It’s springtime and the political wizards are wondering what Donald Trump is doing.
His style of politics “can’t win.” This isn’t conservatism (which is clearly a high-functioning ideology). We’ve got the stats guys, the Republican high priests, and the consultants of rival campaigns and they all agree: This isn’t it.
2016 or 2022?
The recent brouhaha over the 45th president’s interventions in the Keystone State and Buckeye State Senate races could give any observer not half ideologically lobotomized a dastardly case of deja vu. How is it, anyway, that the antipope of Mar-A-Lago failed to endorse the former CEO of Bridgewater Associates, the globalist hedge fund par excellence, whose founder by all reports may praise himself in Chinese?
Don, David McCormick was in the George W. Bush administration! And so was his wife, Dina Powell, now back at Goldman Sachs! You remember how much you liked Gary Cohn. The “MAGA” case makes itself. How in the world—Donald Trump—could you endorse someone like Dr. Oz? Mr. President, McCormick even has a fresh ad of himself on a Harley. Just like Scott Walker in 2015.
Ross Douthat, as he so often does, says it better than I.
“The pro-Trump conservatives who howled over the Oz endorsement because they think Oz is a New York celebrity opportunist with mostly liberal views who’s ended up on the right for highly contingent reasons — well, they’re amusing,” sniped the Times columnist. “Whether they succeed or fail, both the … [J.D.] Vance endorsement *and* the Oz endorsement connect more closely to the sources of Trump’s actual political appeal than many of his endorsements this cycle.”
If six years has taught us anything, it has been the political endurance of both Donald Trump, and—frankly more disturbingly—the stupefying survival of Conservative, Inc., fixtures, somehow sinecured to always get it wrong.
In a vacuum, of course, Donald Trump’s endorsement of Dr. Mehmet Oz is about as shocking as his marital interest in Eastern Europe. But the pick has more ideological heft than credited: Like Trump, Oz exhibits a generalized anti-liberal populism that acknowledges gravity. The country has seen better days. He need not fill in the details with policy preferences cribbed from brochures given out at the American Enterprise Institute. He’d be better off having no platform at all.
But this is no dullard, Dr. Oz. The Good Doctor appears to care about one of the only issues anyone in 50 years will care about: What about that hollowed-out American middle class, and what about the odious ascent of China?
As detailed in Joshua Green’s excellent dispatch on McCormick, released three days before Trump uproariously endorsed Oz:
The ads attacking McCormick have been directed largely at his work for Bridgewater, and particularly at the firm’s close ties to China—the Oz campaign has branded him ‘Beijing Dave.’ Bridgewater has managed Chinese state money for nearly two decades, including from the country’s sovereign wealth fund and the State Administration of Foreign Exchange. Those two entities account for about $5 billion, enough to make China one of Bridgewater’s biggest clients by assets.
A bathroom rendezvous with Oz is divulged.
“Why is nobody reporting on how he ripped off the teachers’ pension fund when he was at Bridgewater?” he demands to know. “They had returns under 2% while he was CEO!”… As he dries his hands, Oz, who has a business degree from the Wharton School in addition to his medical degrees, ponders the injustice. …. He’s particularly impressed by the work of the Philadelphia Inquirer’s “Spotlight” team. But he says it’s missed one big thing: McCormick’s role in the disaster. “They haven’t talked about him,” Oz grouses. “I’m, like, stunned! I don’t think they’ve connected that he was the CEO of Bridgewater!” (A few weeks later, the Inquirer did publish a story highlighting the connection.)
A state over, the story is much the same.
How could Trump endorse a memoirist who has written at length about his core political constituency, the beleaguered white working class? We’ve got perennial candidate Josh Mandel in the race in Ohio! Mr. President, you remember his great rallies in 2012 with Mitt Romney? He’s endorsed by Club for Growth. You recall, that Poindexter libertarian outfit that spent Hell on Wheels amounts of money against you in 2016? Fine, you don’t care for him? The other choices appear to be heavily associated with the Kochs’ domestic policy shop and Mitch McConnell. Mr. President, I simply don’t understand!
From a nationalist perspective, slagging Vance for voting for the CIA bugman and perennial candidate Evan McMullin is fair enough. But headlines from 2016 like “Trump speaks for those Bush betrayed” and “Why Trump’s Antiwar Message Resonates with White America” reveal, if anything, the reticence of a Trumpist extremist, not someone partying like it was 2004. Looking forward to the general election, if you are concerned with Vance’s stance on the 2020 election—and from Arizona Avenue to Arizona State that whole year is now a mainstream question mark on the right—it’s difficult to see the precise “moral” case for voting for the Democratic choice, Tim Ryan. The ho-hum heir to James Traficant was last seen using his two minutes of fame in the presidential race to berate Tulsi Gabbard (and the future president, Joe Biden) on the need to log more years in Afghanistan. Before that, Ryan gained some attention as the Mishima of the Blue Dogs, leader of an opera-bouffe failed coup against Nancy Pelosi.
On a prudential level, this chronicler is less convinced than ever of the moral inferiority of electing celebrities from other fields, even show business, over stage-managed PAC products from the wizards in Washington (And I’m from D.C.!) It’s got a Roman Republic feel to it (or, at least, HBO’s Rome.) And that lasted a while. I was as skeptical as anyone of the “Senator Coach,” Tommy Tuberville, but where else are you going to get reports from the upper camber like this? “I’ve never done cocaine. …But they say it’s really good,” Tuberville was recorded as saying last year by the Washington Post. That’s certainly more honest stuff than another “free trade” deal.
Finally, back on Oz (and this is not an original observation), the Good Doctor may have wished all a Happy Easter over the weekend (thank you!), but his religious heritage is dubious. He may be a surgeon, but he’s also a Sufi. If nothing else, it would be sweet irony if after George Bush’s wars of choice in the 2000s destroyed Republican standing with that demographic, Donald Trump shepherded in, plausibly, the country’s first Muslim senator.