Trump has dominated the GOP for too long. We need a center-right party to restore reason.
In the post election haze I see a lot of theories being floated that have been driven by the feedback loop of media and social media. It is necessary, I think, to step out of that and understand one of the biggest problems for both the left and the right was in their constant need to reject what Trump ACTUALLY stood for, what he was challenging and what he was breaking down.
Trump would have likely won the election without the mail-in ballots and loosened standards on accepting those ballots because he had the momentum going in. He was willing to stand up, push back and not pander to what is happening on the left. Most of the Never Trump republicans -- all, in fact -- never understood that though Trump may have been bad the Democrats were the far more terrifying alternative. What I see now are the center right folks still needing to obliterate Trump and in so doing bolster what is happening on the left with "cancel culture." And I see people on the left like Yascha Mounk and Jesse Singal doing the same thing - Trump is evil but so is the left but Trump is worse. In order to really bring this country together there has to be some forgiveness for, understanding of Trump supporters and those who secretly appreciated what he was doing to disrupt an oppressive, censorious country. Any republican who does not understand that will not triumph in 2024. This is a war of ideology and there is no middle ground.
The only candidates who will rise and do well are those who follow in Trump's footsteps - not to troll and wreck government but to not just represent what the left appears to be trying to dismantle right now: freedom of speech, patriotism and law and order, but also to rise up and hold back that soft totalitarianism on the left. To you and many others that means "Trumpism." To many Americans it's the only guy who could take whatever attacks thrown his way. We can't live in a country that lives in fear. Any fearless politician will do well. The "center right" party can be built, and so will the Democrats try to find a moderate pocket to strengthen. But in the end, whatever it was that Trump had will win the majority.
Mona Charen seems to be more appropriately pessimistic about the probability of the Republican Party shedding Trumpism and becoming a normal party than Linda Chavez (in her recent essay). If such a transformation is possible, most of the burden of reconstituting the Republican Party will fall on conservatives, but only a few seem to be taking up the challenge. However, Democrats have a role to play because we have a stake in helping to create the conditions for a healthy two-party system with a sane, non-racist, non-nativist center-right party. That's a really hard (by which I mean virtually impossible, in my experience) sell to young progressives, who tend to believe that it would be ideal if there were no obstacles to their view of the good. One problem in trying to make the case in the university classroom is that students have been trained to think that someone who presents such a case is, in fact, a conservative. And if conservative, therefore: disloyal, neoliberal, racist, imperialist, etc.
Mona's criticism of many Republicans voicing unfounded claims of voter fraud are (of course) totally on point. She is also right that Trump did not deliver a populist agenda in spite of promising to do so. But there are a number of blind spots in her analysis. A typical Republican politician who supports free market stuff, and is pro-globalization and pro-immigration will not succeed in the Republican primary and will not win in the Presidential election, even against a relatively weak Democratic candidate like Kamala Harris. And that's not because most Republican voters are racist or sexist. The reasons (quickly jotting down some thoughts) are as follows. There are no links to data/evidence in the interests of brevity.
1. There has been a big change in the type of people who vote Republican over the last two decades. The typical Republican voter is not a white upper middle class educated professional in the suburbs, those people have been moving to the Democrats over time. The new working class Republican voters don't feel enthusiastic about globalization or about mass immigration of low skilled people which they believe will reduce their income. (They maybe right about that, the economic evidence is unclear).
I am not sure regional trade agreements like NAFTA are good for American workers, we already had significant trade liberalization under WTO rules. There is little additional benefit from these regional trade agreements which are frequently justified on strategic grounds rather than on the grounds of economic welfare. Trade agreements and many elements of the globalization agenda are unpopular and justifiably so. Tolerating China's economic abuses are unfair and unwise; we needed a Trump to point that out for us because most American politicians seem far too beholden to Wall Street to seriously question our China policies. We made it easy for a strategic adversary to gain on us, while also screwing our workers. Well done, mainstream politicians! Before blaming populists, let's look at what our politicians have done.
2. Republicans don't seem to believe in the free market ideology; they believe in blindly defending the interests of large American businesses. Can any senior Republican party leader offer a critique of the financialization of the American economy and the depredations of finance? This is a sector that creates very few jobs relative to other sectors , yet accounts for a large fraction of corporate profits. Don't they create many well paying jobs? They don't! Within a large Wall Street bank, it is mostly a small group of elite employees who make a lot of money, most people are not that highly compensated. Economists have shown that much of the activity of the financial sector is socially wasteful; it probably harms the economy. Similarly, can you imagine a Republican politician offering a critique of the American health care system from a free market perspective? They can't even imagine doing that because pharma companies and insurance companies and hospitals etc etc won't like it. All these players are insanely profitable in America because of their ability to manipulate the rules that sets the playing field.
3. This comment is already too long, so not elaborating on this, but neoconservative foreign policies, especially war mongering is very unpopular. But Republicans keep defending hawkish positions on national security issues and support the rhetoric of the national security state; the same people who are constantly looking for opportunities to start a war.
Why do Republican politicians keep defending (and acting as a force multiplier) for the interests of elite American corporations, even when these corporations donate a lot more to the Democrats? A guy like Mitt Romney will never win the nomination again, however much the donor class and Never Trumpers want that to happen.
We need a fiscally Conservative party that understands taxes are a necessity and can sell it to US citizens (now is not the time to be fiscally conservative, but as noted when in the green the country should work on lowering our debt), understands the plight of the working class and caters to it’s needs, but modestly not giving away the keys (people in many cases must be helped along but also incentivized to work and not stagnate), and one that doesn’t characterize those who are more successful as the enemy. I am centrist I am learning where once I was a moderate Republican.
I would appreciate reading ideas about restoring institutions in general. Both parties need to be strengthened as formative institutions; I agree that the Republicans also need to from a personality cult to a party informed by conservative principles. What can leaders in each party do to strengthen them; how can party members support them?
If Republicans were ever this reasonable, I would have voted for them. We need a centrist party badly. The quasi-Marxist will bring the Democrats down and we'll be stuck with two hateful, delusional visions.
this is good, thank you
You lost me at "Ideally, a center-right party would be a voice not for business, and certainly not for big business, but for consumers." In my view, a center-right party would be focused on a trade policy that protects American jobs and rebuilds our manufacturing base. Before CV-19 I was applauded to see a bright college grad working tables because they could not find a better gig that paid more. You might read The End of the Line by Barry C. Lynn to get a better understand of how center-left ideas lead us to where we are today.
I haven’t come across a Mona Charen column in years—even though, it appears, she’s been at it since the eighties. I have vague memories of her turning-up on television shows and panel programs in the distant past, back in the day when outspoken conservative women were, with a few exceptions, THE exception. (Thinking Margaret Thatcher and Phyllis Schlafly here…)
But now I see I haven’t missed anything.
This is pamphleteering, not commentary. Charen’s style seems to be a kind of head-strong reductivism. A collection of cheap-shots and half-truths. A Trump-hating short-hand meant to confirm beliefs, not challenge them.
The absence of off-setting irony suggests this was the goal from the beginning. Or, on closer inspection, an inherent limitation that defines her work.
There is certainly room for thoughtful reflection on our current political divide, and best of luck to Mr. Mounk in achieving it, but Charen is no analyst, or, for that matter, too deep a thinker. I combed this column in vain for an illuminating thought. Nada.
For the Barnard graduate and D.C. lawyer, everything is mostly “blatantly, obviously true.” Never mind that things that are obviously true don't require the kind of heavy-handed treatment Charen gives them.
She favors punchy put-downs--“demented”, “clown show”, “crack-pottery”. Evidence of a mind made-up. Conclusions reached.
Trump’s resistance to renaming military bases named after Confederate generals is proof, in Charen’s words, of “straight-up white supremacy”. And then, of course, there’s Charlottesville, and David Duke, and that inquiry into Obama’s suspected foreign birth, a conspiracy theory originally hatched by fellow Democrats—white supremacists all. It’s so OBVIOUS.
Charen has a habit of pulling prepackaged insults off the shelf. This column is spiked with well-worn slurs--“nativist”, “protectionist”, “conspiracist”--insults that, conveniently for Charen, require no further elaboration.
Like the odd-duck Never-Trumpers she is identified with, she has a way of straddling both sides of an issue, while ultimately tipping the balance in favor of the opposition.
“Let’s stipulate that some press reactions to the Mount Rushmore speech were overheated” she affirms in a typical column from this past summer, and then goes on at length to argue that Trump Republicans shouldn’t be so sensitive about the President being called a racist because, you know, it’s “blatantly, obviously true!”
She zig-zags maddeningly between critiques of Democratic policies on one hand while siding with Democrats against Trump on the other. This bifurcated mind-set characterizes the double game Never-Trumpers play, ingratiating themselves with Democrats while heaping contempt on Republicans.
This dishonest “even-handedness” is the kind of sleight-of-hand liberals love about Never-Trumpers. They appear to be conscience-stricken, struggling to reform their party while saving their souls. It’s a melodrama full of poppy-cock and self-conceit.
Aside from snarky one-liners, Charen has little to offer in the current debate but platitudes: Republicans should “treat people as individuals.” We should “govern ourselves responsibly”. A center-right party should “support struggling families”. We need to “reaffirm America’s leading role with other free nations.”
She wades into policy debates she has little understanding of: Job loss is “attributable to automation”, NOT free trade, she asserts. It’s so OBVIOUS!
She accuses the President who engineered America’s historic economic turnaround of undermining a central conservative tenet, “commerce enriches”. Thank you for contributing.
While it would be nice to read informed conversation on this site, attitudinizing of the Charen sort doesn’t really measure up.
Otherwise, best of luck with your new endeavor. And happy to be a subscriber.
It seems to me term limits would limit politicians' pandering on both extreme wings.
Good suggestions as far as they go for ‘normalizing’ Republican behavior. However, both parties were in dire straights before 2016. The Republicans just broke first. Either party going back to what they were before 2016 will just lead to another hot-house recrimination cycle and disaster. After years of wedge issues on one side, and single-issue/identity organizing on the other, neither party has a national perspective. That is a problem.
Trump did one thing right in addressing the pandemic: he pushed relentlessly for an early vaccine. That pushed America’s scientific and technical thinkers and the nation’s organizational know-how into high gear, demostrated what can be done when political leaders support the same goal.
On December 2nd, Persuation ran and article byTed Nordhaus and Alex Trembath, “To Fight Climate Change, Get Real” that made a similar point. It spoke to how policy arguments restrict the full use of American natural, financial and labor power to fight. In it, they critiqued the narrow, regulatory focus of the movement against climate change and suggest a program concerned with the self-interest of critics opposed to restrictions in rural and enegy intensive industrial areas, to consciously look for common interests. Any regulations, after all, can be reversed in by a future president.
To me, the authors outlined the costs of hyper-partisanship in very practical political terms. As the authors say, “The states and regions that Democrats need to win for governing majorities place major political constraints on what they can do about climate change.” Or anything else.
I’ve been wanting to see a statement of what the Buwarkians support. Finally, I have it. Thx