Trump’s Focus on the Past Leaves Republicans Without a Future
(Bloomberg Opinion) - As the contiguous half of the Republican ticket entered the Vice Presidential Debate this week, viewers were given an opportunity to learn what the future holds. Yes, Vice President Mike Pence may be a discussion machine, but to a debate audience, this is a more useful device than a random lie generator. You can learn things from topics of conversation.
There's only one problem: Republicans have no points to talk about. When elections are about the future, the GOP plans are the blank sheet of paper that President Donald Trump signed on his Covid photo op at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
The Republican Party received a lot of attention, most of it badly, when it refused to produce a platform at its August congress. Instead of explaining his positions, it issued a brief proclamation claiming that the news media had conspired and were mean with Joe Biden. What is less noticeable is that the Trump campaign website doesn't offer better guidance. There is no future there either.
How will the US get out of the pandemic / economic crisis that has gripped the nation? Who knows? Perhaps the chopped down jobs will magically return as the virus disappeared in the spring.
The Trump website lives like the campaign in the past. The president, who forecast GDP growth of 6%, points out that GDP growth reached 3.1% in the glorious first quarter of 2019. The glow of that triumph extends across the incoherent fragments of his campaign manifesto. "The unemployment rates of Hispanics, Asians and Afro-Americans have all hit record lows under President Trump," said the campaign from the time of a time leap. In Trumpworld, the present is unreal and the future is dead.
The “after politics” Republican Party has been a troubling subject for several years. When my colleague Jonathan Bernstein wrote in 2017, he lamented the reduction of the GOP to "a nihilistic message of unfocused resentment".
The party began to lapse into corruption and nihilism long before its vices took on physical form as the current president. Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign was intellectually coherent. But the GOP has not offered a compelling Ronald Reagan-style vision of the future since at least 2000, when George W. Bush briefly delved into a vague but intriguing term called "compassionate conservatism". (It never took shape.) The party's Trumpist vision, aside from deliberate cruelty, is panic with a bar across the door to keep the future from entering.
Over the course of nearly 90 minutes on Wednesday, Pence said little to make that vision more attractive. Regarding a climate crisis linked to the destruction of more than 4 million acres in California this year, he said he and Trump believe that "forest management must be paramount". In terms of the economy, Republicans will "always put American jobs and American workers first". On managing the emerging power of China, "We want to improve the relationship, but we will improve the playing field and hold China accountable for what they did to America with the coronavirus."
There was a ruse on solidity and the future: "President Trump and I have plans to improve health care to protect pre-existing conditions for every American," Pence said. However, the vice president is well aware that the government has no such plans and is currently suing to invalidate these protections after failing to legislate to destroy them.
For her part, Kamala Harris didn't paint much of a picture either, although she managed to go through a few skeletal points about taxes, free community college, and student debt. If you'd like to learn more, the Biden campaign website has a section - "Joe's Vision" - with 48 subsections listing a number of plans in varying degrees of detail. If that's not enough, you can consult the Democratic Party's 92-page platform.
Pence peered through the plexiglass barrier made necessary by his administration's historical incompetence and offered no guidelines to compete with Harris's. He did not present a vision of a better life to anyone watching at home. Instead, Pence ruled out the future and urged viewers to join him in the wreckage of the disease in order to allay and reject the fear it has spawned.
This column does not necessarily reflect the views of the editors or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Francis Wilkinson writes editorials for Bloomberg Opinion on politics and US domestic affairs. He was editor-in-chief of the week. He was previously a Rolling Stone writer, communications consultant and political media strategist.
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