen, a former wrestler who now does stand-up comedy. “I love it. That’s the guy I want for president. If it was done legally, he deserves that, his employees deserve that. My hat’s off to him.”

Allen said that he paid federal income tax every year and that he always felt “ripped off.” The government, he said, doesn’t spend his money as carefully as he would. And he would rather that the wealthy pay their fair share through a flat tax, so he hoped that Trump would win the election and end special tax breaks.

Radicals who would like to steer the country’s politics in a different direction need to study both of these attitudes and figure out how to make themselves heard to both groups.

qedd© Jon Johanning 2011