The editorial pages are beginning to devote more column space to the election of 2020. It's all about President Trump, of course — specifically, how Democrats smell blood in the water, and how they intend to sell their reconfigured platform to voters. The narrative includes an assurance that next time they will not nominate a pretend Johnny (or Jane)-come-lately progressive such as Hillary Clinton, but the real thing — a.k.a. Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren.
Observers can think about the political calculus this way: Trump is the denominator, a baseline for everything and anything that progressives believe went awry commencing on Jan. 20. The numerators will be a familiar list of progressive causes: single-payer healthcare (already a priority item for potential Democratic presidential candidates), abortion on demand, a $15 minimum wage, loose border and voter identification requirements, sanctuary cities, a war on fossil fuels, and funding cuts to charter schools.
Just how Democrats will go about selling their "Progressive 2.0" program to the socially and economically conservative working class remains to be seen, especially if "Trumpanomics" manages to produce anything close to sustained growth. What is likely not to occur due to all the Trump-related drama is a serious re-examination of Obama-era miscalculations and strategic errors. But keeping track of what just happened, and why, is important for a sharply divided country.
Let's begin with good old-fashioned economic growth — oxygen for politicians looking to create good times and happy constituents. That both were in short supply as President Barack Obama arrived in the White House is without doubt. The historic recession that followed the mortgage meltdown set America on its heels, and was a significant factor in Obama's convincing win over Sen. John McCain in 2008.
But Obama's highly-ballyhooed Keynesian prescriptions did not work. It is now a matter of economic history that his pre-emptive regulatory assault, tax increases, and monstrous $1.2 trillion stimulus failed to kick-start the post-recession economy. In fact, the Obama administration's primary economic "accomplishments" were to diminish labor participation (degraded to 1970s levels) and double the federal budget deficit. Some pundits believe Obama's slow growth record contributed mightily to Hillary Clinton's defeat in usually Democratic Rust Belt states. I agree. The working class never got around to accepting Obama's 1.5 percent growth as the new normal, despite a persistent media narrative that they do so.
Conversely, gross domestic product growth under Trump is approaching 3 percent. Note this is prior to passage of a tax bill that has economic commentators predicting the Dow Jones Industrial Average to reach 25,000. At least initially, the business community has responded enthusiastically to Trump's deregulatory, market-orientated approach.
The man-made disaster better known as Obamacare represents another low point in Obama's forecaster curve. The now infamous promise that you could keep your doctor and your healthcare and that the average family would end up saving $2,500 per year was repeated ad nauseam — and was subsequently awarded Politifact's "Lie of the Year." Notwithstanding the GOP's inept attempts to repeal and replace, a movie still playing at a theater near you, it was a well-earned [dis]honor.
On immigration, you may recall Obama poking fun at border enforcement, joking that perhaps the border patrol should construct a "moat" to deter illegal crossings (The cost of illegal immigration to the taxpayer was not deemed a funny enough topic, and so was not mentioned). That same president repeatedly assured us that try as he might, he lacked the authority to unilaterally grant amnesty to Dreamers or any similarly situated group. When this reminder of constitutional limitation failed to placate his base, he simply flip-flopped and did it anyway — at least until the courts stopped him.
Trump set a far different course. He seeks to defund sanctuary cities, refocus immigration policy on skilled immigrants, and declines to enforce the aforementioned unconstitutional order on Dreamers (preferring instead that Congress actually do its job and pass a bill). Early results are promising. There has been a dramatic decrease in illegal border crossings under Trump, an accomplishment achieved prior to construction of his long-promised "beautiful wall." Seems the Border Patrol has responded to a leader that has its back, and the numbers reflect it.
Obama's foreign policy record is similarly replete with naïve prescriptions and policy missteps. A first-year "apology tour" made Obama popular in foreign venues but failed to charm miscreant dictators into changing their behavior. An early "reset" with Russia proved unproductive, as did a well-publicized outreach to gulag-friendly Raul Castro. A nuclear deal with Iran was struck, but the mullahs in Tehran continue to be the primary funders of terror in the world while a "Shiite crescent" casts a foreboding shadow over the Middle East.
A diplomatic pivot to China was heavily hyped but unsuccessful; the Chinese Navy doubled down on its provocations in the South China Sea. In Egypt, a bet on the Muslim Brotherhood quickly turned sour; an extended Arab Spring was diminished in the process. In Iraq, a military surge produced a victory soon compromised by an insistence on (premature) American withdrawal. Meanwhile, a weapons of mass destruction-inspired "red line" intended to intimidate the murderous Bashar Assad regime in Syria became a punchline for American inaction in the face of evil. Speaking of Assad's reign of terror, Obama's musings about how Russian involvement in Syria would prove to be its own Vietnam missed the mark by a wide margin. By the summer of 2017, Russian military might had turned the tide of war on behalf of the embattled dictator.
The anti-war inclinations of the anti-war Obama never changed. His vision was undergirded by a reflexive willingness to placate bad guys (and therefore avoid conflict), including a propensity to provide the precise timetable for American withdrawal from the battlefield. Yet, what was intended to prevent future quagmires ended up being appreciated far more by our enemies than our friends.
These prominent remembrances from Obama's tenure are instructive as the Democrats and their media allies begin to transform the "resistance" into a progressive campaign vehicle for 2020. But the rest of us should recall a familiar axiom: "Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it." Going forward, the country must not forget its recent past.
Gov. Robert Ehrlich is a Washington Examiner columnist, partner at King & Spalding, and author of three books, including the recently released Turning Point. He was governor of Maryland from 2003-2007.