THE FOURTH WAY: The Conservative Playbook for a Lasting GOP Majority
By Hugh Hewitt. Simon & Schuster. 235 pp. $24.99
Hugh Hewitt’s “The Fourth Way” has the title of a manifesto but the soul of a search-and-rescue operation. As in, searching for things Donald Trump could conceivably do as president — good and lasting things that American voters would reward in coming elections — and thus rescuing the Trump presidency from itself.
The alternative? A bloodbath for the GOP Congress in the 2018 midterms, as well as a Republican presidential primary challenge in 2020 — if Trump even makes it that far. Yes, let it be remembered that one of the earliest post-inauguration impeachment warnings hailed not from the far left but from the respectable pro-Trump right, in a book to be published just days into the new administration. “The idea of the impeachment of President Trump is hardly a fantasy,” Hewitt, a conservative radio host, Trump supporter and television fixture during the 2016 race, freely admits. “If President Trump proves reckless, he will be impeached, tried, and removed. If President Trump is proven corrupt, he will be impeached, tried, and removed. If President Trump abuses power, he will be impeached, tried, and removed.”
To avoid that fate, Hewitt offers Trump, Mike Pence, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — he calls them “TPRM” for short — a governance road map, one seeking to consolidate and extend this new era of one-party control. “They can work a historic realignment,” Hewitt writes. “But only if . . . they govern in the key of we: inclusively, energetically, joyously, celebrating freedom and prosperity.”
So what does this inclusive and joyful Trump agenda look like? It features predictable items (tax reform and entitlement reform, military expansion, originalist judicial appointments), novel ones (infrastructure spending focused on small, community-based projects across the country) and then a double-take hot take: an immigration overhaul that offers legal status, though short of citizenship, to millions of undocumented people living in the United States.
Yes, in Hewitt’s mind, a leader who launched his candidacy denigrating Mexican migrants and who campaigned on proposals for a border wall and a deportation force is just the guy to bring everyone together on immigration reform. “Donald J. Trump can do what perhaps no other American politician can do: he can reform the immigration system while regularizing the 11 million immigrants in the country without permission and while also building a ‘wall’ — in reality a long, strong, double-row border fence with an interstate running between the two fences for the Border Patrol to travel on quickly,” Hewitt writes. “He can do this without any credible number of serious critics branding it an ‘amnesty’ or a ‘sellout.’ ”
Such an accomplishment would earn the new president all manner of superlatives: Trump would “electrify American politics,” “smash the gridlock,” “cut the Gordian knot on immigration” and hit a “political grand slam,” Hewitt writes.
I can imagine a few more it might elicit from his fiercest supporters.
The author wraps this collection of policies into what he calls the Fourth Way. (You can’t issue a policy document without calling it a Doctrine or Paradigm or Manifesto or Way, or maybe a Deal.) Distinguishing his platform from FDR-style liberalism, Reagan conservatism and the Clintonian Third Way, Hewitt describes the Fourth Way as “a recasting of long-stalemated left-right politics, absorbing most of the traditional Reagan agenda (and methods) — free markets and strong defense — while adding an emphasis on improvements in infrastructure and modernized delivery of those parts of government that cannot be replaced by the private sector.” If they quickly move down this path, GOP leaders can “remake America into a booming, generous, open-handed Republic of Virtue, a land of great and growing happiness in a world of great and growing happiness.”
Not just Trump the immigration reformer, but Trump the virtuous, too.
Trump has promised more infrastructure spending, and Hewitt’s particular model involves new local agencies disbursing federal funds to nonprofit projects in their areas, based loosely on Hewitt’s experience in California serving on the Children & Families Commission of Orange County. Hewitt foresees these “Trump boards” funding and endowing dental clinics, health-care centers, fitness facilities and family shelters for the homeless. Funny, it’s the kind of work a president with a background in, say, community organizing might find appealing! The money would come from a stimulus bill that Congress would pass early in Trump’s term, totaling $83 billion, or one-tenth of the Obama stimulus of 2009. (It’s never entirely clear why this is the right number, aside from the fact that it’s a round percentage of Obama’s bill and a sum Hewitt deems “reasonable.”)
Such local projects would embody what Hewitt calls “tangible Trump trophies” (T3s), real things the president could create that would then boost his reelection chances. For instance, the healthy choppers resulting from all those dental clinics would be called — brace yourself — “Trump teeth.”
On technical matters of tax policy, entitlement reform and defense buildup, Hewitt admits he’s no expert. “I’m not a ‘tax reform’ guy,” he writes. “Never have been. Never will be.” So he defers to specialists he knows and likes, and sticks their proposals in appendices at the end of the book. (You might call that lazy — or just a new research model for today’s busy nonfiction writer.) Hewitt himself offers general principles and a few memorable specifics. On taxes, for example, he stresses that “the key is not marginal rates but simplicity, certainty, steadiness, and a sense of justice,” and he proposes allowing Americans to withdraw 10 percent of their retirement savings tax-free and without penalty, as a “massive tax cut to juice everything.” Again, I’m not sure why 10 percent makes sense, but there it is.
Hewitt also calls for a tax on repatriated corporate profits, proceeds of which would help fund his infrastructure projects and defense buildup. He takes aim at the Environmental Protection Agency, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Fish and Wildlife Service, because “the free market will not flourish in this country until these three agencies are dismantled from top to bottom.” That said, Hewitt is not terribly ideological; the Fourth Way can do “a short-term dance with industrial policy,” he writes, if it helps start tech hubs in Rust Belt states. “I really don’t trust Wall Street Journal Republicans fresh from their Ludwig von Mises cruises on the Adriatic,” he zings.
The author does trust the new president, though. Hewitt admits that he never thought Trump would win the Republican nomination, let alone the White House, and he even called on the GOP nominee to leave the race when the “Access Hollywood” tape grabbed Trump by the misogyny. But he came around and supported him — mainly out of concern with Supreme Court appointments. Even though “no one believes that President Trump is much concerned with the particulars of any set of cases or line of precedents, or even with the Supreme Court’s work as a whole,” Hewitt writes, he is confident that Trump will choose justices in the originalist mold of the late Antonin Scalia.
That confidence flows from an interview he conducted with Trump in August, when the candidate assured him that he’d stick with a preapproved list of conservative, Scalia-like jurists. “It’s a great list of people,” Trump told him. “Yeah, I mean, if we veered from that, I would say block it.”
Hewitt trusts that Trump will keep not only his word but his cool, too, and not succumb to the demons that could toss him from office. “Gerry Ford, much like Mike Pence, was a welcome midwestern alternative to too much drama and too much abuse of power,” Hewitt recalls. “The people have their limits.” But Trump “is not likely to casually tempt the impeachment gods,” Hewitt predicts. “He knows the history here. He will self-regulate.”
He’s not? He does? He will? Is Hewitt still waiting for the pivot? There is little in the book to suggest that Trump will embrace the Fourth Way, and though Hewitt mentions repeatedly that he interviewed Trump 15 times, he quotes only sparingly from such conversations, or from Trump’s words at all. It almost reads as if “The Fourth Way” was originally drafted as a plan for how the Republicans could regroup after a November defeat, only to be rewritten furiously following Trump’s victory. The new president feels forced into a preexisting platform, not the other way around.
Which might explain Hewitt’s remarkable hedging about the prospects for President Trump. “He can indeed win and win and win,” Hewitt concludes. “Or he could fail. Terribly. Cataclysmically.”
Yes, it could be one of those things, or another —or perhaps even one followed by the other. After all, it often doesn’t take long for a search-and-rescue mission to be downgraded to a recovery operation.
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