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The Pragmatist and the Ideologue

The Pragmatist and the Ideologue
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, Pool

Dear Reader —

Republicans and conservatives were — to say the least — wary of Trump from the start. But Republicans ultimately, if reluctantly, made peace with a candidate who ran against their party by bucking conservative orthodoxy, hoping to leverage his unexpected electoral success to their own advantage. Many conservatives came to see Trump as an imperfect vessel for fresh ideas or else a means by which to blend conservative and populist principles. But the relationship between the president and what has come to be called the “establishment” remains uneasy at best. 

Why such unease? For at least two distinct reasons, which correspond to two distinct — sometimes incompatible — Trumpian personae. On the one hand, there is Trump the pragmatist, the dealmaker, who will work with anybody to “get things done.” On the other hand, there is Trump the ideologue, the Bannonite nationalist, who wants to reassert American sovereignty by closing borders and erecting barriers. The dynamics in Washington since last January may be explained, at least in part, by the unpredictable relationship between these two characters.

Both have been cause for cautious optimism and consternation among Republicans and conservatives. The dealmaker has the potential to rise above the dysfunction that has plagued our national politics for so long and effectuate genuinely conservative policies. The nationalist, meanwhile, points to a new “fusionism” on the Right, one that might make up for the political inadequacies of the conservatism that has animated the GOP since Reagan. But pragmatism can undermine partisan objectives, and unmoored from principle — or moored to the wrong principles — Trumpism threatens to undermine conservatism itself.

In light of Steve Bannon’s ouster and the president’s budget deal with the Democrats, it appears the pragmatist is out in front. GOP leadership is rightly unsettled, as it becomes less and less likely that the president’s pragmatic means will serve conservative ends. Trump may have figured out that he is not beholden to McConnell or Ryan, betting that his best chance of success is to work across the aisle. Ben Domenech has argued that if Republicans get on board with Trump’s “pivot,” he might be able to re-position the GOP as a moderate and pragmatic populist party, informed by the most popular ideas on Right and Left. Of course, that assumes a high degree of strategic sophistication on Trump’s part and that the Democrats — and conservatives — play ball. I wouldn’t take that to the bank.

If Republicans don’t get on board, the division within the GOP could grow into an insurmountable chasm. In that case, and if Trump’s base follows him across the aisle, the small-government conservatism of “A Better Way” or even Ted Cruz — which Trump has proved to be far less popular than anyone in the “establishment” ever realized — could find itself without a vessel, despite historic Republican majorities. Conservatives’ only bet might then be for Congress to reassert its authority, reclaiming its constitutional role as the “first branch” of government.

Then again, the dealmaker may well give way to the ideologue once more, and by next week we could be right back where we started. 

These are some of the many issues taken up at RealClearPolicy over the past week. Below you will find just a few highlights.

— M. Anthony Mills, editor | RealClearPolicy


The Mind-Boggling Cost of DACA Repeal. John Hudak & Elaine C. Kamarck of the the Brookings Institution detail the consequences of Trump’s controversial move.

Years After Recession, Labor Challenges Remain. In our own pages, Anil Niraula spotlights labor-market data suggesting the economy is not as healthy as it seems.

Trump Screwed the Republicans. Now What? The New Republic’s Jeet Heer considers the potential fallout from the president’s budget deal with the Democrats.

Where Taxes and Health Reform Meet. Also in our own pages, Joseph R. Antos and James C. Capretta write that tax reform presents an opportunity to repeal Obamacare's “Cadillac tax.”

The Stunning Democratic Shift on Single-Payer. In Vox, Dylan Matthews contends the rising popularity of single-payer health care on the Left was unimaginable a decade ago.

The Return of Congressional Government. In Library of Law & Liberty, Richard Reinsch and Greg Weiner suggest how Congress could reclaim its constitutional power.

Identity Politics Is Dragging the Progressive Agenda Down. For Salon, Anis Shivani urges the Left to “give up on identity politics.”

With Quorum Restored, Time to Move Ahead on Infrastructure. In RealClearPolicy, Tony Clark urges Congress to act quickly on other nominations to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The Quiet Comeback of the Middle Class. The Washington Post’s Robert J. Samuelson points to evidence that middle-class Americans have “moved beyond the fears bred by the Great Recession.” 

Reflections From an Insider on Charlie Gard. Also in RealClearPolicy, Art Estopinan makes a plea against socialized medicine. 

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