Bannon Is Failing the Leadership Test

by Cinzia Croce

Ever since leaving the White House, Steve Bannon has done a masterful job crafting a public persona as the insurgent general leading the fight to rescue Trump’s agenda from the corrupt GOP establishment.  Complete with the crumpled Indiana Jones jacket and unshaven face, the self-described president’s wingman wasted no time declaring war on Mitch McConnell and calling for a populist takeover of the Republican Party. Bannon’s fiery rhetoric and pledge to hold accountable Republicans who betrayed their voters are music to the ears and hearts of many party activists who long ago realized that the likes of Ryan and McConnell pose the greater obstacle to their aspirations than the Democrats. If anyone still has any doubts about McConnell’s commitment to undermine the president, his handling of tax reform should remove them. The Senate GOP bill postpones the corporate tax cut – the very jet fuel Trump needs to get the economy roaring – until 2019. It is almost as if McConnell is hoping the GOP will lose control of Congress and clear the way for the Democrats to remove the president from office.

When it comes to taking on the GOP establishment, Bannon deserves encouragement and applause from anyone who wants the Trump administration to succeed. However, holding political enemies accountable is not enough to be an effective leader. It is very easy to rail against those we despise – in fact, it is quite enjoyable. The true test of leadership is holding political friends accountable when their actions are just as harmful as enemy attacks and on this score Bannon is failing — bigly! Continue reading

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On Tax Reform, Trump’s Chasing Another Dead-End

by Cinzia Croce

The Mooch warned us. After his departure from the White House, Anthony Scaramucci granted his first interview to George Stephanopoulos and declared that Trump needed  “to move away from that sort of Bannonbart nonsense”  and “…move more into the mainstream. He’s got to be more into where moderates are and the independents are.”

A week later, we got the first taste of what a more “mainstream” Trump will be like. In his Afghanistan speech, he announced that he was going to turn his back on his instincts and campaign promises and send more troops to Afghanistan to “seek an honorable and enduring outcome.” Yesterday, we got the second taste of the New Trump, when he delivered a speech calling for tax reform that could have easily been delivered by Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan. It was full of the old Reagan Republican buzzwords like “growth” and “opportunity,” and stale, crusty talking points like “Americans know better than Washington how to spend their own money.” Trump the rebel, the insurgent candidate that took Washington by storm, is slowly morphing into just another traditional Republican politician promising more tax cuts and wars. Continue reading

Four “Easy” Steps to End the Russia Investigation

by Cinzia Croce

Whenever speculation mounts that Donald Trump is about to deliver his famous line “You’re Fired!” to special counsel Bob Mueller, the NeverTrumpers begin circling the wagons by offering their unsolicited and disingenuous advice to the president. The best scenario for Trump, they say, is to let Mueller do his job and exonerate him. It is important for the American people – they always add this, cloaking their political maneuvering in the noblest terms – to find out the truth about Russian meddling in our elections.

That would be sound advice if the investigation was about finding the truth. However, even the most naïve soul in America by now has realized that the special counsel was not appointed to “find the truth” about Russia or anything else. His task is to rid the DC swamp of the intruder the American people dared to elect in November.

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Mueller wasted no time in revealing his hand. He packed his team not with experts in counter-intelligence or cyber-security, but with individuals well versed in white-collar crimes. In just two months, he has moved away from the original mandate and is now reportedly looking into the private financial dealings of Trump and his campaign associates. It will not be much longer before Mueller will issue a subpoena for the president’s tax returns – the Holy Grail that both Democrats and NeverTrumpers sought during the campaign. Their hope has been, and still is, to either force the president to resign by threatening to destroy his financial empire or, better yet in their eyes, to completely discredit and destroy him so that no other outsider will ever dare to challenge the status quo again. The stakes in this fight are very high, and if the government of, by, and for the people is to survive, the president needs to immediately take bold and decisive actions to end the Russia investigation.   Continue reading

Marine Le Pen Should Get Tips From the Democrats

by Cinzia Croce

As soon as it was clear that Emmanuel Macron would be facing Marine Le Pen in the final round of the French presidential election, the other major candidates immediately closed rank behind Macron in an effort to keep Le Pen from reaching the Élysée. The only exception was Jean-Luc Mélenchon – the far left candidate – who initially said he wanted to see the official results before conceding, but eventually declined to endorse either candidate, deeming them both unacceptable. The reason offered for supporting Macron – who has never held elected office and founded his political party only a year ago – has little to do with Marine Le Pen as a candidate, or even her particular political program. Rather, it has everything to do with a negative consensus about her political party, the National Front.

Marine’s party was founded by her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, in 1972, to unite various nationalist and reactionary movements on the political right. The party attracted monarchists, Vichy nostalgists, ultra-conservative Catholics, and other fringe elements. Jean Marie Le Pen added to the toxicity of his party by repeatedly trying to minimize the horrors of the Holocaust. Consequently, for most of its history, the National Front was deemed an untouchable party, and operated at the margins of French politics.

In 2011, Marine took over the party leadership from her father and began the process of reforming the National Front and bringing it into the mainstream. She purged many of the unsavory elements within the party, even going so far as to expel her own father. Despite all of her efforts, Marine is being held accountable for what François Fillon – the defeated presidential candidate for the French Republican Party – described as the National Front’s “history of violence and intolerance” — and Marine herself indirectly acknowledged the anchor weight that is her party on her political aspirations by resigning as its leader a day after reaching the runoff.  Continue reading

Lessons from the Brexit Debate

by Cinzia Croce

By the time Margaret Thatcher realized that the European Common Market she supported had become a backdoor through which Labour could undo Thatcherism, her political fortunes were on the wane while the forces for greater European integration were gathering steam even within her own political party.  On Thursday, British voters will have an opportunity to achieve what Thatcher could not as they head to polls to decide whether the UK will leave or remain a part of the European Union. Until the tragic murder of Labour MP Jo Cox, the Leave campaign had pulled ahead in the polls and was gaining momentum. Some of the Remain supporters were quick to pounce on reports that the alleged killer shouted “Britain First” while committing his heinous crime — and began insinuating that somehow the Leave camp’s rhetoric was responsible for the crime. Whether this naked attempt to exploit the death of Ms. Cox — an avid supporter of the EU — will succeed in garnering more support for the Remain camp will become clear in the next few days. Continue reading

How Trump Put Reaganism On Death-Watch

By Alex Knepper

The indispensable Sean Trende of RealClearPolitics.com has repeatedly challenged my belief that Trump is the product of a base in revolt by pointing out that a surprisingly large portion of his support comes from self-described ‘moderate’ Republicans. The idea that Trump was attracting disproportionate support from supposedly moderate people made little sense to me, but I was not sure how to account for it. One popular argument used to be that Trump’s success across all Republican factions was due mostly to his name ID and media domination. But Jeb Bush and Chris Christie for a very long time had much higher name ID than Ben Carson — and Carson was still frequently tying or defeating the former candidates among Republicans overall. Among conservatives, a less-covered, less-known conservative could beat more-covered, more-known ‘center-right’ candidates, so we would expect at least that these supposed ‘moderates’ would disproportionately break for Bush and Christie. But no: they liked Trump as much as anyone else.

I have come to a different conclusion: that ‘moderate’ Republicans since Reagan’s presidency have never really been ‘moderates’ at all. Many if not most of them really are basically secular people who, just as much as self-described conservatives, have understood Reaganism — a mixture of pro-business and libertarian economics, religious advocacy, and a muscular foreign policy, with a nice helping of civic mythology — to be the foundation of the modern Republican Party. They call themselves ‘moderate’ because they de-emphasize issues like abortion, religion in public life, and same-sex marriage. They score only two out of three on the Reagan test, and they know it. Lest we forget beneath the recent torrent of positive coverage about homosexuality and feminism: the Religious Right was prominent and influential in the 1990s and through the early 2000s, during the ‘culture war.’ In polls, many secular Republicans will sooner identify as ‘moderate’ than ‘conservative,’ and ‘somewhat conservative’ sooner than ‘very conservative.’ But they are still tethered in Reaganism’s assumptions and attitudes.

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There’s little that’s ‘moderate’ about the modern Republican Party in the sense we ordinarily take that word. The truly centrist wing of the party abandoned it little by little in the 90s and the 00s, recognizing it was not welcome any longer — and now we can count their numbers in Congress using our hands. They were replaced by Jacksonian former Democrats, especially from the South, and Evangelicals new to politics. Reagan pushed out the old guard of moderate establishmentarians and brought in the populists. Reagan was not a populist himself, but he found room for them and promised them that his agenda would make them freer and more prosperous — and that it would take our down their enemies at home and abroad. And they accepted that.

Trump understood all this, but he also understood further: he wrote in his Art of the Deal that Reagan was a smooth talker who never delivered the goods. And he’s right: Reagan didn’t. Big Government kept growing. Christianity kept receding. ‘Reaganomics’ boosted growth, but, decades on, is no longer effective. Nobody feels freer for having elected Republicans. Even the revered Reagan could not reverse the intrinsic logic of liberal democracy. And what is worse: it turns out Reaganism is not actually very good at winning presidential elections. The nation as a whole was willing to send Reagan to Washington as a response to the excesses of liberalism in the 60s and 70s, but Reaganism as a positive ideology has never since been very popular, and Republicans have only won the popular vote once since Reagan’s vice-president was elected in 1988 — and even that was during wartime, three years after the only attack on the American homeland since Pearl Harbor.

About a quarter-century after the publication of Trump’s book, the many political children Reagan fathered have caught on to the fact that two Bushes, Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay, John Boehner, and others have repeatedly failed to deliver the goods — and are revolting. Many of them are intent on doubling-down on Reaganism and want to nominate a Reaganite with a radical temperament: Ted Cruz. Sen. Cruz, while taking on the ‘establishment,’ is still saying basically the same things conservatives have been saying for 40 years. But Trump is doing something different: he is implying their decades of ineffectiveness are the direct result of their dogmatic attachment to right-wing ideology. Siding mindlessly with elite business interests inevitably leads to acceptance or tolerance of policies like amnesty, unfettered free trade, and ‘political correctness.’ Hence Trump’s Sanders-like attacks on Cruz’s loans from Goldman-Sachs and his game-playing during the 2013-2014 immigration reform debate. Trump suggests, in essence: ‘The aim is not to be a good disciple of someone else’s belief system, but to deliver the goods to the people. The deals we should be making are deals where we get something we really want — not where we get only scraps while in the big picture our country keeps going to hell.’ It seems there are more people open to this message than who are receptive to Cruz’s message that what we really need is someone who really means it. Trump’s shrewdness beats Cruz’s sincerity. Reaganism as a doctrine is now in question.

Trump’s attacks against his opponents, from Jeb Bush to Rich Lowry to Charles Krauthammer, are basically all the same, which is why they’ve all worked: ‘Why should you listen to them? They’re the same people who want to make a deal on amnesty. They’re the same people who want you to shut your mouth about Islam while more Americans die. They don’t want to admit that, so they criticize my tone, just like people criticize yours when you’ve tried to talk about these things honestly and have been called a bigot and a racist. We’re not bigots or racists. We’re good people who are going through hard times and nobody seems to care. I’m not gonna put up with the old guard’s crap anymore, and neither should you. And the beauty of me is: I’m very rich. Unlike these other guys you’ve elected, I cannot be bought. I already have everything. I do not need anything they could give me, and I’m gonna change things. If you need proof, look at what’s happened already.’

It seems the only way Trump can now lose the nomination is if his supporters fail to show up to vote. He made an audacious decision to make a play for the most alienated factions of the Republican Party. But even if he loses, there is no going back: the post-Trump Republican Party is not going to look like it did in May 2015.

Against “Against Trump”

By Alex Knepper

To mild fanfare, National Review has published a symposium opposing Donald Trump’s candidacy, featuring just under two dozen representatives of various right-of-center strains of thought. It is unclear who is the target audience of this piece. Someone may have persuaded Bill Kristol that Iowa caucus-goers are likely to turn against Trump after having Leo Strauss on vulgarity quoted to them. Maybe, with the symposium’s fourteen mentions of St. Ronald Reagan, Conservative Movement Inc. still holds to the belief that struggling citizens crave more 80s nostalgia about a president whose youngest living voter is 50 years old. What’s more likely, I think, is that this editorial is primarily about the writers themselves, many of whom consider themselves gatekeepers of respectable conservative opinion: they mean to draw their lines in the sand. I can only hope they are not pretending to be winning the battle against their Frankenstein monster.

Trump has steamrolled through the GOP ‘establishment’ and the ‘old guard’ of conservative punditry with a mystifying ease — and has revealed the dead ideology of Reagan conservatism for the paper tiger it is. It no longer represents a viable coalition. The people have moved on, even if professional right-wingers have not. The Republican divide between establishmentarians and the populist/movement ‘base’ is no longer merely one about strategy. American politics are increasingly resembling European politics. The parties are as polarized as they have been in the modern era. The fabled center is not ‘holding.’ Because it has no positive case to make for a winning alternative, the Republican superstructure has been utterly paralyzed in its response to Trump. The old truism stands: something always beats nothing. These writers, many of whom I respect, can berate Trump every day from now until the Republican convention — but they can’t beat someone with no one. And their collective paralysis — their stunning inability to stop a man like Trump — points to the urgent need for a new era of right-of-center thinkers to rise.