David R. Henderson  

The Trump and Bush Phenomena

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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.

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CATEGORIES: Public Choice Theory

COMMENTS (10 to date)
jc writes:

Re: Jeb.

Is it possible that you're giving voters a bit too much credit by assuming that they're analyzing his foreign policy stances (and advisory team), comparing them w/ their own views, and then rejecting him on this basis?

Perhaps it's simpler than that. Perhaps voters like candidates w/ "strong" personalities, as that fits w/ their mental image of who is or isn't a "leader". Thus, while many over the years have suggested that it was Jeb, the even-headed, "do-right" Bush child that was destined to be President, it was the brother w/ the stronger personality, Dubya, who actually became President.

Today, Trump seems like a strong (personality wise) leader. Reagan, Clinton, Dubya each had a certain charisma. Carter, the elder Bush and Jeb don't. Jeb is especially...calm...mild. And today, for whatever reason (fear/angst about the economy or security, the lack of great alternate candidates, etc.) strong charisma may even be a bit more important to voters than it normally is.

Jeb's family name, of course, could work against him via several important channels: "Bush" fatigue, residual anger at Dubya, etc. Much of this could also be based on "feelings", though, as opposed to rational analyses of his stances, advisers, etc.

Brendon writes:

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LD Bottorff writes:

I am a conservative, and I was stumped by Trump. Now, I just have to live with the realization that many of my fellow conservatives are as susceptible to Trump’s sales techniques as my liberal friends were to Obama’s.

Thank you for linking to Scott Adams's post. He helped me understand Trump better. To some extent, every politician needs sales skills, but democracy won't work if the voters are not aware they are electing a leader of the federal government, not a prom queen, dictator, or the winner of a "reality" show.

ThomasH writes:

To like Trump for being willing to say non "politically correct" things (as if treating Muslim refugees differently from those of other religions is just a violation of "political correctness") is like praising Mussolini for making the trains run on time. On the other hand, I agree that Trump's foreign policy may be the least worst of any of the Republicans. He may also be less aggressively upwardly distributionist that the others. All this is very uncertain. Hilary is the choice for the risk averse.

Harold Cockerill writes:

Trump is where he is because so many people are incredibly angry at politicians. He's running as a Republican because they are the angriest but he isn't just playing to Republicans. Trump goes after G.W. Bush sounding like a "9-11 Truther" and when asked about it says he will get huuuuge crossover votes from Democrats. He says what comes to mind to scam votes more so than anyone I've ever seen. There's no way to know what is actually real with him and there may be nothing. Having a president Trump may mean a new president from day to day if not moment to moment.

Hillary has such high negatives and is so awful at being a candidate that the powers that be within the Democratic Party may offer her a pardon to get her out of the race. How'd you like to be in that meeting?

What are they going to do about Bernie?

Phil writes:

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Andrew_FL writes:

This is probably accurate of South Carolina, which has an open primary, and no doubt many Democrats in the state received Trump's attacks on Bush warmly.

But Trump's larger appeal can't be explained by that. He made a lot of anti-Iraq war noise in the later years of the Bush administration (but not, as it happens, before the war started) but not so much recently.

I think there's something to be said for the appeal of a candidate who seems to get away with saying anything, no matter how outrageous.

I don't particularly care for the one policy Trump advocates I'm sure he's not simply posturing on (protectionism) but I'm tired of people not being able to get away with saying perfectly reasonable things. Shame nobody else seems to have figured out how to do what Trump does.

Tom West writes:

I would have assumed that Trump had no chance of presidential victory.

But then I remembered Toronto (my home town) elected Rob Ford, whom I consider Trump writ small.

A sufficiently bitter electorate can elect almost anyone who happens to appeal to them. And in such cases, a candidate that is seen as vicious or vindictive can become a selling point.

"This'll show those elitist snobs" is a powerful political sentiment, if a shocking one to those such as me who had happily existed in our bubbles.

Weir writes:

Trump, in 2002, is asked if he's for invading Iraq: "Yeah, I guess so."

A few months later he's getting impatient: "Either you attack or you don't attack."

He's rambling, but it's decipherable: "Whatever happened to the days of the Douglas MacArthur. He would go and attack. He wouldn't talk. We have to, you know, it's sort like either do it or don't do it.

And in a 2000 book: "I'm no warmonger. But the fact is, if we decide a strike against Iraq is necessary, it is madness not to carry the mission to its conclusion. When we don't, we have the worst of all worlds: Iraq remains a threat, and now has more incentive than ever to attack us."

When it's popular, he's for it. When it's unpopular, he's against it. When there's another big terrorist attack, he'll get angry and start a war, and then he'll lose interest, and pretend he's always been right about everything.

Daublin writes:

In my world, very few people are thinking seriously about the upcoming election. Not that they ever think *that* seriously about it, but at this stage, it's really all about just having some fun.

There's a widespread expectation that Trump will drop out and make room for a more serious candidate. I don't think many people will vote for him when they are alone in the ballot box and thinking about the next four years.

All this said, I have no idea about the larger pulse of America. Look at Reagan, or at Schwarzenegger.

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