From last night’s show, in which he also lamented the tyranny of … the metric system?
His claim that Washington is dominated a cabal of libertarian elites will come as news to every deficit hawk but is true enough in relative terms. A country that’s $22 trillion in debt isn’t libertarian, but it looks libertarian if your vision for America is nationalist, a.k.a. “economic patriotism,” as Tucker and Elizabeth Warren call it, a.k.a. socialism draped in a flag, per Reason’s Elizabeth Nolan Brown. (More than just the flag, though. “Values” are also part of the non-economic side of this equation.) The media is surprised to see this from Carlson, and it is sort of surprising — not because populist economics are anything new to his show but because Warren’s made a point lately of attacking Fox as a “hate for profit” network, refusing to appear on it. I think Tucker’s making a point too by singling her out for praise. He won’t let her antipathy to him and his employer deter him from the important work of advancing a populist agenda.
What will she say if he invites her on?
Watching this called to mind Phil Klein’s piece a few days ago about where the post-Trump GOP is headed. It’s a nationalist party now and for the foreseeable future, right? Tuckerism will triumph, limited-government conservatism will be cast down forever. Don’t be so sure, says Klein. The modern Republican Party defines itself mostly in terms of what it’s against, not what it’s for. If Warren replaces Trump and pursues a massive expansion of government, even in the “patriotic” terms that so impressed Tucker here, how are grassroots Republicans likely to reflexively react?
At some point, a Democrat will be back in the White House, and whenever that has happened historically, Republicans have tended to care more about spending, deficits, and limits on executive power. We saw this when Republicans took over Congress in 1994 and in the Tea Party-fueled victories in 2010 and 2014. As soon as a Democratic president proposes his or her first budget, a new crop of Republicans will be warning about the crushing debt burden. Sure, Republicans have shredded a lot of credibility on the issue given their acquiescence during the Trump era. But that will not inhibit Republicans from advancing such criticisms, especially younger candidates who were not in Congress during the Trump era.
Additionally, Democrats in the post-Trump era are pushing for a dramatic, unprecedented expansion of the size and scope of government. Even Joe Biden, the supposed centrist in the 2020 Democratic race, has called for giving all Americans access to some sort of Medicare-like plan and just unveiled a $5 trillion proposal aimed at combating climate change. Even if Democrats don’t go fully socialist in 2020, the direction they’re heading in is clear and will inevitably be met with equal and opposite force on the Right.
Add a looming debt crisis to the mix, says Klein, and it’s cinch that there’ll be some revival on the right in the belief that government is the problem rather than the solution, albeit probably not to the same extent as the pre-Trump tea-party era. I’ll add another point to his argument: Who’s going to be the charismatic national spokesman for populism that Trump was in 2016 once he’s gone? Nikki Haley? She’s no populist. Mike Pence? C’mon. Tom Cotton? He’s a populist, but “charismatic” isn’t the adjective that leaps to mind. We like to think of politics in terms of bottom-up tectonic ideological shifts but the truth is that it takes galvanizing leaders to help move mountains. We may have had a civil rights movement without Martin Luther King but not at the same pace and not with the same scale of progress. Ditto for the conservative revolution in the 1980s without Reagan.
Who’s the Reagan of populism? The point of Carlson’s segment here is that it’s not Trump. He’s forced to turn to a far-left Democrat to find “Trump at his best” on economics. Trump isn’t a visionary ideologue looking to reshape American economics, he’s a slapdash protectionist whose most significant legislative achievement thus far has been a tax cut that mostly benefited the wealthy. Find a Reagan or else expect the party to drift further towards mindless lib-triggering as due north on its political compass.