#MAGA vs. #Resist
In letters to our donors and blog posts, I’ve made the point that R Street is neither a #resist organization nor a #MAGA organization. As a 501c(3) organization, we can’t and don’t take positions for or against political candidates or parties. We care only about policies and governance. And either unflinching support or implacable opposition to any elected officials’ agenda would be inconsistent with our vision, values and mission. As the president of R Street, I think it’s worthwhile to be transparent about my personal views particularly in as far as there is a highly controversial person serving as president of the United States. On this, there are three salient things that I should point out: first, I–and R Street–will work with nearly anybody to achieve shared goals; second, I’m a conservative who substantively supports much of what the administration has done; third, I’m concerned about Democratic norms in the United States overall and think that this administration is a threat to them.
As R Street’s President, I played a major role in deciding that “broad coalitions” would be a key part of our strategy. In my personal life, it’s what I follow and believe in. If I think it will advance work that is important to me, I’ll meet with nearly anybody and participate almost wherever invited. This brings me into #MAGA settings and #resist settings. As my wife and most of my family are pretty hardcore #resist, it’s not like I could escape ardent anti-Trumpers even if I really wanted to. I will continue to meet and work with groups across the political spectrum if I think it will help us accomplish our work. There’s almost no peaceful, non-hateful meeting I won’t attend if asked.
All that said, many if not most of the Trump administration’s positions would have been taken by any other conservative Republican who ran in the primaries. I’m a conservative Republican and, as such, I have lots of praise for some things Trump has done. I’ve personally written in praise of the administration’s deregulatory agenda. I’m also personally thrilled with his judicial appointments and decision to relocate our embassy to Israel’s capital. (The first is tangential to R Street’s current work; the second something we probably won’t work on anytime soon.) That said, I have some very serious disagreements with the administration, particularly on the issues of free trade and war-making powers. It’s because of these concerns and others relating to behavior that I, personally, signed some letters critical of then-candidate Trump. Having duly won the election, however, Trump is the president and my president and I want him to do well.
Finally, I’m concerned and have written myself about an erosion of democratic norms in the United States. Those in the #resist movement who say that a president who won fairly is somehow illegitimate are a symptom of this erosion. And so are some actions of the current president and his administration. Fundamentally, I’m an institutionalist as is Vice President for Policy Kevin Kosar and most of the other folks on our governance team. I conceived our American Institutions Network project to make R Street a bulwark against the degradation of these institutions. Attacks on the independence of the judiciary, the co-governing status of Congress, a free press and the idea of loyal opposition are deeply problematic for democracy. And the current administration and president have questioned all of these things. But I also think that the never-ending growth of the regulatory-administrative state, the decline of political parties as institutions (which I think is an impact of campaign finance laws favored mostly by the political left), the weakening of federalism (again, mostly the work of the political left) and the desire to see all issues through the lens of identity politics are also threats to democracy. The magnitude of any given threat at any time depends on who holds power, of course, but the threats themselves are unlikely to change soon.
Cameron Smith, R Street’s vice president for implementation, is fond of saying that our job is to “call balls and strikes” on our political leaders. And that’s what we do. I do not worship our chief executive nor do I agree with all of his goals. But #resist is not–and will not–be my personal watchword.