Two political entities are in a state of panic. One is the leadership of the Republican party, suffering a fright attack over the visibility of Donald Trump as a Republican presidential candidate. The other is Hillary Clinton, whose Democratic presidential campaign plunges as she tries to appease the left wing of her party.
I’ll start with the GOP elite, notably the chairman of its national committee, Reince Priebus. He’s squirming as Trump, the mogul and TV personality, insults Mexican immigrants, trashes Jeb Bush, and generally speaks with the subtlety and grasp of reality of right-wing talk radio.
The mainstream media are indignant that Trump is even running. Yet they cover him as if he’d discovered a clear path to the Republican nomination. He hasn’t. But according to the Washington Post, “top Republicans in Washington and nationwide . . . fear that, with assistance from Democrats, Trump could become the face of the GOP.” Priebus spent nearly an hour on the phone with Trump urging him to cool his rhetoric.
Trump has a narrow lead in several presidential polls. Wow! One has only to hark back four years to recognize how meaningless this is. Remember Herman Cain, the pizza magnate? He led the pack of Republican presidential aspirants for the 2012 nomination for several weeks around this time in the campaign cycle. Michele Bachmann, then a House member, was frontrunner in at least one poll.
It’s true that Trump is more than a flash in the pan, but not much more. He’s a curiosity. Thousands show up to see and hear him. They expect wild words his GOP rivals would never utter, and he delivers. His stump speech consists mostly of applause lines. He’s entertaining. He’s very smart. He understands television. He’s worth $10 billion, he says. He may stick around through the early primaries and caucuses, then exit.
Trump claims to have spawned a movement. “It’s a different movement than I think you’ve ever seen before,” he told the Post’s Robert Costa. Wrong. “I don’t consider Perot a movement.” Wrong again. A movement has a leader with a cause. Ross Perot was eager to cut spending and balance the federal budget. He got 19 percent of the vote in the 1992 election. George Wallace led a movement opposed to racial integration and won five southern states and 45 electoral votes in 1968.
One guy with a freewheeling message doesn’t constitute a movement. That doesn’t mean Trump is harmless. Should he run as an independent and spend a sizable chunk of his wealth in the process he’d be a problem. For now, I suspect no one thinks he’s the “face” of the Republican party or ever will be. So GOP leaders ought to relax.
But panic is justified inside Hillary Clinton’s camp. The Democratic party has sprinted to the left and she’s trying to catch up. First it was Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts who was summoning her leftward. Now Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a socialist, is challenging Clinton for the Democratic nomination. And he’s rapidly gaining on her in polls and popularity.
She wants to move closer to his agenda without admitting it. That’s risky. He would turn America into Greece. He’s for higher taxes, more government, welfare galore, and aggressive redistribution of wealth. He’s quite candid about all this.
The farther Clinton moves to the left to accommodate the Sanders/Warren wing of her party, the farther she distances herself from the center. Many Democrats seem oblivious to this fact, but Clinton and her advisers, notably her husband, are well aware of the predicament she faces. Bill Clinton solved it in his day by tacking to the center. His wife doesn’t have that option. Her party’s left is too strong—and more ferocious than it was in 1992.
Who doubts that economic growth is necessary for prosperity and a rising standard of living? Sanders, for one. He’s a growth skeptic. He opposes what he calls “growth for growth’s sake” because, he argues, 99 percent of the benefits go to the wealthiest 1 percent. He’d rather have less growth and more “fairness.”
That put Clinton in a bind when packaging her economic plan. She was up to the task, cleverly calling for “a growth and fairness economy.” All the cleverer was her tactic of talking up growth while advocating practically nothing to generate it. In her plan, real economic growth is a myth, unless one buys her argument that “affordable child care” is a “growth strategy.”
So how would she meet what she dubbed “the defining challenge” of our time, raising incomes, especially for the middle class? With growth incentives like tax cuts off the table, she turned to coercion. Employers would be required to adopt paid family leave, “equal” (that is, higher) pay for women, earned sick days, a higher minimum wage, more overtime pay, and tax breaks to foster profit-sharing.