David R. Henderson  

Peter Robinson Interviews Kellyanne Conway

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One of my biggest surprises of the 2016 political season was the election of Donald Trump and, relatedly, his winning in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. Now my Hoover colleague Peter Robinson, host of "Uncommon Knowledge," has interviewed one of the main architects of that victory, Kellyanne Conway, here.

I enjoyed the interview a lot. It's fascinating to read how she and the other Trump insiders thought about the campaign. I thought she had a particularly good insight about Mitt Romney's failed 2012 campaign for president. More on that anon.

I do think that Peter went a little too easy on her on some of the substantive issues. I don't like gotcha interviews, but I do want to see the interviewee tested a little when she says things that cry out for a test, such as on trade and immigration. More on that anon also.

My comments imply no disdain for either Peter or Kellyanne. I've known and liked Peter for over two decades and he has interviewed me 3 or 4 times on "Uncommon Knowledge." I met and enjoyed talking to Kellyanne at the annual Club for Growth event in Palm Beach, Florida in early 2009.

Highlights and Comments:

15:00: "He [Romney] was afraid to talk about it. Romney did not embrace his wealth and his business experience." She continues about what he could have done. I think she nails it. Her point reminded me of a related point I made about Romney during the 2102 campaign.

23:35: Pennsylvania as her "reach" state.

24:03: Trump was able to elevate trade and illegal immigration as fairness and economic issues. DRH comment: The problem is that the economic lens through which he looked at immigration was "folk economics," not real economics. I had expected Peter, who was around Milton Friedman at Hoover even more than I was, to push back a little. He didn't.

26:30: Our jobs have been shipped to Mexico and China. DRH comment: They haven't.

26:40: Potentially good stuff on Obamacare.

27:00: More on illegal immigration.

28:00: Peter asks where Trump's views on trade and immigration came from. Peter: "He's not been reading policy journals for the last decade." Peter says this as if to say that Trump had ideas that policy journals on these issues would support. But when I saw this, I thought, "Duh, he sure as hell hasn't been reading policy journals; otherwise he wouldn't be saying what he's saying."

29:20: A poll in 2014 showed that American people look at immigration through an economic lens. What does she mean by that? Her exposition seems at odds with the policy of restricting immigration. Peter doesn't follow up by asking for clarity.

30:45: Good question by Peter and good discussion of infrastructure spending. The difference between $1 trillion in infrastructure spending and $1 trillion in government spending on infrastructure.

33:20: Kellyanne trumpets, so to speak, the deal on Carrier. This is not something to be proud of. It would be if we could believe her reason: The Carrier and United Technology (Carrier's parent company) execs made their decision because Donald Trump promised to roll back useless regulations. But the much-more-plausible story, which I detail in a forthcoming article in Reason, is that Carrier did it because, as United Technology's CEO Greg Hayes put it, "I was born at night, but I wasn't born last night." In other words, the threat to the parent company's approximately $5.6 billion annual income on federal government contracts was at risk.

COMMENTS (10 to date)
rtd writes:

29:20: A poll in 2014 showed that American people look at immigration through an economic lens. What does she mean by that? Her exposition seems at odds with the policy of restricting immigration. Peter doesn't follow up by asking for clarity.

She means that people correlate immigration with taking their jobs (back to 26:30: Our jobs have been shipped to Mexico and China. DRH comment: They haven't.)

JK Brown writes:

Like it or not, the Carrier deal was long imbued as "Presidential" management of the economy. Like it or not, Trump is not an economics professor, he's doing politics, quite well.

Look at this from the "ideal" President, as defined by Hollywood and especially revered on the Left.

President Bartlet walks into the Teamsters meeting and tells management and the union that he isn't going to tolerate this anymore. After listening to them for a few minutes, he tells them that he plans on nationalizing the trucking industry and that he plans on drafting the truckers into military service, leaving them with 47 minutes to resolve their issues.

Yes, that is not what we should want from a President, but elections and presidential popularity are won by appealing to the cultural beliefs.

jon writes:
29:20: A poll in 2014 showed that American people look at immigration through an economic lens. What does she mean by that?
This quote, from a review of Borjas latest book, is I think what she was getting at:
If, as George Borjas has shown, immigration suppresses the wages of workers, and transfers much of their wealth to elites, then liberalized immigration is a policy that cannot be carried out without simultaneous injuries to democracy. For why would native workers favor a system that makes them poorer? Perhaps they have somehow been hoodwinked out of an accurate assessment of the effects of the system. Perhaps they have lost their purchase on democracy itself.
Thaomas writes:

Wow! Libertarians can really be scathing. The Carrier Deal was "not something to be proud of."

Don Boudreaux writes:

Thoamas: Can you tell us why the Carrier deal is "something to be proud of"? Can you tell us why Mr. Trump should be proud of bribing a particular firm - with special tax favors doled out to that firm - to continue to use resources wastefully?

David R. Henderson writes:

@Don Boudreaux,
I think you missed Thaomas’s irony, although I’m not sure. I think he was saying that I was understating the case.
BTW, I don’t think the tax credits are the key. The case against tax credits is less strong than you might think. Fortunately, in my Reason article, I didn’t need to address it. The Trump move on Carrier is more stick than carrot.

Don Boudreaux writes:

David Henderson:

Thanks. Perhaps you're correct. If so, I apologize to Thaomas for missing his irony (and for misspelling his name!).

And I take your point about Trump's move on Carrier being more stick than carrot. I agree with you fully on that point. And although I'm pretty sure I know what you mean when you say that "[t]he case against tax credits is less strong than [I] might think," I would push back here a bit. It's a challenging issue, one that remains a bit vague in my mind: when is tax relief justified and when is it, because it is is granted as a special privilege, not justified?

I confess to here having changed my mind somewhat since I read Jim Buchanan's and Roger Congleton's 1998 book, Politics by Principle, Not Interest. My instinctive cheering for tax cuts has become a bit tempered when such cuts appear to be grants of special favors to particular interests as opposed to more-general tax reductions. I'm all-too-aware, I concede, that there is no clear line of distinction between 'good' tax cuts and 'bad' ones.

David R. Henderson writes:

Thanks, Don. This discussion, along with previous ones with fellow liberty-loving economists, has convinced me that I need to devote a whole post to the issue of tax credits, special treatment, etc.

LD Bottorff writes:

Fascinating interview. She admits that her business is mostly a man's business, then goes on with the interview as if she had just agreed that the sky is blue. She knows she is breaking barriers as a woman, but she is more concerned with her accomplishments than with her accomplishments as a woman.
She is completely comfortable with herself, her business, and her client.

David R. Henderson writes:

@LD Bottorff,
She comes across that way in person too. Completely comfortable in her own skin.

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