Elections have become big business with tens of thousands of people making a living off politics. It’s not just the politicians and their handlers. There’s a massive consultant class that does nothing but setup and operate campaigns. Then you have the commentariat that exists solely to comment about campaigns. The result is a wall of bravo sierra obscuring even the most obvious things about elections.
Elections turn on three categories of issues that are bound together by a fourth issue, which I’ll touch on last. The three main categories are security, economics and culture. Everything we debate falls into one of those broad categories. Immigration, for example, is a culture issue, even though the political class tries hard to jam it into economics. That’s why Trump owns it and Rubio does not.
These categories work at all levels of politics. The small-town mayor will run on taxes, crime and the fact he grew up in the city. The Senate candidate will talk about spending caps, foreign affairs and reforming the culture of Washington. Depending upon the election and the events of the day, these broad categories have varying weights on the election. In bad times, for example, economics will dominate the discussion at the expense of culture.
It’s why single issue candidates can win elections. If one issue is dominating all else, the guy that is best on that issue is going to win. Sometimes a category falls off the table entirely like we saw in 1992 with security. The strong suit of Bush was off the table so the voters were willing to consider an amiable degenerate promising to “fix” the economy. Bill Clinton would have had no chance when the Cold War was raging.
When looking at the candidates, you can do a little math in your head to figure out why Rubio, for example, is doing better than Bush in the primary. Rubio appeals a certain type of Republican. The guys the alt-right call “cucks” on twitter see Rubio as the one they would like to bring home to the wife. Even though Bush is infinity more qualified and has all the same positions, he is out and Rubio is giving third place victory speeches.
The thing that holds it all together, that fourth issue I mentioned at the start, is trust. Can the candidate be trusted to be what he claims to be on these three categories of issues. That’s why experience in office is so important. Candidate X can say, “When I was town dog catcher I did these things and when I’m mayor I’ll keep doing them.” If it’s true, people can trust him on that issue.
Mitt Romney’s main problem in 2012 was no one believed him. His record was the opposite, in many cases, of his positions as a candidate. Even though he had a carefully crafted platform that ticked all the boxes for a majority of voters, no one really believed he would do any of it. When that big fat women from CNN pushed him around in one of the debates, a lot of people were reminded why he could not be trusted.
That’s the problem the modern GOP has with the voters. No one believes them any more. They have no credibility with their core voters. That’s why the voters are flocking to candidates the party seems to hate. In part it is spite, but it’s also a natural instinct. When confronted with a habitual liar, you naturally assume the opposite of what they say is close to the truth.
That’s what was so offensive about that Charlie Cooke article the other day. Buckley Conservatism is nothing but technocratic managerialism these days. They are convinced conservatism is just a collection of policy positions. Tick the right boxes and you are conservative. Tick other boxes and you’re a liberal. Of course, tick the bad boxes and you are a racist xenophobic hater. That’s not who we are!
That’s simply not how humans view the world. The tick list is fine for a trip to the market or a list of chores around the house. Human beings don’t judge one another that way outside the managerial class. It’s a gut instinct about whether you can be trusted to do what you say you will do. Nixon may have been a crook, but normal people could trust him to punch the hippies.
That’s the thing with Trump and why he is winning. He’s all over the map on the issues and some of his statements are nuts. People still support him because they trust he will be what they expect him to be in office. He’s a pugnacious fighter who loves the country as much as normal Americans. He’s pissed at the same stuff and he pisses off those jerks sneering at us on TV.
It’s entirely possible Trump will be another Obama or another Bush, once he gets into office. He may end up doing nothing about immigration, trade, spending, taxes etc. So what? The generic GOP option is not going to do anything good on those issues. In fact, they could start another war or pass open borders. Even if Trump is a dud in office, he’s still a safer bet than Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz.
The truth of modern mass media democracy is that voters only have a heckler’s veto. It’s simply too easy to dress up an actor with the help of party-run media and fool the voters. When sorting through the options for a vacancy, we’re rolling the dice, hoping the winner is not a fink. What we know is whether or not the guy holding the office has done what he said he would do. Our duty as voters is to vote out the bums and liars. It’s the best we can do.
Donald Trump is, in many respects, a vehicle to clear the decks of the GOP and the political class in general. He’s a protest vote that people hope will force reform on the GOP and maybe do some good in office. Voters are increasingly aware that he is the safe choice, if they want change. The down side is he turns out to be more of the same. The upside is we actually get something useful done.