Do Donald Trump and Bryan Caplan have the same goal (for immigration)?

21st April 2019 Off By binary
Do Donald Trump and Bryan Caplan have the same goal (for immigration)?
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I’ve recently been wracking my brain trying to figure out what Trump is trying to do with immigration policy. Last year he was close to a deal on funding the border wall (combined with DACA reforms), and then suddenly walked away from the deal. His government shutdown to force construction of the wall was doomed from the start. He’s cut aid to Central American that was intended to reduce immigration from that area. (Yes, the wall and the foreign aid may not be that effective, but that’s true of EVERYTHING the government does. You think the war on drugs is “effective”? Does that stop the government from attempting it?)

Here’s Janan Ganesh in the Financial Times:

It is in Mr Trump’s interest to major on immigration in 2020, and perhaps even run a single-issue campaign. For that, the subject has to be of immediate, living concern to voters. The worst thing he could do before then is fulfil his promise to bring immigration under control.

It is perverse, I know, that a president could make so little progress on his number-one priority during four years in office, only to be rewarded for it. Ever since he was elected, his enemies have waited for his inevitable failure to “deliver” for his voters, who would then see through him and come sheepishly back to the political mainstream. The non-materialisation of his wall against Mexico felt like the cue for such a mass epiphany.

But this always assumed that Mr Trump is judged as conventional politicians are judged. In fact, populists do not live and die by their record. They live on a sense of rolling crisis.

When George Bush was unable to keep America safe from terrorism in 2001, it made him even more popular. In 2004, voters decided that we’d be better off with a tough guy like Bush than a French speaking “wimp” like John Kerry.

Trump is ignorant about public policy, but he has excellent political instincts. He realizes that an immigration crisis in 2020 makes it more likely that he’ll be re-elected.

I’m amused by alt-right types who put their faith in Trump. They told me that it doesn’t matter that he’s a scoundrel, because he has the right views on the issues. As the following graph shows, it does matter that Trump is a scoundrel:

March 2019 is the 9/11 of the Trump presidency. It’s the point where he’s failing so badly that his supporters will come to believe that only he can fix the problem.

Janan Ganesh puts it much better than I can:

This is what distinguishes the populist from the ideologue, for whom the ultimate goal is actual change through government policy. Mr Miller is an ideologue. Mr Trump is a populist. The first man’s interest is in reduced immigration. The second man’s interest, whether he knows it or not, is in a national mood of immigration crisis circa autumn 2020. If even he cannot control the borders — voters might think — then perhaps the system is rigged after all. The swamp thwarted me in fixing immigration, he will say to them. Now give me a mandate to finish the job. You need only imagine what finishing the job might entail to see what an unpleasant election awaits us.

And people keep asking me why I obsess about character, and not “the issues”. Heraclitus figured this out 2500 years ago; character is destiny.




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