For all the talk of Ted Cruz trying to reel in disappointed Rand Paul supporters, it just may be Donald Trump who ends up with a good chunk of them.
At an appearance in New Hampshire, Trump went into full Tea Party Beast Mode, attacking virtually every aspect of government spending, including what President Eisenhower famously vilified as the "military-industrial complex":
On defense, in a race in which all of his Republican rivals favor increasing military spending, Trump promised instead to go after waste and profiteering in the defense industry. "I hear stories, like they're ordering missiles they don't want because of politics, because of special interests," Trump said. "Because the company that makes the missiles is a contributor." There is so much of that kind of corruption in the Pentagon, Trump said, that he will be able to build up the military without actually spending more, just by putting an end to wasteful and corrupt practices.
That sounds strikingly reminiscent of former presidential candidate Paul's plan to "audit the Pentagon" with the same vigor as he promised to audit the Fed. Recall also that Candidate Trump has at times espoused the idea of letting Russia and other countries "fight ISIS in Syria," with the United States only coming in later once things have calmed down.
Certainly, there is a huge (yuge?) amount of waste when it comes to defense spending. There are whole weapons and aircraft systems that are needleslly expensive. For an atlas of despair on that, consider the F-35 fighter jet, which exemplifies everything that is wrong with the way things get done when the Pentagon is involved. The jet, which will be obsolete by the time it is actually up and running properly (which may never actually happen), has a price tag of at least $1.5 trillion and will likely need to use really old planes to support it on missions. None of this has stopped the Pentagon from going ahead and ordering 404 of the occasionally airborne boondoggles over the next few years. Beyond spending on particular things, there's also no question that America's footprint over the world is needlessly big and expensive. And it's telling that the federal government is incapable of cutting "war spending" even when the country is no longer at war.
In his recent appearance, as reported by Byron York in The Washington Examiner, Trump also attacked all sorts of what are usually called "moneyed interests."
Trump railed against pharmaceutical companies. He railed against oil companies. And insurance companies. And defense contractors. And he set himself against a political system that he said allows big-money corporate "bloodsuckers" to control the government with campaign contributions.
"Whether it's the insurance companies, or the drug companies, or the oil companies, it's all the same thing," Trump said. "We're never going to get our country back if we keep doing this."…
"We're not allowed to negotiate drug prices, can you believe it?" Trump said. Noting that Woody Johnson, of the Johnson & Johnson family, is a big Jeb Bush fundraiser, Trump asked, "Do you think Jeb Bush is going to make drug prices competitive?"
There's a clarity and an attraction to this sort of talk, even if it's not specifically libertarian in any way, shape, or form. As York notes, many of Trump's lines could have been spoken by Bernie Sanders. What's different here is that because Trump is a rich sonofabitch, virulently anti-immigrant, opposed to free trade (at least with China), intermittently bellicose (he's talked about not just killing terrorists but "their families"), and at least mouthing social-conservative positions on abortion and other social issues, he can speak directly to Republican voters.
York frets that were The Donald to make it to the White House, he "would blow up the Republican Party as it now exists in Washington….[and] make the party virtually unrecognizable to its members today." That's probably true but it says a helluva lot about the GOP that a guy with zero political experience and pretty clearly no understanding of what it means to a Republican conservative is leading that party's nomination process.
I think that's partly beause whether they like it or not, Trump has built his platform directly on top of conservative complaints emanating from National Review (which has read him out of the conservative movement) and other sources of right-wing orthodoxy. Trump may not have a philosophically consistent world view, but like Sanders, he is channeling anger and resentment at an "Establishment" and a status quo which seems to have no regard for the common people. Between Sanders and Trump, the weakness of the major parties is being revealed in dramatic fashion. While I can't see myself voting for either—Trump's xenophobia, unmoored strongman ravings, and utter lack of experience are only the beginning of his problems and Sanders' economic platform and big-government everything are just awful—it isn't hard to see their appeal in a race featuring representatives from America's two leading political dynasties, candidates still arguing over who Ronald Reagan would like best, and a former first lady, U.S. senator, and secretary of state whose strongest argument for the presidency is that it's her turn and she's got a lot of endorsements from admirals and academics.
Will Trump's us-against-all-of-THEM populism, including the military, grab the attention of Rand Paul voters now that the Kentucky senator has left the race? Some of them, for sure, especially if Ted Cruz is seen as the only alternative. For all of his own populist stirrings (including an anti-immigration policy arguably meaner than Trump's), Cruz is an insider by dint of being in the Senate (not to mention have twice as many Ivy League degrees as the businessman). If the Republican rabble is in a destructive mood, they will certainly flip the switch for Trump, just as similarly situated Democrats will go long on Sanders.