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A tough path for the Republican ’20 percent’

  • Author: John Havelock
    | Opinion
  • Updated: August 12, 2018
  • Published August 12, 2018

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a press conference after their meeting at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, Monday, July 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

While Democrats gnash their teeth and rage at the stupidity, giddy showmanship and policy ignorance driving the Trump administration, their anger is no match for the twenty percent of Republicans who grieve that President Donald Trump has stolen their party.  Eighty percent of the GOP is apparently immovable, except as required to follow their leader's tweety zig-zags, mesmerized. The other 20 percent, the business conservatives who now call themselves "pragmatists" and who speak through virtually every columnist who once called himself conservative, are in personal agony.  When once they seemed to be the navigators, standing beside the man at the wheel of Republican power, these spokesmen now can only watch as the captain spins the wheel willy-nilly.

The obvious course for the disillusioned Republican is alliance with like-minded independents and moderate Democrats within that party, even if the less moderate appear to be trying to swing to the socialist enchantments of a comprehensive welfare floor common in Western Europe. David Brooks, Dean of the 20 Percent School, has put forth former New Orleans mayor and Democrat Mitch Landrieu as the ideal candidate.

If the Democrats nominate Landrieu, then the whole nation, beyond the Trump core, would move in relief to dump Trump in the 2020 election. But alas, the Democrats seem bent on following the leadership of Massachusetts' U.S. Sen. (and former Harvard professor) Elizabeth Warren, the apparent heir to Vermont's Bernie Sanders, who offers impossible benefits like free college, an employment floor and free medical services for all. Apparently, this kind of government is only possible in Western Europe and the Scandinavian countries.

Alternatively, the 20 percent wonder fondly whether they could put up a third party, offering their 20 percent and dreaming they could peel off a sizable part of the Trump base to bring with them.  The new country they offer is its own utopia, though most elements are reminiscent of the opposition to President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal and everything enacted since. Those conservatives still around? Their new country is a decentralized America based on state rights but preserving constitutional rights of the individual.

Here is their new New Deal.  Federal power over the economy and federal benefit programs, from Social Security to farm price supports, would be repealed.  Whether its education, housing, health or jobs, policy choices and costs would all be up to each state. Sounds like, suppose Lincoln had cut a deal with the South and avoided the Civil War.  President Ronald Reagan's declaration that "government is not the solution, it's the problem" would be the rule, leaving each state to its own perspective on government functions and reducing the national government's role to defense.  This approach bubbles with a surprising level of naivete, a profound and dangerous misunderstanding of the current structure of the nation's social, economic and political configuration and our place in the world which a few call "libertarian" to escape the weirdness of its novelty.

If the thought is that state governments are better at addressing complex problems, the new pragmatists have not examined each state's political, social and economic structure with much attention.  They also seem to have forgotten that we are now one nation, with its residents and commerce moving helter-skelter after opportunity all over a country centered on massive urban cores.

States engage already in damaging competition for economic enterprise by offering bids of lower taxes to new industry.  Where will the money come from for this dramatic shift to state services? Has nobody noticed that we have poor states and rich states that finance them, and that particularly in poor states, social and economic hierarchies predating the Civil War still hold sway? Wouldn't they love to have their power reinforced? Is this what restoring American greatness looks like?

There is just one alternative, one choice for the 20 percent, and that is to grit teeth and vote Democratic. In due course, Trump will crumble and crash, and Republican moderates can recover and restructure their party during the Democratic interlude, offering the nation a rational leader and a well-formed platform four years later.  That's the American path to change.

John Havelock is a former Alaska attorney general. He lives in Anchorage.

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