The Donald’s Announcement

The Briefing, Vol. III, Issue 18-

Happy Father’s Day, to all the fathers out there.

This week:

  • How Donald Trump is like Barack Obama
  • Jeb the non-frontrunner launches
  • Pelosi outwitted on TPA

President 2016

Donald Trump: “They are not our friend, believe me … When Mexico sends its people, it is not sending its best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”

Behold, this is Donald Trump’s Hispanic outreach program. It’s a pretty ugly sight.

So should people take him seriously? No and yes.

Trump is a blow-hard, and has been a perennial tease about running for president since the turn of the century.  Even so, he’s actually pulled the trigger this time. That has to count for something.

Putting aside Trump’s personal celebrity for a moment, as well as his more clownish moments, it’s easy to tag his campaign as that of a billionaire international businessman campaigning as a know-nothing populist. Trump introduced himself to a crowd of cheering, paid actors, a fact that got quite a bit of attention — especially because his first line was, “Wow. Whoa. That is some group of people. Thousands…it’s an honor to have everybody here. This is beyond anybody’s expectations. There’s been no crowd like this.” He went on, in true Trump fashion, to suggest that other candidates’ inability to select rooms they could fill at their speeches is a sign they cannot defeat the Islamic State.

But it was his speech that really underscored what can be expected from his campaign — a lot of ignorant and unvetted comments (“When was the last time you saw a Chevrolet in Tokyo?”), surrounded by statements with a kernel of truth (“Iran is taking over Iraq, and they’re taking it over big league”) and bluster. (“I beat China all the time!….I will be the greatest jobs president that God ever created!”)

Even so, Trump talks the right talk for a lot of conservatives. His criticisms of Obamacare will resonate, as will his criticisms of Obama’s foreign policy. That doesn’t mean he knows what he’s talking about. “Simplistic” is the word that comes to mind — not always wrong, but extremely simplistic.

And despite his oversimplifications (he implied that as president he would have the power both to undo NAFTA unilaterally and to dissuade Ford’s president, by sheer force of personality, from building cars in Mexico), he proposes to rule as a technocrat. In his speech, he talked as though merely finding the best negotiators was all it would take to improve America’s balance of trade.

This is why the best parallel for Trump is Ross Perot — by far. But another parallel is Barack Obama, who came into office preaching the strange notion that he could change international relations by dint of his own agreeable personality. He has obviously failed by his own measuring stick, but the real problem is that such a measuring stick — the same one Trump is using now — is stupid and arrogant. There is a good reason, for example, that no past American president has solved the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — it isn’t just because no one as brilliant as Barack Obama was president before. Likewise, America’s exports haven’t fallen behind because no one as brilliant as Donald Trump has ever been president before.

If Republicans have any reason to take Trump seriously, it’s that he’s a potential threat to their brand. The ugly rhetoric about Mexicans is bad enough on its own. But for all his talk of the populist talk, there is no one else who can outdo Mitt Romney in seeming out of touch with the average American than the guy who actually fires people on television.

CIB-022815-BushJeb Bush: Bush was supposed to be the frontrunner. The last few months have proven that he is anything but. He does not enjoy the confidence of conservatives, and he isn’t anywhere near to dominating the polls. He has a lot of work to claw his way into contention. And then, of course, there’s the whole problem of his last name. If it were Berkowitz, he might have a better chance.

Still, he should not be counted out. Bush started off on the right foot with last week’s speech. A few simple observations:

First, he is a far better speaker than his brother, and probably every bit as good a politician.

Second, he comes off as a more serious person. Democrats constantly attacked George W. Bush as someone who lacked seriousness — they will have a much harder time doing this with Jeb.

Third, he knows how to appeal to the same optimism that has so far propelled his fellow Floridian, Marco Rubio, into the top tier. He knows how to contrast his own candidacy with that of Hillary Clinton — “The party now in the White House is planning a no-suspense primary, for a no-change election. To hold onto power. To slog on with the same agenda under another name: That’s our opponents’ call to action this time around. That’s all they’ve got left.”

Fourth, even if he has merited the suspicion of conservatives, Bush understands how to appeal to them. One method he used was an appeal to religious freedom, citing the Obama administration’s oppression of the Little Sisters of the Poor (“It comes down to a choice between the Little Sisters and Big Brother, and I’m going with the Sisters”) and Hillary Clinton’s comment that religious beliefs inimical to the progressive agenda “have to be changed.”

Another was his citation of his record as governor of Florida from 1999 to 2007. Yes, his case is helped by the state’s then-ludicrous housing bubble, but he makes the best of it. For example:

“We made Florida number one in job creation and number one in small business creation. 1.3 million new jobs, 4.4 percent growth, higher family income, eight balanced budgets, and tax cuts eight years in a row that saved our people and businesses $19 billion. All this plus a bond upgrade to Triple-A compared to the sorry downgrade of America’s credit in these years. That was the commitment, and that is the record that turned this state around.”

Another example of this is his inveighing against crony capitalism in the tax code and elsewhere (“challenge the culture that has made lobbying the premier growth industry in the nation’s capital”), and in favor of limited government, which he mentioned by name.

Fifth, he successfully turned an old Obama message around and used it against him: “We are not going to clean up the mess in Washington by electing the people who either helped create it or have proven incapable of fixing it.”

It was a strong speech and a good launch. The question is whether Jeb can get it right in the primaries, choosing the right mix of attacks on his rivals and promotion of his own record. The reports about an early shake-up within his campaign are actually good for him. This suggests that someone understands that the original plan (seize frontrunner status and coast to victory?) isn’t working. A willingness to admit problems is a great first step toward winning the nomination.


CIB021215-PelosiHouse Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was either outsmarted on trade or took up what she knew to be a lost cause in the first place as a favor to labor unions. Both possibilities are plausible.

Their union-backed plan two weeks ago was to vote down assistance for workers who lost their jobs due to trade, in hopes that this would prevent Senate Democrats from voting for trade promotion authority — also known as TPA, the vehicle by which free trade agreements will be possible. (They knew that many conservatives would vote against the assistance (known as TAA) as well, even if they supported the trade deal.)

Clever, but probably too clever. It might have worked, had the GOP leadership been unable to deliver its own votes in favor of TPA. But because they managed to do this, Democrats are now angrily denouncing President Obama — who wants TPA — as “a dictator” for potentially signing bills that Democrats voted against. It’s pretty funny, when you think about all the ink spilt trying to brand Republicans as racists for saying similar things about Obama for far more dubious actions he’s taken.

Having passed a clean TPA bill through the House last week, Senate Republicans will simply bring it up along with an African trade bill that many House Democrats (especially members of the black caucus) support fervently. The latter will likely have the worker assistance language included within it. When both pass, House Democrats will be faced with the possibility of free trade agreements going through without assistance for workers harmed by trade solely because of their own stubbornness. It will be up to them to make their choice — back the unions, the dying segment of their party that opposes free trade, or back the growing, vibrant segment of youth and Hispanic voters that support free trade.