Paul Ryan was all smiles and humility in his congratulatory speech on Wednesday. He asserted Trump’s victory to be “the most incredible political feat that I have seen in my lifetime.” He praised Trump for seeing “something we did not,” for hearing “a voice out in this country that no one else heard,” and for connecting “in ways with people no one else did.” Ryan even attributed the House and Senate majorities to Trump who “provided the kind of coattails that got a lot of people over the finish line.”
In spite of this glowing praise, Ryan never acknowledged the three major policies that propelled Trump to power: anti-immigration, protectionism, and anti-war. Ryan instead took the opportunity to discuss “muh principles.” And he asserted that Trump’s “mandate” would be used to implement the GOP’s Better Way platform rather than the very agenda that won the election.
It is pertinent to recall that Ryan, only a month ago, was rushing to the microphones to assure the liberal media that he would never “defend Trump or campaign with him.” As the saying goes, a cuck is going to cuck. But I will admit a glimmer of hope that Ryan and other establishment types may have actually learned something from Trump’s electoral success.
The lessons were plentiful. That the people rejected immigration. That the people rejected corporate republicanism. That the people rejected neoconservatism. That you could defy the donors and win. That you could defy the mainstream media and win. That you could defy political correctness and win. Indeed, this last point could be the most educative. The presidential election of 2016 demonstrated that American citizens (minorities included) want to led by an unapologetic nationalist populist who radiates strength, pride, and confidence.
Another important lesson the GOP should have learned is the folly of attacking fellow members of the Right. This political behavior is never observed on the Left. When one of their own is in hot water, liberals circle the wagons or simply shut the hell up. They never succumb to rightwing pressure to disavow a fallen Leftist. On the contrary, when implored to do so, the Left is all the more likely to attack the Right.
This strategy was replicated by Trump and his army of meming soldiers. And it worked because effectual politics in the 21st Century is a blitzkrieg, which is to say, to win you must attack, attack, attack. And you must never apologize. Fire, energy, and glory is what galvanizes a movement.
In spite of Trump’s remarkable victory, we should remain skeptical that the GOP has learned anything from his success. After all, this is not the first time an outsider shocked the system. David Brat’s stunning defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in 2014 should have been a teachable moment. Brat’s campaign raised less than $250,000 but was still able to defeat Cantor who had amassed well over $5,000,000. Even more impressive was the asymmetry of name recognition. Brat was a relatively unknown economics professor and the incumbent Cantor was the heir apparent of Speaker of the House John Boehner. Yet as incredible as Brat’s victory was over Cantor, his winning campaign message of anti-immigration and anti-Wall Street had zero effect on the GOP Leadership.
Few republicans learned from Brat and are far too many will ignore the lessons of Trumpism. The Stupid Party was given its name by Samuel Francis for good reason, but we may have reached a point in time when corruption rather than incompetence better explains the behavior of the GOP. Regardless, we should anticipate that the Republican leaders like Ryan, McCain, and McConnell will do their very best to obstruct Trump’s agenda. And one of the key strategies they will employ is to distract the Trump Administration with secondary issues like Middle Eastern politics and healthcare.
The last thing this country needs is yet another desert war. Trump is unlikely to lead us into Syria or Iran, but he has repeatedly discussed the need to defeat ISIS. If such a conflict required boots on the ground, Trump would be far more willing than his predecessors to unleash hell in an effort to decisively win. Yet even a best case scenario could result in disaster. The capacity of the neocons and their neoliberal allies to exploit a military conflict should never be underestimated. Give them a small war and they could undoubtedly find ways to squander all of Trump’s political capital.
Healthcare reform could also prove detrimental to Trump’s agenda. Although he never made the Affordable Care Act a major issue of his campaign, it came close. Most of Trump’s supporters do actually want Obamacare to be dismantled, but this issue is far less important than building the wall, mandating a national E-Verify system, beefing up ICE and the Border Patrol, and renegotiating trade deals like NAFTA.
We should therefore be wary of healthcare politics consuming the time, energy, and effort of the Trump Administration to such an extent that immigration and trade are neglected. The success of diversionary politics is all the more likely now that the GOP has their eye on Medicare. Ryan is correct that “medicare is going broke,” but it is all too easy to imagine the GOP wasting Trump’s mandate with months and even years debating entitlement reform. The moment to act on immigration and trade is now. If Republicans lose the House of Representatives in two years, then it will be too late.
This would not be the first time healthcare prevented a unified government from taking significant action on immigration. Consider the frustration expressed by Huffington Post author Matt Sledge in 2012:
One of the cleanest shots Mitt Romney scored on Barack Obama on Tuesday night was over the president’s promise, made during the 2008 campaign, to have an immigration bill introduced in his first year in office.
“He said in his first year he’d put out an immigration plan that would deal with our immigration challenges,” Romney pointed out. “[He] didn’t even file it.”
That charge is true. Obama didn’t even come close to introducing an immigration bill in his first year. Only this year, under pressure from frustrated activists, did he make the much smaller step of taking administrative action to defer the deportation of younger undocumented immigrants.
As Romney pointed out, Obama had a Democratic House and Senate to work with in his first year of office. But as Obama responded, the economy was in freefall and he was forced to concentrate on other matters. The president also made a fateful decision similar to his one on health care: he left the crafting of immigration reform up to members of Congress.
By March 2010, Obama’s idea was to get behind a joint proposal by Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). He called* their progress “promising.”*
Later that month the Affordable Care Act, into which Obama had invested much of his political capital, passed. Graham said immigration reform was “dead” that year because the unrelated issue of health care had “poisoned the well.”
The democrats clearly had different objectives in mind when it came to immigration politics. Nevertheless, their fate as “frustrated activists” will be our fate if we relent in our pressure and let the GOP poison the well with diversionary politics.
So stay vigilant, my countrymen. And stay aggressive. Lest our victory be stolen by the traitors among us.