It’s time to end the wars and rebuild America.
Donald Trump doesn’t understand why America can spent $8 trillion on “rebuilding” the Middle East, but “if you want to fix a pothole in a highway, you can’t do it because they don’t want to give you the funds.”
“Frankly, for so many years, we’ve let our infrastructure go to hell because we were wasting all our money in the Middle East and other places. Okay? I want to rebuild our country,” he vented.
It’s moments like this that helped Donald Trump win in 2016. With a turn of the phrase, he succinctly describes problems that are obvious to so many Americans yet hidden from our elites: “You can’t have a country without borders”; “We can’t continue to allow China to rape our country and that’s what they’re doing”; “The worst single mistake ever made in the history of our country: going into the Middle East, by President Bush.” While Trump certainly has a way with words, translating meme-worthy exclamations into actions has proved more challenging. The COVID-19 crisis provides one final opportunity to put America First before the November election.
On the issue of endless war and infrastructure, there’s never been a more perfect time for the president to deliver on two of his most significant campaign promises. As our country faces record levels of debt and unemployment, the concept is simple: bring our troops home and rebuild America.
Yet, in both cases, Trump faces staunch resistance from Republican leadership and members of his own administration. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, for example, spent the month of March lobbying the president for an even greater footprint in the Middle East to counter Iran. And while 88% of Republicans support a bipartisan infrastructure bill, Republican leadership on the Hill is divided.
In response to a question about whether or not he’d support the White House’s infrastructure proposal, Senate Majority Leader McConnell said, “we would all like to tackle infrastructure in a credible way and hopefully that’s what they’ll recommend.” By credible, he means “credibly paid for” as he’s hesitant to add another $2 trillion to the national debt. President Trump, on the other hand, insisted that “were going to borrow the money at zero-percent interest…our interest payments are almost zero and we can borrow long term.”
Regardless of how the project would be paid for, the fights over Middle East interventionism and infrastructure spending represent deeper fissures on the right that have emerged since Trump’s election in 2016. Most Republican members of Congress came to office after 9/11 and reflexively share George Bush’s idealism in foreign policy and Paul Ryan’s austerity in economic policy.
But the president was elected on a very different message. In May of 2016, then-candidate Trump said, “This is called the Republican Party, it’s not called the Conservative Party.” By repudiating the neoconservatives in the GOP, Trump harkened back to an older Republican and conservative tradition that was embraced by Lincoln and his successors.
Out on the campaign trail, a young Abe Lincoln once quipped, “My politics, he said, are short and sweet like the old woman’s dance. I am in favor of a national bank. I am in favor of the internal improvement system and a high protective tariff. These are my sentiments and political principles.” On account of Lincoln’s support for the tariff and internal improvements, he won the vote of the industrialists in Pennsylvania and eventually the country. Sound familiar?
President Trump is a Lincoln Republican, and his unique policy priorities flipped the upper Midwest red in the last election, but the window to implement his agenda is closing. Because the Democrats are eager to pass another relief package to combat the effects of coronavirus, a tentative “Phase 4” stimulus plan represents Trump’s last chance to advance any major legislation before the end of his term. How should he go about it?
First, he should tell Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy that his signature on any stimulus plan, including renewed funding for the paycheck protection program, is contingent on them removing any roadblocks to the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria by the end of the year. According to the Project on Government Oversight, we have spent “an average of $23.7 billion monthly for the past 228 months” in the war on terror. This is morally indefensible and fiscally unsustainable, especially considering our present circumstances. The savings from this withdrawal should be spent in our own backyard on an infrastructure plan that will benefit American citizens for years to come.
Second, he should tell Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi that any new stimulus plan must include a “Made in America” industrial plan to restore our manufacturing capacity and repatriate supply chains from an increasingly authoritarian China. An America First industrial policy, already popular among Senators like Josh Hawley and Marco Rubio, could certainly include traditional infrastructure projects like roads, bridges, and tunnels, but it should also focus on developing next generation infrastructure like 5G technology and financing for companies to “on-shore” production to America, especially for medical equipment, pharmaceuticals, and rare-earth minerals.
If these two conditions are met, the president should practice the art of the deal and negotiate with the Democrats. While they will no doubt insist on pet projects like funding for green energy projects or expanding broadband internet access, it will play to his political advantage, and the well-being of the country, if he can finally deliver on his promise to end the wars in the middle east, restore our industrial capacity, and rebuild America.
Talk is cheap. Trump may have discredited the neocons and moved the Overton Windows on an important set of issues, however, if he fails to deliver on his core campaign promises by November he could face an uphill battle in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin this fall. With his presidency hanging in the balance, he would do well to seize the moment and put America First.