In a recent stunt on the Senate floor, Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) forced a vote on the use of the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), the law that at least two presidents have leaned on repeatedly to justify a state of endless war.
Paul’s amendment failed in the end, but even in failure it was a success. The success is tied to the 2018 elections, and it shows that Paul has figured out the Trump game.
The whole effort was about more than ending the wars; it helped move us toward restoring the rule of law and reinstituting the separation of powers. And Americans are better off for that no matter the technical policy outcome.
Had the amendment passed and the uniparty recreated the AUMF to justify more war, at least Congress would have been responsible for it. Had the amendment passed but the AUMF not been recreated, the wars might have ended. Even had combat continued without an AUMF, the president would have needed to justify it on new grounds, forcing an important discussion.
Yet even with the failure of the amendment there is gain. The gain is in the exposure of GOP posturing.
Americans continue to see how the GOP establishment is all talk and no action. This was a clear case in which principles and circumstances aligned, yet still our most “principled” leaders in the GOP could not see the prudence of acting.
Rand Paul’s game is the game to play right now. Win or lose, he shows the weakness of the establishment. It is also, as my colleague Mike Sabo points out, the game President Trump is playing. After the debt-ceiling deal, Sabo wrote,
Trump is holding congressional Republicans’ feet to the fire. By making it clear to voters that he is the dealmaker-in-chief he promised to be on the campaign trail, he is allowing Americans to see just how feckless and broken the current Congress is and, by way of contrast, is showing them what he might be able to accomplish with a Congress that is even mildly sympathetic with his agenda.
In short, “By spurning the Republican elites, Trump is attempting to inspire voters to give him a new kind of Republican Congress in 2018.” In the cases of the debt-ceiling deal, Paul’s gambit, and probably even Trump’s potential deal with Democrats on Dreamers (since it will likely fail), voters see how feckless members of the GOP establishment in Congress are. This may be the only way to restore the rule of law and fix Congress.
If one takes Trump seriously and considers our current circumstances honestly, what other way forward is there? If the current Congress is incapable—actually incapable—of passing any meaningful reforms or legislation, what then? They seem to be incapable, if only because some are too imprudent while too many others are progressive or cowards (or both). Things may be worse than many of us originally thought; the wall, tax reform, repealing and replacing Obamacare may all be impossible tasks for a broken Congress. If so, which is better for Trump in 2020 and the American people generally: passing some milquetoast legislation with establishment Republicans to call a “legislative win,” but that makes no real change, or pushing big deals that will probably fail while also working minor compromises that might succeed? The latter highlight the brokenness of Congress as a whole and the Republican establishment in particular.
Those of us who want to see the Trump revolution succeed need to think beyond the conventional measures of “presidential leadership” and “legislative wins.” The game has changed, and can continue to change. Success depends upon bold moves and risky endeavors.
So we could continue to adopt the progressive critique of the executive used by National Review that the president is a failure for not making all of government better, but that would be foolish. The president is not our king and we don’t need him to be. What we desperately need is “a president who will rein in the federal government and get Congress to do its job.” This does not mean he must tell Congress what to do or to lead Congress to weak deals. It means we need a president who helps the American people restore Congress to a functioning co-equal branch of government, accountable to the voters, and willing to exercise its own constitutional powers.
align=”left” We need to trade in the GOP establishment for people who are serious about this project. Primary season is the next battle ground for the soul of the country.
For that, we need a new Congress.
We need to trade in the GOP establishment for people who are serious about this project. Primary season is the next battle ground for the soul of the country.
This is a risky endeavor, but probably not in the way one might think. Is there really a risk that Republican voters are suddenly going to vote for Democrats? Maybe, but more so if they are forced to choose between weak GOPe candidates and Democrats (since there is not much practical difference). There is also a risk if Republican voters are not motivated to vote. Again, this is more likely with GOPe favorites on the ticket. The way to give voters a clear choice and to motivate them is to make this a fight about the future of Congress and promote a primary process against the establishment.
The risk of voting into office worse Republicans is low. If we accidentally elect more bad Republicans, are we any worse off? Simply voting out politicians who do not do what they say they will, and who do not have the best interests of the American people at heart, is a victory. This may be why we are seeing citizens across the country mobilize for this purpose. Groups like the Poor Richard Group—with their slogan to “Make Congress Great Again” and aim “to reduce the influence of incumbency on elections”—will probably become more prevalent in the coming months.
Consider the conditions that will help make all of this a reality. If the Left continues to be hate-filled, violent, and adolescent, they will remain weak. All evidence suggests they are not changing. It also helps Republicans if Democrats embrace the culture war and obstruct. Trump has already shown that he can make this happen with a few well-placed tweets.
But most of all, citizens must realize they need change and realize they can make the change. So far, the Rand/Trump game highlights the first part. The president and his radical flank outside the White House are also highlighting the second part.
In an insurgency, these elements might be called “mobilizing structures” and “framing.” And perhaps this is the proper way to understand Trump and the movement we are seeing today: an insurgency. After all, even though Trump holds the Office of the President, the rest of government, including most of the executive branch, and all of the levers of power in our society (e.g., Hollywood, the media, etc.) are still against him. He, and the American people, do not control the government, which is still firmly in the hands of the “political eunuchs” born of the administrative state.
align=”right” To restore self-government, which the establishment stands against, and some believe Trump stands for, will require time, energy, and using the one power left to the people: voting.
To restore self-government, which the establishment stands against, and some believe Trump stands for, will require time, energy, and using the one power left to the people: voting. There is no choice between Democrat and Republican, since the Flight 93 Election argument still holds true. But there can be a choice between establishment and serious Republicans. President Trump should continue to reject conventional politics and make it clear that he will remain neutral in the primaries but support whomever wins each GOP nomination. In short, he should promote a vigorous primary process and self-government.
Trump made the point before being elected in 2016 that this movement is about replacing a failed and corrupt political establishment with a new government controlled by the American people. As he said,
The only thing that can stop this corrupt machine is you, the only force strong enough to save our country is us, the only people brave enough to vote out this corrupt establishment is you, the American people.
The election of Donald Trump has always been more about politics than policy. Restoring the rule of law requires restoring the Congress to a functioning branch of government.
There is only one way to do this: show Americans just how useless and enamored of the progressive administrative state the establishment Republicans are, and motivate Americans to take back their Congress and restore it to its constitutional aims. Senator Paul and President Trump seem to understand this, and this is what the 2018 election is all about.