Liberal Logic

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Trump Keeps His Predecessors’ Promises

He’s not the first to argue for tariffs, border security and an embassy move—only the first to deliver.

President Donald Trump at the White House on March 22 shows a presidential memorandum targeting China's economic aggression.
President Donald Trump at the White House on March 22 shows a presidential memorandum targeting China’s economic aggression. PHOTO:ANDREW HARRER/BLOOMBERG

What else could explain the sudden rise of supposedly nativist, protectionist and isolationist forces? Or Mr. Trump’s victory, which the self-proclaimed experts failed to predict? In this case America’s elites are uncharacteristically too humble: They do not give themselves enough credit for the politics they helped create.

Mr. Trump’s populism is the direct result of the establishment’s hypocrisy. He is implementing policies that more-mainstream figures from both political parties have promised for years but then failed to accomplish. In this way, they built the demand for the actions they now denounce as destructive and even racist. Moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, pushing back against China’s unfair trade practices, securing the border—aren’t those are just empty campaign promises? No candidate thinks he can actually get them done, right? Somebody forgot to tell Mr. Trump.

Start with foreign policy. A bipartisan chorus of Washington mandarins complains that the U.S. is retreating from international leadership, creating a void increasingly filled by a rising China. Yet Mr. Trump is simply doing what his predecessors pledged to do. Before 9/11 intervened, George W. Bush promised a “humble” foreign policy and fewer overseas deployments. In 2008, Barack Obama criticized Mr. Bush for being more focused on rebuilding Iraq than America, and he promised to do the reverse. Mr. Obama opposed the Iraq surge, but as president announced his own surge in Afghanistan. Then when President Obama began to draw down troops there, he said America needed to focus on “nation-building here at home.”

Despite the rhetorical flourishes—and Mr. Obama was gifted at those—he was pilloried by the left for leaving residual U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, for selling arms to the Saudis despite their war in Yemen, for ineffectively seeking regime change in Syria and Libya, and for provoking Russia over Ukraine. Mr. Obama’s failures in execution cannot disguise the gap between his campaign rhetoric and reality. The Obama White House continued in a bipartisan tradition of saying America should not be the world’s policeman, then acting as if just the opposite were true.

On trade, Mr. Trump’s plans to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum, as well as to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, are said to risk a trade war and threaten economic destruction not seen since the Smoot-Hawley tariffs of the 1930s. Yet in 2002, President Bush imposed his own tariffs on steel, though they were temporary and more limited. During the 2008 campaign, Mr. Obama and Hillary Clinton both advocated threatening to leave Nafta as a way to negotiate better terms.

Mr. Obama’s campaign subsequently had to fight reports that it had secretly reassured the Canadian government that this was all an electoral ruse. A memo from the Canadian Consulate in Chicago described an Obama adviser as cautioning that the anti-Nafta rhetoric “should be viewed as more about political positioning than a clear articulation of policy plans.”

The campaign insisted that the adviser had been misinterpreted, and no back-channel communication had taken place. Whatever the case, Mr. Obama’s subsequent time in office confirmed the substance. While on the stump he was happy to rail against perennial trade deficits, America’s loss of good-paying manufacturing jobs, and China’s currency manipulation and intellectual property appropriation. But President Obama did nothing much to counter them.

So, too, with Mr. Trump’s signature issue: the border wall and his accompanying rhetoric against illegal immigration. He may have finally discovered the first shovel-ready infrastructure project Democrats do not want to fund. But some kind of barrier on the border has traditionally enjoyed bipartisan support or at least acceptance. In 2006, Sens. Obama and Clinton both voted for the Secure Fence Act, which President Bush signed into law. Then in 2013, every Democrat in the Senate voted for a comprehensive immigration reform that included 700 miles of border fencing. Yet today Mr. Trump’s wall is described in near-apocalyptic terms.

The lesson is that rhetoric matters. Establishment politicians have been borrowing nationalist rhetoric to win elections and then maintaining the same old activist foreign policy, free trade and lax immigration enforcement. They have spent years offering cheap talk, with no intention of following through. Now they are shocked that Mr. Trump, an outsider, does not play their sophisticated game.

If they believe in a liberal, multilateral world order, governed by institutions and rules they see as being threatened by Mr. Trump’s ethos of America First, they should make that case—but they should trust voters enough to do it honestly.

Mr. Jindal was governor of Louisiana, 2008-16.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/trump-keeps-his-predecessors-promises-1522792613?mod=djemMER

OPINION POTOMAC WATCH
In for a Penny, in for Impound
How Trump and the congressional GOP can undo the worst of the omnibus.
Plenty of Republicans remain bitter that their party passed that bloated $1.3 trillion omnibus—almost as bitter as President Trump, who felt pressured to sign it. But this fight doesn’t have to be over.
 
Across Washington, principled conservatives are noodling with an idea that—if done right—could be a political winner. It’s a chance for Republicans to honor their promises of spending restraint and redeem themselves with a base turned off by the omnibus blowout. It’s an opening for the GOP to highlight the degree to which Democrats used the bill to hold the military hostage to their own domestic boondoggles. And it’s a chance for Mr. Trump to present himself again as an outsider, willing to use unconventional means to change Washington’s spending culture.
 
It’s called the 1974 Impoundment Act, which allows the president to order the rescission of specific funds, so long as Congress approves those cuts within 45 days. The act hasn’t seen a lot of use in recent decades. Barack Obama never saw a spending bill he didn’t like, and George W. Bush never sent any formal rescission proposals to Congress—likely because he took the position that presidents ought to have a fuller line-item veto power. Many conservatives agree, though Ronald Reagan used rescission where he could and holds the title for most proposals. Even so, the total amount all presidents since 1974 have put forward for rescission ($76 billion) and the amount Congress ultimately approved ($25 billion) remains pathetic.
 
Republicans could change that. Their control of the White House and both chambers gives them an unusual opportunity to cut big. Under the Impoundment Act, a simple majority is enough to approve presidential rescissions—no filibuster. It’s a chance to take a hacksaw to the $128 billion by which the omnibus exceeded the 2011 domestic-spending caps—everything from carbon-capture technology to pecan producers to the Gateway Tunnel Project to the Environmental Protection Agency.
 
The political danger here rests in Mr. Trump moving unilaterally, with a rescission package that shames his fellow Republicans in Congress and puts them at greater risk in the midterms. The trick is instead for House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to request Mr. Trump go the impoundment route, or for the White House and congressional leaders to make a joint announcement.
 
Which gets to the other trick—getting congressional Republicans to come on board and take credit for spending cuts. The GOP is correct that most of the spending hikes were at Democratic demand, but many Republicans used that as an excuse to stuff in their own pork. Messrs. Ryan’s and McConnell’s job is to explain that, with midterms at stake, the party needs to prove it can do a better job with the federal fisc.
 
They can sweeten the deal by reminding members that a successful rescission allows them not only to brag that they are working on spending-restraint promises, but to highlight the Democratic role in pumping up the original numbers, and to emphasize specific Democratic outlays that they stopped. Wholesale cuts in domestic agencies—like the EPA or the Education Department—would also put them closer in line with Mr. Trump’s proposed budget, a huge winner with conservative voters.
 
Most important, this is a vivid way for the GOP to explain to voters the importance of allowing it to continue to hold both chambers of Congress. Democrats will continue raising their outrageous spending demands, and holding out the threat of shutdown whenever the GOP doesn’t comply. Let them. If Republicans show they can successfully use rescission to fix the damage, that threat is neutralized.
 
This is the kind of victory the GOP needs to show it can govern, and to motivate voters to turn out in November.
 
Mr. Trump, meanwhile, gets to revive an overlooked tool as part of his campaign to upend Washington culture. He was clearly undecided whether to sign this ugly bill, and this allows him to follow up with a strategy to kill its most offensive pieces. And you can bet Mr. Trump, who is never happier than when bragging, will make much of that win on the midterm campaign trail.
 
No, the GOP can’t use this to insert policy riders they failed to get the first time round. And yes, there had better be some thought put into this before anyone pulls the pin. If Messrs. Ryan and McConnell aren’t willing to strong-arm their majorities to yes, they’d best not bother. Failing after floating the possibility of rescission would be worse than sitting still.
 
But in a Congress that has little left of substance it is willing to tackle in a midterm year, this is a fight worth having. Adding a substantial spending victory to tax reform, deregulation and a growing economy could make the difference in November.
 
By Kimberley A. Strassel
March 29, 2018 7:00 p.m. ET
Write to kim@wsj.com.
 
Appeared in the March 30, 2018, print edition.

The Reagan Club meets on the first Thursday of every month at The Amazing Grace Community Church ( 541 E 99th Pl, Thornton, CO, 80229) from 6:30 p.m. - 8:30 p.m. with doors open at 6:00 p.m.. We feature different programs and speakers as we honor the 40th President. The Reagan Club of Colorado seeks to promote the Constitution, smaller government, lower taxes, personal freedom, helping candidates, and educating the public about one of our greatest presidents, Ronald Wilson Reagan.

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