The Trump and Bush Phenomena
By David Henderson
As far back as July, I thought many people who agree with me politically (in case you don’t read this blog much, I’m a libertarian, not a conservative) were not taking Donald Trump as seriously as they should. I’m not saying that my responses to his bad economic thinking, had they been trumpeted (pun noticed only on rereading) widely, would have stopped him. But I am saying, and did say, that it never made sense to make fun of his hair or not to learn from his very effective speaking style.
Then in August, I admitted that I was stumped by Trump. That is, as I said in the August post, he had touched what had previously been thought of as two third rails in Republic presidential politics and had not only survived but also thrived.
I still don’t totally understand it, but Tyler Cowen, over at Marginal Revolution, has some interesting thoughts on the Donald and what preconceptions we might have to reexamine. By the way, I had started reexamining my preconceptions sometime in the early fall after I came across this post by Dilbert creator Scott Adams.
In my August post at the Fraser Institute blog, I named two things I liked about Trump, one a lot and one a little. I wrote:
The thing I like a lot is that Trump has taken on the political correctness that has stymied conversation for years. When Univision’s Jorge Ramos broke the rules at a press conference by butting in to ask a question rather than waiting his turn, and then refusing to stop when Trump called him on it, one of Trump’s people kicked him out. What other politician running for national office would have done that? That’s refreshing.
I would only add, since I’ve seen him perform now for a few months, that he often has a particularly gross way of taking on political correctness.
I then wrote:
What do I like a little? Trump, for all his bluster, may be better on foreign policy than many of his Republican competitors. I hasten to add that I judge U.S. politicians on foreign policy based on one main thing: do they want to bomb and/or invade other countries. It’s not clear where Trump stands and, at this point, he doesn’t have foreign policy advisers. But that’s refreshing, given the hawkish views of the vast majority of his Republican competitors.
Which brings me to Jeb Bush. This doesn’t explain why Bush lost so badly in South Carolina, but one thing that helps explain why he never got much traction is that he never disowned his older brother’s disastrous policies in the Middle East, and even defended them. Moreover, as my Hoover colleague Alvin Rabushka has pointed out, Jeb Bush took as foreign policy advisors a yuuuuge number of his brother’s and father’s foreign policy advisers. It’s as if someone running in the Democratic primaries in 1968 had taken on Robert McNamara as his foreign policy adviser. If you wanted a President who didn’t want an aggressive foreign policy in the Middle East, then Jeb Bush was telling you not to vote for him. Voters obliged.