"Trump movement" explained (Whipple)

On October 16, members and guests of the Conservative Caucus of Delaware gathered in the Harry Savoy ballroom for our 21st Annual Banquet. One of the highlights was a talk by Timothy Carney of the Washington Examiner. His title was “Populism, Conservatism and Election 2016.”

Currently the senior political columnist for the Washington Examiner, Mr. Carney is a graduate of St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland, and the National Journalism Center. He got his start in Washington working under the direction of the late Robert Novak, initially as an investigative reporter and later as editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report. He has also written for a number of other publications, and authored two well-received books – “The Big Ripoff: How Big Business and Big Government Steal Your Money” (2006) and “Obamanomics: How Barack Obama Is Bankrupting You and Enriching His Wall Street Friends, Corporate Lobbyists and Union Bosses” (2009).

“I’m not running for governor in Delaware,” the speaker began, in a lighthearted reference to the candidacy of John Carney (who in the meantime was representing Delaware in Congress). He went on to mention several other Carneys who are active in public life, but don’t happen to be relatives of his.

Turning to his subject, Carney described the Trump presidential campaign as a free market revolt with populism added. Although some observers have perceived this thrust as unique, it’s actually been a long time coming. The current uprising against the establishment can be traced back to the tea party movement, which flowered in 2010.

Government activities are profoundly shaped by groups that favor various regulations and programs, and there’s a cozy relationship between the representatives of said groups and the politicians and administrators who have the power to approve and implement their requests.

Granted some risk is involved as politicians aren’t always reelected. But election losers can become lobbyists and do very well. It’s no accident that five of the six wealthiest counties in the United States (the sixth is Hunterdon County, NJ) are located within commuting distance of Washington, DC.

At some point, big segments of the population catch on that no one in Washington is working very hard to represent their concerns. Despite a lot of encouraging talk, especially around election time, they see precious little action. It’s natural to start thinking about pushing back.

The people concerned aren’t necessarily right, said Carney, pointing out that he disagrees with Trump and his supporters about impeding free trade and severely limiting immigration. Still, they have real interests and a right to be heard; their concerns should not be blithely ignored in crafting policy solutions.

The instinct of establishment Republicans is to make deals with the business community. Losing elections can be sobering, however, and the defeat of challenger Mitt Romney (a favorite of the GOP establishment) in 2012 led to an agonized reappraisal (aka “the autopsy”).

Given demographic trends, it seemed apparent that Republicans must appeal more effectively to nonwhite and/or non-native factions, lest it morph into an irrelevant minority party. This point was duly reflected in the autopsy recommendations, but no one gave much thought to whether the Republican rank and file agreed.

Along came Donald Trump, with his “make America great again” agenda. The rank and file liked what they were hearing, and Trump beat all his opponents during the primaries. Establishment Republicans weren’t able to block Trump, so he became the candidate despite having defied the autopsy recommendations. Since then, however, things hadn’t been going so well.

Having followed the polls quite closely, Carney said, he thought a Trump loss in the general election was inevitable. (Most pundits shared this view, but things broke for Trump in the last two weeks of the campaign.) Carney also predicted that Republicans would hold the House of Representatives in the congressional elections, but possibly lose its majority in the Senate. (The GOP lost two Senate seats, but retained a slim majority.)

Much as establishment Republicans might wish otherwise, the populist elements in the conservative movement are not going to go away. To thrive, says Carney, the GOP must become a populist-inspired party that favors limited government. While there is no reason to spurn the business community, an avowedly pro-business model would be a sure loser.

And the revolving door is alive and well, so don’t feel sorry for politicians who wind up being ousted. They can probably find a lobbying job and do very well. Just ask Mike Castle.

Carney took several questions from the audience, including the following:

Q. What’s the best source of polling info? A. Real Clear Politics averages.

Q. What about the “Bradley effect,” e.g., voters who don’t want to admit they are going to vote for Trump but will do so when the time comes? A. I think it’s more likely that unexpected voters will turn out for one side or the other. This doesn’t seem to be happening so far, but keep an eye on the early voting.

Q. Re the “America first” theme, are we seeing a showdown between globalism (favored by the elites of both parties) and tribalism? A. We are all tribalists. The issue is what tribe one belongs to.

Q. Will the prospective realignment of the Supreme Court threaten religious liberty?
A. The pendulum tends to swing back and forth on this kind of thing. Be worried, but take a longer-term view.

Q. What’s the best answer on illegal immigration? A. I don’t have any problem with the idea of securing the border. But the 11 million or so illegal immigrants who are here already can’t simply be deported. Go easy with complaints about amnesty, etc.

Q. What’s the role of media in this election? A. Whatever the media should be doing, it’s not “fact checking.” Some of the efforts in that department have been absurd, e.g., Clinton didn’t “acid wash” her e-mails, she used “bleach bits.” But Trump has brought some of this on himself by making sweeping charges without spelling out the details very carefully.
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