I am socially liberal: I am pro-LGBTQ rights, pro-abortion rights, pro-immigration. I am fiscally conservative: I think we need to reduce the deficit and get entitlement spending under control. I am pro-environment: I think that climate change is a major threat that we need to address. I am pro-free trade: I think we should be concluding new trade treaties rather than pulling out of old ones. I am strong on defense: I think we need to beef up our military to cope with multiple enemies. And I am very much in favor of America acting as a world leader: I believe it is in our own self-interest to promote and defend freedom and free markets as we have been doing in one form or another since at least 1898.
You would think these political views would make me unexceptional. But in fact they have turned me into a political pariah — a man without a party. Neither Democrats nor Republicans are appealing to someone of my center-right outlook.
The problems with the Republican Party are symbolized by, but hardly limited to, Donald Trump. Long before he came along, the GOP had fallen prey to tea party absolutists who pursued a rigid, far-right ideological agenda and refused any entreaties, even from their own party’s leaders, to compromise. In a related development, the party’s conservative base had become increasingly nihilistic — focused on destroying “libtards” and “snowflakes” rather than implementing any positive agenda — under the influence of such pied pipers as Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, Tucker Carlson, Dinesh D’Souza, Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, Michael Savage, Bill O’Reilly, and Alex Jones. All of them cater to their audience’s worst instincts to score ratings points.
Now much of the GOP has been morally compromised by its de facto acceptance of Trump’s unacceptable behavior — from his firing of FBI Director James Comey in order to obstruct the investigation of his Russia links to his reluctance to criticize white supremacists and his pardon of racist former Sheriff Joe Arpaio. It tells you all that you need to know about the diseased state of today’s GOP that when Trump finally made a move toward bipartisan compromise — by trying to forge a deal to prevent the deportation of people who were brought illegally to the United States as children — a significant section of the right went ballistic. Alex Jones suggested that Trump had been drugged, Ann Coulter argued that he should be impeached, and Breitbart dubbed him “Amnesty Don.”
Every day that goes by, I am ever more thankful that, after spending my entire adult life as a Republican, I left the GOP the day after Trump’s election. But I became an independent rather than a Democrat because although Democrats are sounding a lot more sensible than Republicans these days, I cannot fully embrace their party either.
To the Democrats’ credit, they have been rightly outraged by Trump’s conduct, and they have tried to hold him to account despite their minority status in Congress. Trump’s embrace of Vladimir Putin has even led most Democrats to adopt the kind of tough-on-Russia foreign policy that many once criticized. Democrats certainly understand the imperative of American global leadership on issues such as climate change and gay rights. But many still don’t seem to get the importance of a strong defense or free trade. Few Democrats protested when Trump left the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), thereby handing China a big foreign-policy win. Even Hillary Clinton, who must know better, felt compelled to oppose the TPP to appease the Democratic base.
Still, if Clinton’s moderate views represented the Democrats’ center of gravity, I would feel comfortable becoming a Democrat. But increasingly it’s obvious that the party is more Bernie Sanders’s than Clinton’s.
Last week, Sen. Sanders introduced a “Medicare for All” bill that sounds great — who wouldn’t want free health care for all? — but that would necessitate a sweeping, government-driven restructuring of 17 percent of the economy. Among the consequences: 155 million Americans who currently have employer-funded health insurance would have to move to Medicare. Presumably all of the insurance companies that currently provide health coverage will go bankrupt unless they can find a new business model. That is the kind of ambitious social engineering that governments can never pull off without causing massive problems and disruptions.
Sanders has not bothered to calculate the price tag of his single-payer plan, but it would obviously be a budget buster in spite of his claims to squeeze out unnecessary overhead. His bill is, in fact, considerably more generous than Canada’s health system, which he cites as a model. The best estimate is that the Sanders bill would cost $1.4 trillion a year. Keep in mind that the 2018 federal budget already calls for spending $4 trillion and running a deficit of $440 billion. Through such profligacy, we have accumulated more than $20 trillion in federal debt — more than 100 percent of annual GDP ($18.5 trillion in 2016). The Sanders bill, by increasing federal spending 35 percent, will either add to a mountain of debt or cause tax rates to spike. Either way, our economic prospects will be put in peril.
The Medicare for All plan would also endanger our national security by further crowding out the defense budget, scientific research, the arts, education, foreign aid, environmental protection, infrastructure, law enforcement, and all the other spending programs that are classified as “discretionary.” Entitlement spending on social welfare programs has already shot up from just 28 percent of the federal budget in 1965, when Medicare and Medicaid were created, to 73 percent today — and rising. Add in interest on the debt (currently 6 percent of federal spending) and there is a shrinking pool of money available for all other priorities. In that same time period, defense spending has gone from 43 percent of the budget in 1965 to just 15 percent today — and falling. If the United States can no longer afford to meet all of its defense commitments, our security will suffer, and global instability will increase.
This is a worrisome trend, and it would only be exacerbated by the Sanders plan. And yet at least a third of all Democratic senators have endorsed his half-baked legislation, including potential 2020 candidates such as Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Kamala Harris.
The support that Sanders has won suggests that the Democratic Party is drifting leftward as the Republican Party is drifting rightward. That leaves anyone who is not a European-style socialist or a far-right populist feeling increasingly disenfranchised.
You would think that this would present a market opportunity for a centrist presidential candidate who is not beholden to extremists and could either capture one of the major party nominations or run a credible third-party campaign. It’s pretty obvious what we need: a sane Donald Trump. Someone with funding, name recognition, and charisma who can win a presidential race and chart a sensible, centrist path for America. That’s what Dwight D. Eisenhower did in 1952, rescuing America from McCarthyists on the right and a smaller number of Soviet appeasers on the left. I’d love to see another Ike today — and it doesn’t have to be a retired general officer, although there are potential candidates such as retired Adms. William McRaven and James Stavridis, both now working at universities just as Ike did between stints in government service, who might fill that role. We don’t necessarily need a president who served in uniform. We do need someone who can appeal to the forgotten middle, where I find myself stranded along with other voters.