I, like many others, am stunned that Donald Trump is the GOP nominee for president. I get the whole frustration with politicians thing, I understand the concerns about Hillary Clinton, and I am not at all shocked that voters rejected Ted Cruz. I disliked Trump from the start due to his complete lack of detail, mean-spiritedness, and obvious ignorance regarding key issues facing the nation. It went from dislike to disgust when he proposed a religious test for entering the country.
So, while I am stunned, I think Trump’s popularity with a majority of GOP voters is a natural outgrowth of the party’s anti-government attitudes. I am a pretty moderate guy and have voted for both Republicans and Democrats, in pretty equal numbers, in presidential, gubernatorial, and state legislative races since 2000. I think it is silly to expect all of one’s views to align perfectly with one of two political parties. I find both Republicans and Democrats have good ideas to offer. Nonetheless, I cringe every time I hear the recording of Ronald Reagan’s speech stating government is the problem. I 100% disagree. Perhaps you think government is too big, too small, too powerful, too weak…or whatever. Fine. But wherever the public lands on the preferred size and scope of government, the desire for it to be credible, competent, and efficient should be a bipartisan one.
I have seen (up close and personal in Wisconsin) an anti-government narrative gain traction within Republican circles. Being pro-government reform and being anti-government are two different concepts, and I fear the dominant GOP voices have drifted from being pro-reform to simply anti-government. I think this has occurred at the national level as well, and is the reason so many have lost their confidence in the ability of government to get things done. The 4th branch of government, i.e. the bureaucracy, provides collective security, a public education, a social safety net, protection from market-failures, dependable infrastructure, and so much more. It does not always do these things well, but that provides justification for reform and improvement, not elimination. Eliminating, or even demonizing the 4th branch of government makes it impossible for the GOP to use the power of the state to address the pressing needs of Wisconsin and the United States.
How often do you hear that government needs to be run more like a business? In some ways the comparison works, efficiency, customer service, and some market-based consequences should (in my opinion) be core values of the public sector. But what about the many businesses that go under? Municipalities, states, and the country cannot simply close their doors. And how about profit? The bottom line in government is not as simple as monetary return. The comparison does not hold. Yet we hear it over and over again. If government, generically defined, is continually labeled as the problem facing the United States, and if the articulated solution is running government like a business, is it really surprising that a celebrity businessman openly contemptuous of government won support among a majority of GOP primary voters?
I do not think Trump will win the presidency. But I hope Republicans take this moment to reconsider their dominant message on government, and I hope that the many GOP voices who are not reflexively anti-government are once again heard. Why? Both Republicans and Democrats need the 4th branch of government to effectively address the needs of the American people, and the administrative state needs the diversity of views held by both political parties if it is to be as effective as possible.