2016 election, amnesty, attrition, Contract for the American Voter, Democrats, deportation, Donald Trump, entitlements, establishment, healthcare, Im-Politic, Immigration, immigration magnet, independents, Jobs, NAFTA, Obamacare, Peggy Noonan, politics, Populism, Republicans, TPP, Trade, Trans-Pacific Partnership, Wall Street Journal
Throughout this circus of a presidential campaign, I’ve emphasized the importance of distinguishing between Donald Trump’s myriad personal failings and the Republican presidential nominee’s campaign positions – which I remain convinced can form the basis of an urgently needed, sensible, and therefore, enduring new American populism. This week, substantial support for this proposition has come from Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan and, more surprisingly, from Trump himself.
In an October 20 essay, Noonan – long one of the most effective critics of the corporate-funded Republican establishment that Trump thoroughly trounced during the primaries – described the pillars of “Trump-ism without Trump” with her usual wit and grace. Among the highlights:
>He “would have spoken at great and compelling length of how the huge, complicated trade agreements created the past quarter-century can be improved upon with an eye to helping the American worker”:
>He “would have argued that controlling entitlement spending is a necessary thing but not, in fact, this moment’s priority. People have been battered since the crash, in many ways, and nothing feels stable now”:
>And he “would have known of America’s hidden fractures, and would have insisted that a healthy moderate-populist movement cannot begin as or devolve into a nationalist, identity-politics movement.”
The only matter on which I believe Noonan is seriously off-base is immigration. I certainly agree with her that Trump should have “explained his immigration proposals with a kind of loving logic—we must secure our borders for a host of serious reasons, and here they are. But we are grateful for our legal immigrants….” The problem is with her apparent belief that “In time, after we’ve fully secured our borders and the air of emergency is gone, we will turn to regularizing the situation of everyone here….”
As I’ve written, this popular (with both wings of the establishment) version of amnesty inevitably will supercharge America’s “immigration magnet.” The perceived likelihood of eventual legalization can only bring millions more impoverished third world-ers to the nation’s various doorsteps. It’s inconceivable that even a President Trump would take the measures needed – which would surely involve some use of force – to keep these masses, and especially the women and children, at bay.
The far better, indeed only realistic, approach is one that Trump himself has unfortunately barely mentioned: a stout refusal to legalize in any form accompanied by a strategy of attrition – i.e., encouraging illegals to leave both by boosting efforts to keep them out of the workplace, and by denying them (and their anchor children) public benefits.
But it’s almost like Trump was listening. Two days later, he came out with a “Contract for the American Voter” that echoed much of Noonan’s column. He promised that in his first hundred days in office, he would announce his “intention to renegotiate NAFTA or withdraw from the deal,” along with withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal. Both measures should draw strong support from Democrats and independents. In addition, Trump would designate China a currency manipulator, and order an inventory of predatory foreign trade practices.
On immigration, he omitted any reference to blanket deportation of all illegals and instead focused on starting to remove “the more than 2 million criminal illegal immigrants from the country and cancel visas to foreign countries that won’t take them back”; to de-fund Sanctuary Cities; and to “suspend immigration from terror-prone regions where vetting cannot safely occur. All vetting of people coming into our country will be considered extreme vetting.” Especially in the political climate that would result from a Trump victory, would most Democrats on Capitol Hill fall on their swords to prevent any of this?
And what did Trump vow re entitlement reforms? The phrase doesn’t appear at all in the Contract, although the list of legislative proposals does include the repeal of Obamacare and replacement with a system (described only generally, to be sure) that could well appeal to most Republicans and many independents, and that in combination with other measures mentioned could bend the national healthcare cost curve down further.
Couple these ideas with Trump’s support for a big infrastructure build-out and repair program; his broadly non-interventionist foreign policy stance combined with a big (job-creating) defense buildup; new government ethics reforms that seek to halt the corrupting revolving door between government and private sector; and any kind of serious middle class tax relief, and it looks to me like a (mandate-sized) winning formula – for a politician who can pass the interlocking personality, character, and temperament tests.
Can such leaders emerge from the current political system, as I recently asked? Are American politicians who rise up through this system simply too beholden to special interests, or too thoroughly imbued with the “If you want to get along go along” ethos to favor rocking any big boats? I still can’t say I know the answer. But I’m as confident as ever that unless and until this kind of candidate emerges, American politics is going to remain one very angry space.