I’m … pretty sure that’s not the lesson. Right, Steve Bannon?
“Like [Andrew] Jackson’s populism, we’re going to build an entirely new political movement,” he says. “It’s everything related to jobs. The conservatives are going to go crazy. I’m the guy pushing a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan. With negative interest rates throughout the world, it’s the greatest opportunity to rebuild everything. Ship yards, iron works, get them all jacked up. We’re just going to throw it up against the wall and see if it sticks. It will be as exciting as the 1930s, greater than the Reagan revolution — conservatives, plus populists, in an economic nationalist movement.”
The key bit below starts at 13:15 and runs for two minutes amid an anodyne longer analysis of why Trump won. Voters were sick of the entire political class, says Haley, not just Democrats. True. (Although, given the popular-vote totals, it’d be more accurate to say that a gigantic minority of voters were.) Republicans made promises they had no intention of keeping, she notes. True again. Trump won because the system is broken and he was the only candidate who spoke to that. Yep, also true. And among the ways our party offended voters, she goes on, was through higher spending, Medicaid expansion, and a general drift among towards bigger government. W-w-w-wut?
Even allowing for the fact that she’s addressing the Federalist Society and has to pander to the audience’s ideological priors, does anyone believe that that’s why voters lost their trust in Republicans? Did Trump say anything, at any point, on the trail this year about government being too big or the GOP drifting too far away from Reaganism? The lesson from his victory, as plain as day, is that a lot of grassroots “conservatives” don’t care about limiting government. That’s libertarian claptrap they were content to go along with before because it came bundled in the modern Republican Party with the cultural conservatism that really animates them. Democrats are the party of political correctness, open borders, and multiculturalism; the GOP … sort of opposed all of that, albeit often reluctantly and with caveats. (And sometimes not at all, as the endless establishment love affair with amnesty demonstrates.) Trump opposed all of it unapologetically and made no pretense of caring about the limited-government elements of conservatism that right-wing populists themselves never cared much about. To the contrary, some of his most popular proposals are big-government measures. He’s bringing back protectionism; he’s safeguarding entitlements; he’s going to register visitors from terror hot spots at the border and do God knows what in ramping up surveillance to fight terrorism. His top advisor is telling reporters openly that he wants a trillion dollars in spending as part of some New-Deal-ish works program. He doesn’t want to shrink government, he wants to make it work for “the people,” i.e. his base. He’s an authoritarian, and like most authoritarians, he takes his legitimacy from populist support. How do you look at that honestly, even in front of an audience of conservative law nerds, and tell them that a key lesson in all of this is to get “back to basics” in shrinking government? Where’s the demand for that on either side of the political aisle?
The only explanation I can think of for why she’d say this is that she believes Trump’s presidency will be a disaster and is laying down an ideological marker now to explain why, in hopes of pointing back to it in 2024 when she ends up running. If Trump fails and if Trump pursues big-government policies — even if those policies aren’t the primary cause of his failures — Haley will say, “He made the same mistake that Republicans who preceded him did. He wasn’t true to the spirit of Reagan.” Regardless of whether that’s true, it’s a smart stance to take if you think there’s a conservative revival coming down the pike. If, like me, you don’t think that’s coming, then maybe it’s not so smart.