Internationally, the United States is in retreat and malevolent forces (Russia, the Islamic State, Iran) are in ascendancy. Even Republicans are divided on the need to rebuild our military and the country is (sort of) taking seriously as the next president the co-author of Russian reset and Iran concessions.
News coverage and political discourse are frivolous, crass and serve to obscure not enlighten. In the GOP party, a man of exceptionally rotten temperament and noxious attitudes toward foreigners and women sits atop the polls, with a lovely but unqualified gentleman in second place. The media generates polls predicative of nothing much, obsessively covers them and thereby affects everything from fundraising to debate participation to the advantage of entirely unserious characters. Self-described conservatives undermine respect for the courts, scheme to shut down the government and engage in egregious xenophobia. Democrats’ are deciding between a thoroughly corrupt grandmother and an old socialist as their standard bearer. Like I said, it’s looking grim out there.
Despair however is neither warranted nor advisable. Without being Pollyannaish, let me suggest four reasons to fend off despondency.
First, perspective is in order. The country has gone through much worse, be it the Civil War or the Great Depression or the Vietnam era (when America’s campuses and street were aflame, our international reputation was tattered and a corrupt president was forced to resign). In the post-Watergate era, the GOP has certainly had a rougher time of it. Foreign policy disasters can be followed by a resurgence of American leadership as we saw in the 1980s. Already the political tide has turned dramatically in just seven years when Democrats won both houses of Congress and the White House. As for politicians’ behavior, at least they are not caning or shooting one another. As for the media, MSM reporters and pundits are being nearly as harsh in their Hillary Clinton coverage as they would be if the perpetrator was a Republican. In other words, things might seem irredeemable but historically speaking they are merely alarming.
Second, if one looks beyond media distortion, the reality is not quite as bad as it is portrayed. Breaking down the polls, Donald Trump’s double-digit lead has been whittled down to single digits in many national and early state polls without so much as blowup on TV (in the vein of Howard Dean’s scream). In an honest media environment not devoted to keeping ratings high and the Trump bubble intact, that would be news. (How about: “Trump domination over already” ?)
Granted, the top challenger is another outsider with questionable political skills, but Ben Carson’s rise in polling seems to suggest that it is not Trump per se that has captured disagreeable Americans (who may or may not be registered to vote and may or may not be primary voters). Trump was August’s vessel for discontent; Carson may be September’s. Rather than wait for a dramatic Trump implosion, perhaps there is reason to anticipate a slow leak of support from the angry voices clamoring for someone different than all experienced politicians. They might be angry but they may not thirst for someone who is angry, just someone who sounds different and is not a professional inside-the-Beltway politician. So look at the fluidity and volatility of the race and the multiplicity of candidates. You may find there is still a very good chance the GOP will stumble upon an electable candidate.
Third, one cannot beat something with nothing, and fortunately Republicans have lots of ideas, good ones. Forget about the Trump scheme to round up 11 million people (anyone do the economic analysis of that?) and the old saw about “shutting down the IRS.” There are serious policy efforts going on. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Florida governor Jeb Bush have full-blown tax plans. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker have well thought out health-care alternatives. Christie also has a concrete and detailed entitlement-reform plan. Bush, Rubio, Christie, Walker and Carly Fiorina have set forth a plethora of suggested changes in foreign policy. Conservative critics clamoring for alternatives cannot complain there are not any. In fact the ideas come almost exclusively from the “establishment” branch of the GOP rather than the loudest panderers.
Maybe the problem is not lack of ideas but a few unhinged, unfit candidates with no serious contribution to critical policy debates. Rather than obsessing over the media obsessing over Trump, conservative media might want to devote more time to examining the substance of these ideas. In short, with a little effort, nervous conservatives will find plenty of ideas that are both good politics and good policy. They just have to ignore the screamers who threaten to drown out more sober candidates.
Fourth, serious voices in the GOP are waking up and demanding serious candidates. The Club for Growth, to its credit, is now calling out Trump for his incoherent and inconsistent economic views. The Hill reports:
The group’s political arm is launching a $1 million advertising campaign in Iowa starting later this week, branding Trump “the worst kind of politician.” The two advertisements highlight Trump’s past statements that he identifies as a Democrat and that he has supported using eminent domain to take private property. Trump, one of the ads says, is “playing us for chumps.” . . . . President David McIntosh declared: “Donald Trump has the worst [economic] record in the entire field with the possible exception of Bernie Sanders.”
Other principled conservatives are likely to join in, not to mention Trump’s opponents and a smattering of super PACs. Even conservative media outlets initially intrigued by Trump are now fed up with his act.
Put simply, there is a lot to be glum about. Nevertheless, conservatives disturbed by the state of the world, the country and the GOP should get out of their fetal position. Put current events in perspective, look through the media distortion and alarmism, look at what serious candidates are offering and keep an eye on grown-up voices pushing back against charlatans. There may be a time to panic, just not now.