Mike Pence gave an interesting speech this week. Which isn’t a sentence you read often. But in his speech in New Hampshire Pence argued that the Republican party is at an inflection point.
The party needs to choose — he said — between “populism” and “conservatism.” In doing so he tried to put some clear, very blue, water between himself and his rivals for the GOP nomination.
Specifically he wanted to take aim at Donald Trump and his “populist proteges,” by which he principally meant Vivek Ramaswamy. Pence himself, meantime, was making a clear grab for the mantle of Ronald Reagan.
It was a good speech. But there was a problem. The actual inflection point for his party was 2016. The election in which Pence proved such a crucial pair of stabilizing wheels. The shift that happened that year cannot be reversed, and should not be.
Because what Trump tapped into that year was a real thing. The growing divide in this country between what the people want and what a small elite at the top of politics, finance and the media want.
The divide between people who make policies and the people who suffer the consequences of them.
Before 2016, it was bad form for Republicans to talk about having a trade war with China. Trump changed all that. He talked about the jobs that been taken away from this country and how to get them back. He talked about illegal migration at the southern border and one particular way of solving it.
It was the left that said all this was just “populist.” Throughout the four years of the Trump presidency “populist” became a new word for “popular” so long as the policy happened to be conservative. It was rare indeed to hear “populist” being used of any left-wing policy. Strange, that.
The problem was not with the program. The problem, as Pence himself well knows, is that so much of what Trump promised he just didn’t do. Is that because of the evil “populist” nature of his policies? No — it was because Trump proved incapable.
At this point supporters of the President still like to claim that this was because he was prevented from fulfilling his agenda by the “deep state” and other enemies within. But there was only one man really to blame. That was the man who couldn’t fill positions in his administration because people didn’t trust him.
The man so ill-disciplined that colleagues would find him channel-surfing during the day when he should have been working. The man who mistook saying a thing for the thing happening. The person who thought if you said something often enough it became true.
It’s unfortunate that Trump was such a difficult and unreliable figure. He didn’t just burn through members of his administration. He left many high and dry. He rewarded loyalism with insults. Something Mike Pence knows all too well.
But the idea that because Trump didn’t achieve everything the GOP should go back to the pre-Trump era is for the birds. The voter base long ago got fed up of the talent that the party used to offer up to them and the slogans that it used to offer them.
What exactly was so great about the Bush family that they had to provide a candidate for the presidency each election season?
Besides which, the position Trump still holds in the Republican polls should tell us something. His lead at present is so big that you could add every other candidate´s numbers together and you still don’t get a figure that can beat Trump.
So it seems sensible to find a way to harness whatever it was you think Trump tapped into in 2016 — and today. And then work out how to take the best of it whilst removing the worst.
Not everybody seems to want to perform that delicate task. Trump had four years to reform the FBI and other agencies. Either he didn’t do it because it cannot be done, or he didn’t do it because he didn’t have the discipline or the support around him.
And if you think he did have the best people in the nation around him then you’d have to explain why so many of them happened to be his relatives.
But because of that failure a new generation of GOP-er believes that it isn’t worth performing the careful surgery. There is a type of conservative who has become a type of revolutionary. They want to blow up half this country’s institutions and tear down the other half. Not unlike their opponents on the left.
The FBI isn’t working as well as we’d like? Let’s burn it down and salt over the earth. The department of education is inefficient and too controlled by the teaching unions? Destroy the department of education.
This isn’t just un-conservative. It is in many ways unserious. It suggests that Republicans don’t have the patience, knowledge or perseverance to do what they need to do when they are in government.
Yet we know that is not the case. In his speech this week Pence took a pot-shot at Ron DeSantis, lambasting the Florida Governor for his fight with Disney. But what DeSantis did there was a model of what the GOP’s politics could be. They could fight back effectively at their opponents and critics.
Conservatives don’t always have to be on the losing side. Or whine about the next battle they’re going to lose. They can also be forward-footed, using the tools of government.
So no, it doesn’t have to be “populism” or conservatism. How about both?
Mayor Adams’s illegal migrant outburst this week was quite something. But once again I have a question for him. Can this be the same man who campaigned for Mayor by saying that New York should remain a Sanctuary City?
Is it the same man whose 2021 “WeRise Plan” called on “all city agencies to make their services accessible without putting immigrants at risk of law enforcement action.” And promised to “severely restrict cooperation between the NYPD and ICE”?
Mayor Adams did his bit to help this “Doomsday” along very nicely. So why doesn’t he like his season finale?