If the only casualties of a Trump presidency were the opportunists, courtiers, and comment-section trolls, I’d be pretty giddy. But this Carrier decision shows that the damage will not be nearly so surgical. The rot is already setting in. (You knew the recap thing at the beginning of this “news”letter meant I would return to the subject of corruption, right?)
As a political act, it is very, very easy to exaggerate the economic importance of the Carrier intervention. It’s less than a thousand jobs. Save for the workers and families directly involved, it’s all symbolism.
And while the politics of this are great for the incoming Trump administration, they are absolutely terrible for free-market conservatives. The former president of AEI and a veteran of the Reagan administration, Christopher DeMuth, used to argue that perhaps the most important thing Ronald Reagan did was fire the air traffic controllers. In isolation, it was not that big a deal. But the message it sent was hugely important at a time when Eurosclerosis was spreading in America. Reagan let it be known that the public-sector unions no longer had the whip hand and the government couldn’t be extorted.
Trump’s Carrier intervention may just send an equally loud, but nearly opposite signal: that the White House is going to pick winners and losers, that it can be rolled, that industrial policy is back, that Trump cares more about seeming like a savior than sticking to clear and universal rules, and that there is now no major political party in America that rejects crony capitalism as a matter of principle. After all, don’t expect the GOP to recycle the language it used for the bailouts, Cash for Clunkers, Solyndra, etc., when it comes to Carrier. The RNC belongs to Trump.