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Donald Trump’s policy views have a high degree of plasticity, even for a politician. But the retrograde version he currently espouses — mass deportation, protectionism, maybe even the gold standard — and the harsh way he espouses them have a foothold in the GOP. Columnist George Will may be correct that each “sulfurous belch from the molten interior of the volcanic Trump phenomenon injures the chances of a Republican presidency.”
And what might that mean, beyond the obvious of probable GOP defeat in November 2016? In the Financial Times, Labour Party campaign guru and Blairite Peter Mandelson warns of the potential damage if his party makes hard left Jeremy Corbyn its new leader:
It would be a sad and possibly final chapter in the British Labour party’s history. If the leadership election that closes in two weeks’ time is won by Jeremy Corbyn, the current favourite, his policies — printing money, state ownership of major industries, unilateral disarmament and quitting Nato — will make the party unelectable. That would be a very bad outcome for anyone who cares about fairness in our society or Britain’s place in the world. … The Conservative party, which won a majority in May’s general election, is being given a free ride in coming to terms with this modern world. We have to reforge Labour’s tools for creating prosperity and sharing it more widely. The scale of the task is enormous. The price of failure would be immense.
Much the same goes for the possible Trumpification of the GOP, even if Trump himself is not the presidential nominee. Not only is it an electoral loser, but it gives the left-lurching Democrats the upper hand in shaping policy to meet modern economic challenges. As Marco Rubio said on CNBC last week:
Part of it is recognizing we’re not dealing with a cyclical economic downturn that we are trying to climb out of. This is a massive economic restructuring. This is a massive shift in the very nature of the economy. It’s akin to the Industrial revolution expect it’s happening faster than the Industrial Revolution. We need policies that allow us to be globally competitive. We need policies that allow us lead on innovation. That is why I’m for tax reform and regulatory reform. We need have to compete with dozens of other markets and economies. We also have to revolutionize what we mean by higher education. The 21st Century new economy is going to produce better paying jobs than the 20th Century economy. But those new jobs will require additional skills that perhaps weren’t required in the past. We do not have a higher education system that delivers those skills or that is affordable for the people who need it the most.
But so far the GOP campaign overall doesn’t seem to be about any of that stuff. It doesn’t seem to be about applying empirically sound ideas and solutions, informed by conservative values, toward today’s problems. Instead, it has been dominated by Trump’s zero-sum vision of a besieged America hunkered down in crouch position hoping to hold its own against the technological tide. “We don’t win anymore!”
But listen to Hillary Clinton. Her campaign is shoveling out ideas on everything from worker benefits in the “gig” economy to corporate short-termism. Disagree with her solutions if you will, but Team Hillary is outlining a broad response to a changing economy. Right now, at least, Republicans are missing the opportunity to do the same. My favorite Tim Geithner quote is appropriate: “Plan beat no plan.” When Trump is out of the picture — if he is ever out of the picture — will the GOP be ready to offer a policy path that comes to terms with the modern world or will it offer little more than a base-pleasing, watered-down version of closed, backward-looking Trumpism with a sprinkling of fantasy tax plans?