After a family Christmas in Canada my wife and I are now in London for half a year. It’s been quite interesting these past three weeks reading the Canadian and British papers and comparing that to what’s been written in the Australian and on Speccie Flat White. The gist of what many conservative commentators in these two Anglosphere countries are saying is that the established centre-right political parties are no longer very conservative and not all that committed to voters’ democratic preferences that are at odds with those of their own political elite class. So what is needed, in other words, is more conservatism and more populism, a recipe with which I wholly concur.
As it happens, and stripped to its essentials, that is precisely the recipe that President Donald Trump has followed. He’s also made a point of trying to honour all of his campaign promises. Those he has yet to achieve have failed because of Congress, not least some Republicans in Congress, and not because of Mr Trump. The current US government shut-down and inability to pass an ongoing spending bill is due to Mr Trump’s insistence that his explicit campaign promise to fund and build a border wall be funded by the legislature. Or he will veto all spending bills. This, of course, puts Republicans in the House and the Senate in the explicit position of having to support the President or move away from him. My guess is that the latter option is not one with a long political shelf life on the right side of American politics, as the majority of Americans agree with the President on the wall, and more so again do Republican voters. Of course from the start of 2017 until the start of 2019 Republicans controlled both Houses of Congress. So it was not the Democrats who blocked this wall. (As a Money Bill the filibuster in the Senate could be side-stepped.) Rather it was ‘centrists’ or ‘moderates’ or ‘lefties’ or ‘RINOs’ (Republicans in Name Only) in Mr Trump’s own party who blocked him. Accordingly, the President has opted to play tough. It will be interesting to see which side of the ever more palpably partisan divide in the US wins this tussle. But if nothing else it has driven what Australians might label ‘the Black Hand gang in the Republican party’ out into the open.
Put differently, the Trump strategy is to put a chasm between you and the left side of politics. It is to make conservative promises your core voters like and then to do all you can to honour them. This strategy, given the massive left-wing leanings of today’s journalist class, and the universities, and even a preponderance of the big business managerial class, means you will be pilloried in the relentless way that Trump has been. (Think how Mr Abbott was treated by the ABC, and then multiply by four or five.) Recent studies have detailed how Trump’s coverage in the mainstream US media is well over 90 per cent negative. To put that in context, China, Pakistan and the hellholes in the Middle East get more favourable coverage from the ‘balanced’ US media. So this ‘shun the soppy centre’ strategy is hated by most of the elite class, and hence carries big costs.
But the rewards are big too. Sure, Mr Trump’s approval ratings are below 50 per cent (Rasmussen has them on 47 per cent at the time of writing) but notice that that is far, far higher than Theresa May’s, Angela Merkel’s and Emmanuel Macron’s scores. Plus, and this is a big plus in my view, this strategy of, you know, actually trying to implement a centre-right set of policies means you might actually accomplish something before you are voted out at some point in the future – an inevitable outcome in any democracy.
Compare that to the sort of Mark Textor/Malcolm Turnbull/RINO strategy where politicians elected to represent right-of-centre voters opt to move as far to the left as they can until they reach the vicinity of the main left wing party’s views. They park themselves there, claim to have colonised (my word, they’d die before using it) the ‘sensible centre’, and then more or less dare their party’s core, base voters to choose between them and the lefties (thereby assuming their party’s base voters will hold their noses and prefer them to that supposedly awful other team now only a few centimetres to their political left).
That is the gist of the Merkel, May, Turnbull and thus far Morrison strategies. And it’s a clear failure in my view on two counts. First off, if you win an election on it you don’t end up achieving anything much a right-of-centre voter will remember fondly in a decade. Just consider what Angela Merkel has achieved. Sure, she’s massively undermined the electricity market and she’s caused chaos by simply decreeing that a million economic migrants (not refugees in any legal sense) can come into Europe. But what has she done a conservative would like? Name anything? Theresa May is even worse.
Or try Malcolm Turnbull. Under him the Libs attacked and undermined superannuation, disgracefully so in my view, and with the effect that they won’t have a leg to stand on when Labor opts to go further. Under him spending went up and up, on some measures worse than in the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd years. (So the approaching end of the deficit is a function of more revenue, or higher tax take, not one of reduced spending). He refused to do anything to limit Australia’s world’s highest per capita immigration intake. He spent $50 billion on useless submarines. Our education scores stink. His fear of global warming induced energy policies and the genuflecting at the altar of the Paris Agreement that were both economy-strangling choices. (Australia now has pretty much the democratic world’s highest electricity prices, minimum wage and corporate taxes – and that after six years of Liberal rule.) All you can remotely point to is an obscure fix to labour relations and a miniscule small business tax cut down the road.
Which takes me to a couple of recent Flat White articles preaching the virtues of the politics of the ‘sensible centre’. On my reading these pieces are all invective and no substance. They throw around rhetorical words such as ‘far right’ and ‘populism’ while failing to point to a single country where their strategy has worked, or at least worked for voters as opposed to for young wannabe politicians who care only about getting a cushy political job and not one iota for implementing good conservative policies.
Here’s the thing. If the main right-of-centre political party had to live without such Black Hand type supporters, well I for one could live with that, no problem.