WASHINGTON, August 18, 2015 – Donald Trump is indeed a unique phenomenon. He has never held political office, has never really been a Republican, has been pro-choice, has supported a single-payer health system, has contributed to the campaigns of Democrats. Hillary Clinton among them.
Trump also doesn’t play by the rules. He has insulted a variety of prominent figures. Among his targets have been Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Fox News host Megan Kelly. His behavior has been brash and boisterous and he has not hesitated to characterize both President Obama and Republicans such as Jeb Bush as “stupid,” and worse.
Though he hasn’t mentioned it recently, he has long been supportive of the view that the president was not really born in Hawaii and, therefore, is in office illegitimately.
Despite all of this, Trump leads the large Republican field in all the polls and by a significant margin. He stands out from the others because no one knows what he might say or do. He is not scripted by a horde of pollsters and political consultants and is not beholden to large contributors.
Trump has also taken aim at his opponents who have raised millions of dollars from such contributors who are now able to remain anonymous. Once a large contributor to candidates himself, Trump tells us the obvious, which everyone else denies. He boldly admits that people and corporations (who are also “people,” as Mitt Romney told us) do not give large sums of money to candidates without expecting something in return.
Since the contributions are anonymous, voters have no way of knowing what the candidates have promised to do for contributors if they are elected.
Trump tells voters that he is financing his own campaign and, as a result, will make his own decisions.
One of the things he got in return for his contributions in the past, Trump tells us, is to get Hillary Clinton to attend his third wedding.
On foreign policy, Trump says he would “knock the hell out of ISIS,” but also highlights his opposition to the Iraq war from the beginning, a war which he says destabilized the Middle East, led to the rise of ISIS and increased Iran’s power and influence in the region.
Republican candidates other than Rand Paul, are having a hard time telling voters that George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq was a serious mistake. Jeb Bush even has architects of that war, such as Paul Wolfowitz, on his team of advisers.Donald Trump seems to be running not against his Republican and Democratic opponents in particular, but against the self-perpetuating Washington political class.
This class, which includes both Democrats and Republicans, has an interest in ever expanding government. After all, they have a vested interest in spending. Members of Congress, in one form or another, subsidize a host of special interest groups from farmers to Wall Street financiers, labor unions, automobile manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies to name a few.
Each group has a political action committee which finances the members’ campaigns. If the subsidies are cut, or eliminated, contributions will be cut or ended. The result: every group gets what it wants, and the budget deficit skyrockets, no matter which party is in power.
Another wealthy businessman who entered politics, Ross Perot, asked:
“Will we be the generation that allowed this great country to cease being first and best in the world? Will we leave our children with an unconscionable multi-trillion debt, so that we can continue our debt-spending binge? Will we be the first generation to take more than we gave, and fail to pass on a stronger country and a better life to our children?”
Perot charged that,
“Our country, effectively, does not have a national budget. We avoid facing the budget issue by passing continuing resolutions that put us deeper into debt each year. There is no correlation between taxes paid by the people and money spent by the government. More and more, our national debt is being funded by foreign investors. We no longer ‘owe it to ourselves.’ These foreign investors can stop funding our debt at any time they lose confidence in the dollar, leaving us vulnerable at an inopportune time…We are losing in internatiinal business competition…In 1986, we lost our position as the world’s leading exporter and we had a trade deficit in high-tech products, supposedly the base for future growth.”
As a businessman, Donald Trump seems to understand all too well that business does not necessarily believe in the free market, but simply wants to maximize profits. If using government to subsidize products, keep competitors out of the market or bail out failed enterprises is the best way to make money, they are all for it.
This is what we have come to call “crony capitalism.”When he was in the Senate, Jim DeMint, who now heads the Heritage Foundation, declared:
“In an era of corporate welfare—which is largely taking on the characteristics of 1930s-style corporatism itself—the interests of big business are veering away from the interests of economic freedom and toward the interests of big government…For the past eight years, the Republican experiment in big government hollowed out our core identity…Small-government conservatives were attacked by leading Republicans for choosing principle over poll-tested politics. It was in these battles that…the marriage between the Republican Party and corporate America was finally consummated.”
In DeMint’s view,
“The road back to Republican success is not to reinforce our weakened coalition of corporate interests. but to drop it altogether. Republicans shouldn’t be the party of business any more than they should be the party of labor—we’re supposed to be the party of freedom. We should get out of the business of picking winners and losers in the marketplace. We should not care who wins in fair fights between Microsoft and Apple, between CitiGroup and community banks…All we should demand is a fair fight. If Goliath beats David, so be it—just so long as he does it without corporate welfare…In a system of corporate welfare, those who suffer most are Americans who pay higher taxes funneled to sell-connected companies.”
Donald Trump has played this nefarious game and, as a result, seems to understand how it works. He also seems to realize that the right-wing cliches which are brought out of storage every four years for voters in Iowa and a handful of other unrepresentative states have nothing to do with how Republicans govern once in office.
Talk of the dangers of big government and government deficits—and porous borders–do not ring true because, once in power, Republicans push forward with the very policies they opposed in the primaries. By pointing this out, Donald Trump has hit a nerve.
Republicans have become the advocates of what Jim DeMint called “corporatism.” It is interesting to recall that Adam Smith once said that when two businessmen get together, the subject of discussion is how to keep the third out of the market.
Historian Gabriel Kolko discusses how the railroad magnates of the 1870s and 1880s petitioned the government to protect them from the headaches of “cutthroat competition” and relentless rate wars. It was the railroad lobby that promoted the establishment of the Interstate Commerce Commission, which they quickly came to control.
In 1907 AT&T faced serious competition from other phone companies. To solve this dilemma, AT&T president Theodore Vail lobbied state governments—and the federal government—to let AT&T become a nationwide monopoly.
In today’s political arena, unscripted speech gets you in trouble. When former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley said “All lives matter,” in response to protestors from the Black Lives Matter movement, he quickly apologized. Seeking support from Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, a supporter of Israel’s right-wing, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie quickly apologized for using the term “occupied territories,” to refer to Israel’s control of the West Bank.
Donald Trump doesn’t apologize, even, referencing his attacks on John McCain and Megan Kelly, when he should .
The New York Times notes that,
“Mr. Trump is offering an unusual mixture of extreme language, moderate policy and rudeness, and so far it’s connecting with Republican voters.”
Where all of this will end is, of course, not possible to predict. With most Republicans walking in lockstep on almost all issues, and Hillary Clinton avoiding even taking positions on many controversial issues as she repeatedly proclaims how honest she is, which polls show voters disbelieve, there is little competition when it comes to unscripted responses to the issues of the day.
Only Bernie Sanders, with his earnest advocacy of positions he has long held, is receiving the kind of interest Donald Trump has attracted. Is a new day arriving in American politics, or is this a brief moment which will pass before “politics as usual” resumes?
We shall see.