Can Republicans Cut Through the Baloney?
Insanity, as the well-worn aphorism goes, consists of doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. This bit of wisdom has become such a cliché that it’s almost insanity to repeat it — but repeat it I will, because it perfectly summarizes Tuesday’s State of the Union fiasco, as well as the Republican response.
Obama’s speech covered the usual left-wing bases, highlighting many of the same ideas he’s repeated over the past seven years: universal pre-K, “free” community college and using taxpayer dollars to rocket a grinning Joe Biden around the world so that he can pretend to cure cancer in a year. (That last idea, to be fair, was actually new. It is also, unfortunately, not a joke.)
Obamacare is running swimmingly, we were told, and mysteriously created millions of jobs when nobody was looking. The threat of climate change took up multiple presidential paragraphs, while ISIS was largely dismissed as a bunch of randomly generated yahoos tooling around in “pickup trucks” and “plotting in apartments and garages.” The president praised his Iran deal — “the world has avoided another war” — while neglecting to mention the 10 American sailors detained by Iran that very day. The morning after, with the sailors safely “released,” America was treated to gloating Iranian propaganda shots of their fellow citizens on their knees, hands behind their heads in surrender, surrounded by hostile guns.
It was, in short, a baloney buffet, in the heart of America’s wildest baloney jungle. This is nothing new, of course; when the State of the Union rolls around each year, it leaves a host of nonsense explosions in its wake. This year, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley was given the thankless task of providing the Republican response to the president’s speech. She certainly had a towering pile of absurdities to pick from. Instead, she focused the bulk of her ire upon one Donald J. Trump.
Look, I like Nikki Haley. I’m also sorry that we have to deal with the knuckleheaded golden-haired Cape buffalo that is Donald Trump. But to go off on Trump after you’ve been offered a huge, steaming platter of presidential baloney seems to miss the mark.
First of all, Donald Trump is not a purely Republican phenomenon. Trump’s “very best voters,” as Nate Cohn recently pointed out in the New York Times, “are self-identified Republicans who nonetheless are registered as Democrats.” Trump’s strongest supporters are not ideological Republicans; they’re also highly unlikely to turn out to vote. In this light, Nikki Haley scolding Trump supporters for succumbing to “loud” and “angry” voices isn’t just wildly ineffective, it’s also subtly condescending to the rest of the Republican base.
“I called out Republicans and I called out Democrats, because I think it’s important,” Haley told CBS This Morning. “If the country’s going to move forward, we all need to look in the mirror.”
Fair enough. But the GOP might be advised to also look out the window once in a while. “We have a good field,” Marco Rubio reminded the press on Wednesday. “We don’t have any socialists running. None of our candidates are under FBI investigation.” This, please remember, is the reality of the current Democratic presidential frontrunner. Touché, Marco.
There’s something larger going on here, however. After Obama’s speech and Haley’s rebuttal, a chorus of voices echoed a song that now seems as old as time: Obama and Trump are diametrically opposed. Trump is from Mars; Obama is from Venus. Trump is a juvenile joke; Obama is the professorial adult. When it comes to Trump and Obama, wrote Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post, you could not ask for “a better encapsulation of the competing visions being offered the country in 2016.”
Really? As far as I can see, they’re both wild about abusing executive power. Obama is just more tasteful about it. On Sunday, Trump, who often speaks of magic, one-man solutions, told Meet the Press he would use executive orders “to do a lot of things.” The same week, Trump publicly marveled at North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un’s amazing skills at purging his various political enemies from planet Earth. Obama, meanwhile, has long championed a “go it alone” executive strategy. On Tuesday, he quietly announced — at a breakfast, through White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough — plans for “audacious executive action over the course of the year.”
Trump is crazy, critics shriek, and this may very well be true. However, as a reminder, Obama just announced that the Iran deal is working, that we should give everyone two years of free community college, and that Joe Biden, who is not an oncologist but rather the king of inappropriate hugs at political events, is going to help cure cancer. Is this really less preposterous than Trump announcing that the Mexicans are going to pay for a giant, fantastic wall they don’t want built?
Here’s the truth: America is still great. It’s D.C that’s the farce. The Obama/Trump vision, if you give it a closer look, is wholly Washington-centric, focused on a single and growing center of power. If Republicans really wanted to differentiate themselves, they might champion the opposite: an optimistic, freedom-centric, limited-government approach. Seriously, it’s not that hard. You don’t even have to be “loud” and “angry” to do so. You just have to cut through the baloney.