How a fight for the economy could shape the GOP’s post-Trump future


The debate centers on the lessons to be learned from Donald Trump, who spoke like a populist but ruled – with the exception of trade policy – more like a Reaganite. The gap is not quite between pro and anti-Trump. Former United Nations pro-Trump Ambassador Nikki Haley, for example, has become one of the main champions of traditional free trade policies in opposition to other pro-Trump like Vance and Hawley. The battle is set to unfold in the 2024 presidential primary and shape the future of Republican politics long after Trump leaves the scene.

The emergence of the new economic counterculture is loosely linked to the two-year think tank American Compass, whose founder, Harvard-trained attorney and former Bain consultant, Oren Cass, routinely derides his opponents by making them. calling it ‘market fundamentalists’ peddling ‘piety’ of the 1980s. Cass left the Manhattan Institute open market in 2019 to launch American Compass, the first center-right think tank dedicated to pushing government to get more involved , rather than less, in national economic policy in order to advance a certain set. social and cultural goals – a view Cass and his ilk have called “common good capitalism.” The group’s mission: “To restore an economic consensus that emphasizes the importance of family, community and industry to the freedom and prosperity of the nation.”

To become the party of the working class, Cass argued, the GOP must abandon its doctrinal attachment to free market principles in favor of traditionally democratic causes like organized labor, minimum wages and an industrial policy in which the government particularly encourages. industries compared to others. He also favors a stricter immigration policy that takes into account the impact of migrants on the wages of American workers, arguments echoed by Vance and Fox News host Tucker Carlson.

“It’s a very different set of things to put in place and to support, certainly on the part of the Republicans,” Cass told me recently, describing her position as “in every way antithetical to the House’s point of view. trade”.

Critics of Cass say he is just a more intellectual version of the crass political opportunists who seek to capitalize on Trump’s legacy. Otherwise, why would Romney’s 2012 campaign advisor turn his back on the free market principles he once stood for? Why else would the populist agitators of the previous decade, including Tea Party sweetheart Marco Rubio and his chief of staff, former Heritage Action enfant terrible Michael Needham, move on from government restriction and control? spending looking for new ways for the federal government to interfere in the economy, or former Trump critic Vance turning into an avatar of the populist economy?

“A lot of people have tried to make sense of the Trump phenomenon, and a lot of that sense is selfish,” says Michael Strain, director of economic policy at the American Enterprise Institute. “President Trump has not exposed a deep problem in American society” that requires rethinking the economic system, adds Strain, saying that the 2008 financial crisis and the recession that followed led to the kinds of populist uprisings in the world. whole world that have historically followed. economic cataclysms.

Others, including political scientist Richard Hanania, say Cass is learning the wrong lessons from Trump’s political success, which Hanania says has more to do with culture than economics. In an essay published after the 2020 election and titled, without subtlety, “The National Populist Illusion,” Hanania called Cass and Rubio by name, arguing that attitudes towards issues like political correctness and immigration were more closely related to Trump’s votes than to economic status.

Hedge funds, private equity firms, and venture capitalists, many of whom are longtime Republican donors, have been the target of many spades from Cass, and industry titans generally speaking, argue that Cass has no more business to trace the economic situation of the country. policy than any other Ivy League consultant. See last month’s nasty Twitter entanglement between Cass and hedge fund billionaire Clifford Asness, a major GOP donor, which began when Cass argued that Asness’s company “hasn’t been good for. produce results for its own investors “. Describing American Compass as an “organization of blood and soil”, Asness urged his supporters to familiarize themselves with Cass’s work: “It’s all populist nonsense in one place. Very practical, ”he wrote.

Despite the battles on Twitter, Cass cites Haley, the former UN Ambassador, as well as outgoing Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey, a moderate Republican who has been a leading voice on economic policy, as main intellectual adversaries, and members of the Wall Street newspaper Editorial committee.

Toomey gave a speech last year – titled “In Defense of Capitalism” – which targeted not “the old threat from the left” but rather the “hyphenated capitalism” emerging on the right. “When I look at this and where it comes from,” he said in the speech, “this strikes me as perhaps the most serious threat to economic freedom and prosperity for a long time, because it comes from our allies.… This is meant to be a stab at the heart of the traditional center-right consensus that maximizing economic growth is about maximizing economic growth.

Haley, a likely 2024 presidential candidate, made the debate the subject of her own remarks to the conservative Hudson Institute last February and later in a the Wall Street newspaper op-ed slamming “those who push for watered down or cut capitalism”.

Other 2024 prospects – including Mike Pompeo, Ron DeSantis, Ted Cruz and Rick Scott – have yet to take a firm stance on the GOP’s intra-party economic debate, but they will inevitably have to. The only thing the two groups agree on is that an economic brawl on the right is likely to be played out in the next Republican primary. Cass predicts a fight “for the future of the center-right” between his allies, like Rubio and Hawley, and those he calls “pre-Trump,” including Haley.

Just as Trump disrupted the political consensus on China, the outcome of this debate is likely to shape the consensus economic views of a tumultuous party. One of the practical questions arising from this debate is how voters react to the rhetoric of watered down capitalism, and whether it produces electoral results. Opponents argue that this might be good policy in the short term, but that voters ultimately punish politicians who preside over periods of economic contraction – precisely what those like Toomey say populists are likely to produce.

“Those of us who think like me must constantly remind people that capitalism serves the common good,” Toomey said in an interview. “This whole notion of common good capitalism betrays the flawed premise on which it is based, which is that capitalism somehow does not serve the common good. “

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