Wednesday, September 30, 2015

What do Donald Trump and Rand Paul...

...have in common? (Besides an apparent interest in golf?) They both may have had limited upside potential which prevented them from winning the Republican nomination. Also, ironically, by trying to broaden their support within the party, they may have doomed their campaigns altogether.

As Matthew Yglesias explained yesterday in Vox, "Donald Trump used to be the most interesting person in politics, but his tax plan made him boring" (all emphasis mine): 

Up until the release of his tax reform plan on Monday, Donald Trump was running a presidential campaign that was far and away the most substantively interesting and important development of the 2016 election. Far from a sideshow, his campaign was actually driving at the core blockage in American politics: the Republican Party's ironclad demand for lower taxes on the highest-income Americans. This is not the only uncompromising stand in American politics, but it is a curious one, since it is extremely unpopular with the broad electorate — something on which a huge share of rank-and-file Republican voters disagree with the party. 

Before this week, Trump said the wealthy should pay more in taxes, promised to protect Social Security, and, most important, feuded with the Club for Growth — the enforcement arm of the donor class's tax orthodoxy — and seemed to be prospering for having done so. None of that meant Trump would have been a good nominee or a good president, but it did mean his campaign was opening up the system and potentially laying the groundwork for more creative thinking from Republican politicians in the future.

Then on Monday, he threw all that away. He proposed a huge regressive tax cut that differs in detail from what other GOP contenders are offering but is perfectly compatible with the party orthodoxy.

It's not entirely clear why Trump took this particular turn. Even the GOP rank and file doesn't share the donor class's obsession with cutting taxes on the rich, and Trump is a very rich man who isn't relying on donors to fuel his campaign.

One possibility, however, is that Trump has started to believe he might actually win this thing and is deliberately taking steps to weaken elite hostility to his candidacy.
The reality, however, is that Trump has already shown himself to be far too much of a wild card for any halfway sane party regular to want to see him as president. Instead, he's simply thrown away the chance to do something distinctive without really doing anything to gain establishment support.

As currently positioned, he's an idiosyncratic figure, but his basic ideological position of pairing hardline anti-immigration politics with giant tax cuts for the rich is no different from where the average House Republican has been sitting for years.

In other words, Trump began his campaign with a unique niche: higher taxes on the wealthy combined with protection for entitlements. But this week he seemed to decide that while those positions could garner him, say, 30 percent in the polls, they may have prevented him from getting the GOP nomination. So, in order to broaden his base he abandoned them. The result? In a Catch-22, Trump may have just lost the nomination by surrendering what made him appealing in the first place.

As for Rand Paul, he began as a libertarian in the mold of his father but moved to more traditional Republican stances. The result? Like Trump, he may have sabotaged his chance for the nomination. The irony, of course, is that as a libertarian, like his father, he may have had a low ceiling anyway.

In another piece, Vox reports that Ed Crane, the head of a Super PAC backing Sen. Paul is frustrated:

Crane's critique is simple: Paul moved too far toward mainstream Republicanism, and his libertarian views "disappeared." Rand tried to be all things to all people, and in so doing lost what made him — and his father, Ron Paul — unique. 

It's no surprise that Ed Crane — a longtime libertarian true believer who co-founded the Cato Institute back in the 1970s — wanted Paul to run an ideologically purer campaign. But doing so would have sidelined Paul's campaign like his father's — limiting his appeal to a small part of the Republican electorate. 

Instead, Rand actually wanted to win the nomination. So he decided to try to appeal to a broader audience. For instance, he retained his anti-interventionist foreign policy views in general, but came out against an Iran deal that Republican voters overwhelmingly distrusted.
Similarly, Paul has remained quite conservative on economics, but has sanded down the rougher edges of his father's platform. "There’s no talk from the Kentuckian about ending the Federal Reserve, no quoting Friedrich Hayek and no laments about how the U.S. deserves a share of blame for terrorism," James Hohmann wrote in April. Paul himself told Hohmann his approach was "libertarian-ish, which means I have some libertarian impulses."
So far, this approach hasn't worked, and many are speculating that the end of Paul's campaign may be near (though his team denies it). But it was a reasonable strategy. Indeed, it's Donald Trump's anti-immigration and anti–trade deal rhetoric that's been hot among the GOP base this year. So while it might be comforting for libertarian activists to blame Paul's heresies for his failure to catch on, there's no reason to assume Ed Crane's approach would have worked better.

The bottom line: in politics, the niche that may initially put you on the map might be just what prevents you from taking the brass ring.

No comments: