Time to take the “con” out of reformicon ?

by John Quiggin on November 13, 2015

Ramesh Ponnuru has an article in the National Review, making the case that Hillary Clinton is likely to win the 2016 election. His central reason: Clinton has policies that will benefit middle-class Americans, and the Republicans do not. As he says

The Republican presidential candidates have not built their campaigns on offering conservative ideas that would give any direct help to families trying to make ends meet. Their tax-cut proposals are almost all focused on people who make much more than the average voter. So far, Republicans do not seem to be even trying to erode the Democratic advantage on middle-class economics.
All this is obvious enough, but it raises the question: rather than asking the Republicans to be more like Clinton, something they are obviously not going to do, why not just vote for Clinton? Or, for that matter, Sanders, who looks even better on these criteria.

The answer is pretty obvious. For whatever reason, Ponnuru is on Team Republican, as are other “reformicons” like Ross Douthat. But the Republican Party has shown little interest in his ideas, and the presidential aspirants none at all. So, he is in the position of a committed football fan who thinks his team is pursuing a bad strategy, or has picked the wrong players: the idea of following a different team is not an option.

As Damon Linker says here, this isn’t just a problem for the reformicons, but for anyone who aspires to the description “conservative intellectual”, and wants to engage with party politics.

{ 27 comments }

1

max 11.13.15 at 10:36 pm

rather than asking the Republicans to be more like Clinton, something they are obviously not going to do, why not just vote for Clinton?

Because Hitlery! She’s too realistic and cold-blooded and hawkish and stuff to be anyone a Republican could ever vote for. Especially since she might not harshly hammer the poor enough. It would be like voting for some liberal like Nixon.

max
[‘Also, hipsters with giant beards.’]

2

L2P 11.13.15 at 11:18 pm

“Why not just vote for Clinton?”

You’re an old-school American populist. You want help for the working class white person, but you ALSO want:

1. old-time religion,
2. strong support for Christian morality,
3. a (maybe mildish) form of patriarchy,
4. a foreign policy strong on blowing things up first and asking questions later, and
5. strict limits on sexy speech stuff.

Or, in other words, the many reasons voting for the Green party because Clinton is just another corporate centrist is a stupid, stupid idea.

3

kidneystones 11.14.15 at 12:55 am

Ramesh sees himself as an, ahem, intellectual and a conservative, who believes that America should have two political parties, one of which (his) professes to be the adult in the discussion. The reality, of course, is Donald Trump and Jeb Bush. Republican primary voters, at the moment, seem finally to be hip to the fact clear to almost all, that in the American political system Bush simply acts Trump’s butler, as will Hillary. She’s as much a prisoner of special interests, some foreign, as was her husband and is the current occupant of the Oval office.

Trump, much to the chagrin of Ramesh and company, shows no sign of falling away, and the famed ‘ten thousand media points’ that is supposed to vaporize Trump and/or Carson has yet to materialize. Panic is setting in for Republican elites, and perhaps even more so, for Dems. Republican rank and file voters are already outraged with the Republican elite, the coup that removed ‘crying John’ and propelled Ryan forward is far from over. Lower income white males are already deeply suspicious of Bush and company, and are, I would argue, entirely willing to overlook Trump’s easy to document flip-flops on any range of issues, simply because Trump will get shit done, so Republicans think. That’s why Trump is still number 1 after four months and the professional Republican politicians suffer in well-earned contempt. Because, let’s be clear, these are rank and file Republicans who can’t stand Bush. His unbelievably low poll numbers and the forced withdrawal of governors Walker and Christie speak eloquently of the desire for real change in Republican ranks.

Trump may well implode anytime up to the finish line. The Wapo and other articles outline the establishment Republican view: make it an ‘outsider’ versus ‘insider’ primary choice and the ‘insider’ always wins. That may well happen again. But who will this ‘insider’ be? Not Bush. And when Republican elites are credibly hoping to draft Mitt, that tells us all we need to know about their own confidence in the prospects of the ‘insider’ candidate versus Trump, or Carson.

Ultimately, the Dems are banking on the same insider/outsider strategy. The problem, of course, is that there are plenty of Democratic women who dislike Hillary. As a former supporter of HRC, I have found very little to admire in her tenure at State. Repeating the worst mistakes of the Bush years in Libya, Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan confirms Dem neo-con policies, a side of the Dems many voters find repulsive in Republicans, and unforgivable in Democrats. The students who rioted in 1968 were protesting the Democratic Party and the Dem’s war in Viet Nam, lest we forget. The children at U Missouri and Yale aren’t likely to be taking to the streets to oppose President Drone Strike Goldman Sachs because they recognize rightly that with the special interests controlling both parties, creating a ‘safe space’ in a college campus is the best protest can offer. Bush will be just as bad, or worse.

Which leaves a great deal of space for President Trump to define himself. Betting that he won’t get his message right with mainstream voters is a bad strategy. HRC is a cup of nothing, which is exactly how I described her boss when he ’emerged’ to capture the imagination of a weary America only to reward Americans and the world with more of the same only worse. Attempts by the GOP establishment to blacken Trump’s name with conservatives like Ramesh by citing his defense of single-payer and women’s rights will only serve, when repackaged in select markets and media, to make Trump more palatable to independents and voters unhappy to grant HRC her ‘right’ to the WH.

Ramesh is just going to have to deal with it, as are many Dems loyalists hoping the middle doesn’t defect to Trump, as I suspect many will. I’ve already seen plenty of liberals suggest that Trump is the candidate they’d find it easiest to live with.

It’s all Trump’s to lose.

4

Lee A. Arnold 11.14.15 at 1:40 am

With the attacks in Paris hours ago, it just became a national security election in the US.

5

tsts 11.14.15 at 2:28 am

“So, he is in the position of a committed football fan who thinks his team is pursuing a bad strategy, or has picked the wrong players: the idea of following a different team is not an option.”

Or, maybe he knows who pays his salary? Why risk that?

6

geo 11.14.15 at 2:37 am

L2P@2: voting for the Green party because Clinton is just another corporate centrist is a stupid, stupid idea …

… if you’re in a likely swing state, which few of us are, in this or any other US election.

7

Frank Wilhoit 11.14.15 at 3:27 am

@4: You seem to think that anyone has an attention span as long as a year.

8

bad Jim 11.14.15 at 8:24 am

The Hildebeast differs from any of the Republican contenders in various ways. She’s not a buffoon, not an idiot, not a racist, not a misogynist, not a fantasist.

The claimants of Reagan’s legacy contest among themselves over who will best diminish or destroy the very institution whose executive power they seek. They adore the gaudy toy of the world’s biggest military and regard domestic tranquility and general welfare as matters better left in private hands.

The short-fingered vulgarian, otherwise known as the libidinous visitor, has limited appeal to anyone who understands the basic ideas of insurance and commonwealth.

9

Lee A. Arnold 11.14.15 at 1:19 pm

Frank Wilhoit #7: “@4: You seem to think that anyone has an attention span as long as a year.”

No, I have repeated argued something to the contrary in these comments, which is that the electorate (and all other humans) have an EMOTIONAL attention span of about 3 months — but with the very, very big exceptions of war and religion.

The GOP? The Republican candidates need more votes, so you can bet they’ll accelerate their remarks on foreign policy.

The Dems? The next Democratic debate is TONIGHT (Saturday, November 14), and you can bet that the debate topics chosen by the moderators have been considerably revamped (and that Sanders will clearly join the hawks).

France and the US are already actively involved in air attacks on ISIL (a.k.a. ISIS), and those reports are now going to US front-page headlines. So the public will be taking more continuous notice.

10

Bill Camarda 11.14.15 at 1:30 pm

Ponnuru holds the principled belief that small government and maximum scope for individual action will lead to the best society for the most people. But he lives in a society where the vast majority of his allies share his principles for rather different reasons: because those principles liberate them from the need to help or care about the (many) people they dislike.

I don’t agree with his principles, much less his allies. But I sort of feel sorry for him, and the other reformicons he shares a phone booth with. They’re trying to conjure up a conservative movement that has come to seem self-evidently impossible, a contradiction in terms. We can debate whether that was always so, but it’s certainly the case now.

Make no mistake, though, cognitive dissonance is not a monopoly of reformicons: a healthy heaping of it comes along with being human.

11

Frank Wilhoit 11.14.15 at 2:55 pm

Bill Camarda @ 10: Ponnuru is a propagandist. His beliefs (as an individual) are therefore undeterminable and irrelevant. They are part of the propaganda. As soon as you “feel sorry for him”, you are letting the propaganda off the hook, whereas it is the real actor. We must argue with it, not with him.

12

bt 11.14.15 at 5:04 pm

@Lee Arnold:

It is really very depressing that the debates will be all about ‘fighting the terrorists’.

This is such a black hole for our politics. Jeb Bush is on it: THIS IS THE WAR OF OUR TIME.

Here’s to hoping that even Republicans are getting tired of this, at long last. Then maybe we can have a talk with the Saudi’s, who keep cooking up these Wahabbi, Death-Cult Sunni militias.

13

Omega Centauri 11.14.15 at 6:10 pm

“@4: You seem to think that anyone has an attention span as long as a year.”
No. But they will still feel scared and angry. And vaguely remember it has something to do with non Christian foreigners.

14

PlutoniumKun 11.14.15 at 8:14 pm

A lot of people pick a ‘team’ even when common sense and rationality say they should change sides. A well known example in Ireland was the highly successful and popular 2-time prime minister in the 1980’s, the late Garret Fitzgerald. He freely admitted that he was only a member (and leader) of the centre-right Fine Gael party because of his family tradition – he openly said his personal politics were much more aligned with the centre left Labour Party. I know many people (including a cousin who worked for the Republican Party in Texas) who found themselves voting for, or working with, a political party for all sorts of reasons with little to do with ideology.

But as far as the Republicans are concerned, it does seem that as a coherent political movement, they may be about to fall apart. All broad based political parties are to some extent a coalition of different philosophies and interests. If you are a ‘minority’ within the party, how long you stay depends on your assessment on whether it benefits you to fight your battles internally. In a first past the post system, there is always a very strong incentive to hang together, even if you despise your allies (witness how long the Reps, Dems, and UK Conservative and Labour parties have managed to keep together). The alternative is almost certainly electoral irrelevance. But with the Republicans, it does seem that the process of having Billionaires buy ‘pet’ candidate for every whacky far out belief, not the mention the manner in which the Koch Brothers are systematically taking over every layer of the Republican party might finally drive out the more sensible libertarians and many Eisenhower republicans. I suspect though that given human nature, they are more likely to just quietly withdraw, or become independents, than cross the divide, even if the Dems choose someone like Clinton, who by any reasonable standards is a right winger.

15

kidneystones 11.15.15 at 12:40 am

I’ve done my 24 hours of respect for the Paris tragedy. Re: the larger implications for the US election and Europe. Ordinarily, I’d agree with @7 – a year is a very long time in politics. I just watched Trump on Paris and he used the tragedy, predictably, to advance one of his own and the Republicans’ key electoral issues – gun laws. He argued, as he does, that creating gun-free spaces means that only the bad guys have guns. I’m Canadian/UK. Very few have guns, we don’t want people to have guns, and we don’t want to change the laws, or the culture to allow the marketing of guns. Indeed, America’s survival of the fittest, scratch your way to the top, has made a move to America unimaginable for me despite my/our deep debt to the US university system and many American friends. The issue of gun freedom and immigration are going to loom very large in the minds of many, after jobs and national security. Trumps many positions, as I noted earlier, will likely serve him well. Trump argues that the Iraq invasion created many of America’s security problems. Few here, I expect, disagree. Trump also argues that as a result of the feckless and ill-conceived polices of Republicans and Democrats, America needs a much more robust military. Defense jobs, patriotism, blah, blah, blah.

The Dem response will be to try to paint Trump as a crank, which on paper looked/looks to be a simple enough task. Except, that it’s not. Electing to serve an incompetent centrist hack with no talent for doing anything but writing autobiographies ensures that HRC, not O, will bear the brunt of Trump’s attacks on the failed policies of her boss. And a great deal of this will stick, I suggest. Andrea Mitchell recently raised her head from the ooze to inquire of the Democratic chairwoman why HRC claimed to have tried to enlist in the Marines, contra all evidence. Her majesty’s ambassador was outraged at the line of questioning, but had no response.

The parallels with 2007 continue to ring true. I disliked O from the his first prevarication over religion in politics. “Nobody asked MLK to leave his religion at the door.” Supporters of other candidates predicted O couldn’t stand the scrutiny and would fade. And he nearly did. In the end, however, the aura of inevitability had shifted from the old to the new.

Most Americans can live with a billionaire President, fewer with a Mormon, or even a Catholic. Money and getting lots of it is, after all, the national religion. And Trump is one of its highest priests.

16

Layman 11.15.15 at 1:40 am

The simple truth is that Clinton would be the candidate of Republican dreams, were she a Republican. She just happens to be in the wrong party. For that reason, she’ll probably win. Anything can happen in a year, but I would not bet against her at this point.

17

Barry 11.15.15 at 1:49 am

PlutoniumKun, I don’t see this being real problem for the GOP for the forseeable future. They control a number of state governments, and are looting them like crazy while trying to prevent the ‘wrong people’ from voting. They will control the House until January, 2023, which means that to a large extent Federal governance will revolve around the poles of nihilistic – well, nihilists.

If they get the Presidency in 2016, then the SCOTUS will be in GOP hands for another couple of decades. And it’s clear that the GOP SCOTUS majority is dead set on voter suppression and unleashing the rich to pillage.

If they don’t get the Presidency in 2016, they’ll likely play nihilistic defense against Clinton, figuring that they’ve got to win in 2020 (I agree with that).

Remember back in 2008, when many (on the right and on the left) thought that a few elections in the wilderness would force reform? Even if the GOP doesn’t do any better for quite a while, it would take until late in the 2020’s for that to happen. That would also take no good luck for them (i.e., a recession in 2016, all of the SCOTUS Five live until 2021, another 9/11, a well-timed financial crash, etc.).

18

kidneystones 11.15.15 at 2:14 am

@ 16. When you’re right, you’re right. I don’t think she’ll win, but your take is spot on. She ticks all the boxes.

19

Sandwichman 11.15.15 at 2:25 am

@15 “I’ve done my 24 hours of respect for the Paris tragedy.”

The people of Paris, but above all the victims, will be eternally grateful for your noble sacrifice, kidneystones.

20

kidneystones 11.15.15 at 2:30 am

Trump well ahead and attempting to take out Carson. http://news.yahoo.com/trump-surges-among-likely-republican-primary-voters-reuters-213521679.html

The worst-case scenario for the Republican establishment has Trump continuing to lead into Iowa, increasing likely, taking Iowa, reducing the threat from Carson, and sailing to the nomination.

HRC vs. Trump Head to head in the general: Clinton currently has the edge. http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2016/president/us/general_election_trump_vs_clinton-5491.html

For HRC vs. Trump, a year really is a long time.

21

derrida derider 11.15.15 at 7:18 am

HRC is overwhelmingly likely to be the next President.

The only one who might have seriously threatened her would have been Jeb. He’s already in deep trouble and Paris will be the last straw – it has increased the weight of Junior he has to carry.

If Trump gets the nomination, independents and RINOs will vote Hillary in droves. If the GOP establishment does manage to push some non-entity into the nomination it would have to now be by shenanigans. That would probably ensure that Trump will run as an independent, and even if he didn’t the Republican base would stay at home.

22

dilbert dogbert 11.15.15 at 3:50 pm

L2P at 2
Just read this: http://www.kentucky.com/2015/11/14/4138208/kentucky-counties-with-highest.html?rh=1
It would seem to confirm your views.
These are the folks who will elect the next president.

23

Barry 11.15.15 at 6:21 pm

derrida decider: “If Trump gets the nomination, independents and RINOs will vote Hillary in droves.”

Why ‘RINOs’? There would likely be a bunch of good Republicans doing that; indeed, one might say that *any* *good* Republican would.

24

lemmy caution 11.15.15 at 11:10 pm

supreme court

25

pensans 11.16.15 at 1:25 pm

I’d love to vote HRC except for supporting the baby killing and destruction of American civil society via immigration and radical feminism.

26

CJColucci 11.16.15 at 5:33 pm

RP is shocked, SHOCKED to find that there is gambling going on. I hope he has taken good care of his winnings.

27

kidneystones 11.19.15 at 1:14 pm

Can’t take a joke? Nope. HRC campaign demands all mockery must cease. Her majesty is not amused. http://www.judicialwatch.org/blog/2015/11/clinton-goes-after-laugh-factory-comedians-for-making-fun-of-her/

What’s the bet her defense will be ‘nobody told me?’

Some of the jokes are in extremely bad taste – the kind I like.

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