Another Week, Another Prozac Prescription

As someone who's in about 87% agreement with the attitudes expressed in our Eye Candy du Jour, I'm eager to find out the answer to the question (Stephanie) Slade proposes in the current issue of Reason: Can Free Markets Win Votes in Donald Trump's GOP? The subhed explains futher: "As the party grows more populist, ethnically diverse, and working class, will Republicans abandon their libertarian economic principles?"

My answer to the headline question is "I fear not", and the answer to the subhed is: "Probably."

Given these [populist/ethnic/working-class] changes, it has become fashionable on the right to demand that the Republican Party shed what is disparagingly referred to as its "free market fundamentalism"—the deregulation and international trade that the GOP championed for decades, in words if not in deeds. A whole ecosystem of nationalist-populist institutions, from think tanks to media platforms, has sprung up to push Republicans to embrace left-wing economics, which can include support for everything from tariffs to pro-labor regulations to industrial policy to targeted antitrust enforcement against disfavored companies.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R–Fla.) offered an example of this perspective in The American Conservative in June 2023. "We are living through a historic inflection point—the passing of a decades-long economic obsession with maximized efficiency and unqualified free trade," he wrote. "It's time to revive the American System," that is, "the use of public policy to support domestic manufacturing and develop emerging industries."

Some members of the New Right go even further, calling, in the most extreme cases, for an "American Caesar" strong enough to purge the land of its libertarian elements and forcibly reorient society to the common good. But even the more temperate voices generally see the idea of limited government as passé.

Given (in addition) the recent smears of Nikki Haley as a "warmonger", it makes me want to ask GOP voters: "Do you even remember Ronald Reagan?" Whatever happened to free markets at home, and a "we win, they lose" foreign policy?

So what to the bettors think? Lets check it out:

Candidate EBO Win
Donald Trump 49.6% -0.7%
Joe Biden 35.9% -1.3%
Michelle Obama 6.0% +2.5%
Other 8.5% -0.5%

A slight surge for Michelle. Hey, it could happen! I dream up a new scenario every day! Also of note:

  • Unicorn farts aren't likely to be efficacious either. Dominic Pino chides our front-runner: No, Trump, the U.S. Can’t Pay Down the National Debt with Oil.

    Joe Biden has overseen massive government spending and some of the largest annual deficits in U.S. history. Had Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema voted as Biden wanted on the Build Back Better Act, the spending would be trillions greater. To run against him, the Republican Party appears ready to renominate Donald Trump, who, as president, signed off on $8.4 trillion in new debt and apparently thinks he can pay it down with oil.

    Trump said in his Iowa victory speech, “We’re going to drill. We’re going to use that money to lower your taxes even further. We gave you the biggest tax cut in history, and we’re going to lower them further. And we’re also going to pay off national debt.”

    First of all, lowering taxes, even if desirable for other reasons, would contribute to increasing the debt if not offset with spending cuts. So Trump’s own promises are already working at cross purposes.

    But the larger idea — that proceeds from energy production will pay off the national debt — is pure nonsense. Many of the things Trump says are difficult to take seriously, but given that he is increasingly likely to be the Republican nominee, and he has said this line repeatedly, it’s worth illustrating that this is simply a Trumpian version of the fiscal delusion that both parties are now committed to.

    Pino does the math, convincingly. I strongly suggest you RTWT, buying a National Review subscription if you need to. (Sorry, I don't have a "gifted" link to spare.)

  • Oh, here's some good news. Or is it? For those of us who can't stand Trump or Biden, Matt Welch informs us that our November Presidential Ballot Will Be Crowded With Third Party Candidates. Specifically: "at least five, maybe six."

    And we're not just talking about repeat randos like Rocky De La Fuente, either—independent Robert F. Kennedy Jr., with by far the highest favorability ratings in the race, has consistently polled higher than any nontraditional presidential candidate since Ross Perot in 1992. The centrist 501(c)(4) nonprofit No Labels, which is busy racking up ballot access in preparation for a post-Super Tuesday decision about whether to enter the fray, has been eyeing such nationally known figures as Sen. Joe Manchin (D–W.Va.) and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

    Jill Stein, with more name recognition than any Green candidate since Ralph Nader, is again seeking the nomination of a party confident about improving on its 30 ballot lines from 2020. And the Libertarian Party (L.P.) may have lesser-known presidential candidates running thus far but is riding a three-election streak of third-place finishes, enjoys a large lead in third party registration, and expects to be on the ballot in 48 states. "I think that 47 would be a failure," said Libertarian National Chair Angela McArdle.

    Well, … how about the Libertarians? Wikipedia lists four LP candidates:

    • Chase Oliver, who voted for Obama in 2008, but left the Democrats because his "anti-war views … were not being adequately represented by the party."
    • Michael Rectenwald, an NYU prof who lost a defamation lawsuit against coworkers who "sent accurate emails accusing him of behavior including sexism, bullying, drug use, abusing his position as chair of a hiring committee, and physical and sexual harassment." According to Rectenwald's website, Steve Bannon has called him "one of the most important public intellectuals out there."
    • Mike ter Mat. He's into the "Gold New Deal":

      I'm not sure where gold is actually involved.

    • Joshua Smith. From his "Issues", topic "Tax Plan":
      My administration would seek to end all federal income taxes, including payroll taxes, capital gains taxes, and estate taxes. We would then look at funding the federal government through a series of user fees for those services that people find themselves needing from the federal government, and voluntary crowd funding asks for services like national defense. If you need nothing from the federal government, you pay nothing.

    As a public service, I will point out that even you have five or six ballot choices, you don't have to vote for anyone.

  • Katherine Mangu-Ward bemoans The Bankruptcy of Nostalgianomics.

    Nostalgianomics is back. The White House and its proxies crow that the economy has never been better—and are greeted by skepticism from Americans who feel like life is less affordable than it was pre-pandemic. (To see why those Americans have a point, read "The Bankruptcy of Bidenomics.") Meanwhile, GOP politicians and partisans capitalize on this pervasive sense of economic unease to campaign for President Joe Biden's removal. In many cases, unfortunately, the call from the right is for something more than a return to pre-pandemic conditions. Many Republicans are falling back on a deeper and persistent form of historical revisionism.

    What these conservatives—along with an interesting subset of technocratic progressives—are selling is a return to an imagined economic golden age. While the specifics are strategically blurry, it is generally pinned somewhere in the 1950s, or perhaps 1960, in the United States. In its most meme-ified form, it is an image of a well-groomed lady smiling at her blue-collar husband over text that reads something like: "Once upon a time, a family could own a home, a car, and send their kids to college, all on one income."

    Well, my mom was well-groomed, and although dad was white-collar, they managed to send my sister and me to college. So… maybe I'm biased.

  • Sad, if true. Noah Rothman has (I think) bad news: The Generic Republican Policies That Made Trump Popular Aren’t Coming Back.

    The temptation to evaluate Trump’s administration solely on the style he brought with him into the Oval Office is a trap into which both his critics and his supporters fall.

    Donald Trump’s critics are liable to subordinate the policies over which he presided to their distaste for his garish affect and boorish demeanor. Trump’s fans are apt to attribute all criticism of the president to his detractors’ distaste for these superficial characteristics, even as they promote candidates who mimic these behaviors but reject the Trump administration’s policies. And yet, when attempting to ascertain the former president’s staying power as a political force, Trump’s promoters get closer to the mark when they note that the former president’s record suffices to convince voters to look past his vulgar deportment. Nowhere was the discrepancy between what Trump says and what Trump does starker than his record on Russia.

    The former president’s remarks this week on his approach to providing support for Ukraine’s effort to beat back Russia’s invading force illustrate this dichotomy. “I say pay,” Trump said in his uniquely terse fashion, adding of America’s European allies, “and they’ll pay, too.” Trump distilled his view on the American interests at stake in Europe’s war down to the transactional and material: “You add them all up, and they are in for about $20 billion, and we’re in for $200 billion because we’re stupid. All we have to do is say, ‘Pay!’”

    Trump’s figures are wrong. Through October of last year, European nations had committed roughly $83 billion to Ukraine, with another $54 billion package approved by the European Union just this week. While the U.S. contributes the lion’s share of military aid to Ukraine, that has amounted in dollar terms to about $77 billion over the same period. Still, Trump’s remarks are not suggestive of the hostility toward Ukraine’s cause displayed by so many who attempt to emulate his style.

    Rothman's next sentence is a quintessential straight line:

    Trump’s fans are confused, but that’s understandable.

    I'll let you do your own riposte about Trump's fans.

  • But meanwhile back at Camp Wheezy… Rich Lowry tells of Biden’s Telling Retreat. He lists off a number of reversals:

    Biden wants Congress to empower him, or even force him, to implement the kind of shutdown at the border that he inherited upon taking office.

    He’s reinstated the terror designation that Trump had made against the Houthis and that he lifted within days of taking office.

    He’s instituted a pause on funding for UNRWA after reversing Trump’s suspension in aid back in 2021.

    And he’s embroiled in an increasingly intense proxy war with the Iranian regime that Trump had been starving financially but Biden let off the hook upon taking office.

    And of course, Biden never reversed Trump's trade-wars-are-easy-to-win tariffs in the first place. We're still waiting for the win there.