The sense of panic among elite Republicans is palpable. They’re beginning to understand that when they look at Donald Trump they're staring into the orange-hued face of their party’s potential demise.
The GOP defections to Team Hillary were already well underway by the time of last week's Democratic National Convention, which featured endorsement speeches from billionaire ex-mayor Michael Bloomberg and other Republicans.
Since then Hewlett-Packard executive and former Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman has come out for Clinton. So has Republican-leaning hedge fund billionaire Seth Karman and Republican Congressman Richard Hanna. A CNN poll showed that nearly one in four self-identified conservative voters said they would support Clinton over Trump.
From a tactical point of view, it makes sense for Clinton to welcome their support. But it poses a dangerous temptation for her – especially when, as is the case with Bloomberg, Whitman, and Klarman, it presumably comes with buckets full of campaign cash. She may see this support as a mandate to form something like a unity government with Republicans, a call to tack right toward the failed “centrism” and “bipartisanship” of the past several decades.
That would be a tragic error, but it would it follow a well-worn groove in recent American politics.
“Bipartisanship,” in this context, is the notion that government works best when corporate-backed politicians from both parties get together behind closed doors and decide what’s best for the country. The "bipartisan" ideology gave rise to Washington's long obsession with deficit reduction at the expense of more pressing concerns. It nearly led to a cut in Social Security benefits, which would have been disastrous for millions of seniors, disabled people, and children. It is responsible for the government spending cuts that, as economist Robert Scott explains, have been largely responsible for the weakness and slow pace of our current recovery.
This ideology has failed – but it hasn’t died. Consider the comments made this week former President George W. Bush, who implicitly condemned Trump by speaking out against what he called “isolationism, nativism and protectionism.”
Bush was right to condemn nativism, of course. But what he (and other “centrist” insiders) consider “isolationism,” many Americans would consider a prudent reluctance toward military adventurism. The “bipartisan” consensus that Clinton shared brought us Bush’s disastrous war in Iraq and the current chaos in Libya and Syria.
And when Bush talks about “protectionism,” he’s really defending the disastrous “bipartisan” trade deals supported by Democratic and Republican administrations alike - including Bill Clinton’s, Barack Obama’s, and his own.
Then there’s New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. Friedman’s not always wrong: he supports infrastructure spending and green jobs. But in his latest column he tosses out political clichés like confetti in his zeal to flack the failed bipartisan approach of the past.
Friedman complains that the Democratic convention failed to honor "the people who drive our economy by inventing things or by borrowing money to start companies that actually employ people.”
Friedman’s language regurgitates the right-wing myth of the “job creator." That's getting it exactly backward. In a healthy and stable economy, it is people who generate prosperity for businesses, not the other way around, by increasing demand for their goods and services. And in a struggling economy like this one, government spending is especially important.
Economic inequality stifles growth. So when Friedman says “I would much rather grow our pie bigger and faster and better adjust the slices then redivide a shrinking one," he shows that he's failed to learn the lessons of the last 30 years.
Friedman also complains that there is "anti-bank sentiment" within the Democratic Party. That assertion would astonish the hundreds of thousands of defrauded homeowners who have yet to see one of their lawbreaking tormentors sent to jail under the current Democratic administration.
Friedman’s proposal for Clinton is an elitist's opium dream. He suggests she reach out to "center-right, business Republicans” with “a real, pro-growth, start-up, deregulation, entrepreneurship agenda.” This would presumably mirror the failed economic policy of the last three decades, with tax cuts for wealthy corporations and handouts for technology companies like those that have helped fuel today's wealth inequality.
We need more regulation of Wall Street, not less. Bank deregulation would mean more consumer fraud, and would almost certainly trigger another disastrous financial crisis. The deregulation of other industries would lead to more environmental disasters, more occupational deaths and injuries, and more consumer fraud.
Hillary Clinton saved her primary campaign by rejecting the right-leaning "centrism" of recent Democratic administrations, including her husband's. Republican leaders clung to "centrist" ideas and lost their party to Trump. That should tell her everything she needs to know.
Friedman’s pitch is the siren song of a failed ideology. Bloomberg’s billions are its bewitching smile. But Hillary Clinton must not succumb to temptation. Voters have rejected the ideology of the elites for a reason: it has failed them. If she embraces it again she will be on the road to a failed candidacy – or a failed presidency.