Remember the Bush years? When Republicans controlled everything and the country got a spate of unconservative policy, counterintuitively? Fast forward to the first 30 days of the Trump administration, and the same thing might be happening.
On the one hand, this could be expected. Donald Trump is not a conservative, and doesn’t really know anything about policy. On the other hand, the House is pretty conservative now, and—we were all told, before and after the election—that if put in charge, Trump would owe so much to conservatives that on your average, garden-variety, low-level issue, he’d just give conservatives what they wanted because, hell, there was a debt to be paid. Plus, Mike Pence as VP.
All that is valid. So why on Earth do we have a Republican-dominated government, in which conservatives exercise plenty of clout, handling a bunch of issues where undoubtedly Trump does not even really care about the direction of policy but can easily tee up a win for conservatives, doing stuff that is unconservative straight out of the gate?
I’m not even talking about Obamacare, where arguably the most conservative repeal-and-replace plan—that offered by Rand Paul—can’t seem to get much traction beyond Paul himself and perhaps the House Freedom Caucus. Or in which the dominant repeal-and-replace plans have run the gamut from basically keeping Obamacare as it is, but switching the individual mandate to an “automatic opt-in” plan that is only slightly less interventionist, to the plan put forward by Susan Collins and Bill Cassidy that basically keeps Obamacare around.
Trump does have stated views on health care, but to be honest, his true opinions are basically incompatible with anything the GOP or many Democrats would ever offer, so he has an incentive to let conservatives drive the train, repeal Obamacare and bank a political win. Why not do it?
I’m actually talking about way less headline-grabbing stuff, like the holdover of Obama’s Patent Office director, Michelle Lee, who used to work for Google. Lee could have been replaced with someone with more right-of-center beliefs, which would be consequential since her office deals with a lot of property rights issues. But Republicans, who are kind of supposed to care about things like property rights didn’t do anything about putting someone more in line with their philosophy and less likely to do favors for Google in that job.
Or, the odd issue of air traffic control reform that I’ve written about before. Last week, Trump met with a bunch of airline executives, most of whom favor the plan, and said some bland, pablum-type things about the system needing reform. This, plus the House having a guy in charge of transportation policy who’s spent much of his career pushing for a cronyist, union-loved, girlfriend-approved “corporatization” is being seen as a proverbial thumbs up for a plan that isn’t actually a privatization, contains a ton of Big Labor giveaways, and is opposed by the Heritage Foundation, the Manhattan Institute, the Center for Individual Freedom and the freaking Pentagon.
Why is this plan being pursued when a) Trump probably doesn’t care what is done on the subject, so long as it doesn’t make his travel to/from Mar-A-Lago harder and b) we have a much more conservative government in place than when this plan, designed to appeal to Democrats and labor unions, was originally crafted?
Or, even arguably, keeping an Obama appointee at the VA, as Secretary. Sure, the guy knows firsthand about the problems that have been plaguing the agency and how efforts to fix them have been working (or not) thus far. And sure, Trump was clearly having problems hiring for the job. But Shulkin is not a veteran, and it’s not clear that he has any interest in expanding veterans’ access to private care, something conservatives should be treating as a policy priority. You would have thought that even if Trump couldn’t come up with a better idea, self-described conservatives in Congress could have.
There are plenty of areas where policy and staffing are moving in an obviously conservative direction. Many, even, in which those of us who took a pass on voting for Trump did not expect it to.
When these things happened, I didn’t expect it was because of Trump. I know better than to think that guy is personally leading a conservative revolution. Far from it.
But I was told over and over that the House and the Senate would steer Trump’s drunken ship towards conservative waters, even if they had to take the wheel from him.
So far they seem to just be riding the wave with as little conservative direction as Trump has himself.